Sunday, October 17, 2010

Internal emails on Troubled Waters...warning, it's ugly!

Some reporters and Land Stewardship Project staff spent Friday afternoon in a hot, stuffy room in Morrill Hall sifting through hundreds of university emails obtained through the LSP's Minnesota Data Practices Act request. What they found ain't pretty. And much of it is redacted. (Just imagine how much uglier it would be!) The take-home point: only an independent review can get to the bottom of this. A review headed by administrators or administration apologists (or perhaps more accurately, those with Stockholm Syndrome) will not get to the bottom of things.

(Probably) 9/5: appears to be an e-mail exchange between Associate Dean Gregory Cuomo (who appears to have been on the original review panel) and Rob Blair.

Cuomo: “Lastly, several of us have seen the final version of the upcoming TPT show “Troubled Waters.” From some of our perspectives, it presents an inflammatory view of agriculture. Peoples’ opinion of what is “balanced” varies. We are preparing for some potential responses. …”

Blair: "Interesting comment about “Troubled Waters.” I am curious to hear who is included in the “several of us” who are concerned about the content of the project and why. What elements of the film are inflammatory? Are there factual errors in the film? …"

9/6, 6:47pm Karen Himle to Dean Levine at CFANS
"I have serious concerns about this, beginning with the title. Other than the fact of drainage and downstream nitrogen-based water quality degradation--which is an accepted fact--the piece has virtually nothing to do with the Mississippi River. Rather, it seems to be an advocacy piece for organic farming combined with an anti-farm bill agenda. Mainstream production agriculture is totally absent. I have been told that it would take three times more tillable land worldwide to fulfill demand for food if everything became "organic." I'm sure that Thousand Acres Cattle Company loves the advertising--they make an outstanding product--but the price is very high when compared with traditional beef production practices. That fact doesn't make it into the piece, of course...And what about balance in the piece on non-agricultural/non-point source pollutants. There is about a nano-second devoted to municipal contributions to the problem...I would like to consider our options prior to that point as I anticipate a legitimately negative response to this from some sectors of our ag community."

9/6, 7:25pm Himle to Levine
"Ugh. This has nothing to do with Minnesota: A History of the Land. I doubt that Bob has even seen it and I doubt that he would be enthusiastic if he understood the bias. David Tilman is accurate of course on his limited point on this--but it doesn't support the positioning of this at all...I will be happy to bring this up to Bob as soon as tomorrow morning. What's your view of the scholarship/balance as I think that ultimately that will be the most compelling argument. I think we also have to change the advance billing of this as well as the title ASAP."

9/7, 3:34pm Susan Weller (Director, Bell Museum) to Levine
"Is Karen going to try to explain to Blandin, McKnight, and LCCMR too? Is she going to muzzle Tilman?"

9/7 Levine to Susan Weller
"Karen Himle viewed the documentary and called TPT to cancel it--the President is aware of this. Sorry to ruin your vacation."

9/7 Dean Bev Durgan (who was on the review list) to Karen Himle and Al Levine:
"I just spoke with Jeff Strock about the video. He has not seen the entire video — even though he asked to see the final version several times. He did try to provide input into the content (other than his section) but met a lot of resistance. He was very relieved to hear that the video was probably not going to be shown. He was not happy with the overall experience."

9/9 Susan Weller to Barbara Coffin (Coordinator, Bell Museum)
"… One of the factors that has contributed to my decision is that I have been told that one of your biggest supporters, President Bruininks, is now alarmed by the film’s content.… Another factor … is the lack of support among the Dean’s council for the film. They need to be on the frontline with politicians and other stakeholders. The fact that two take serious issues with the facts of the film is troubling. Associate Dean Jay Bell (tenure home: soil, water and climate) has now finally viewed the film and expressed concerns as well."

9/24 Barbara Coffin to Susan Weller
TPT still wants to air the original....

9/25 Himle to General Counsel Mark Rotenberg
Himle expresses frustration that Bell and CFANS are letting her take the fall. She said that Levine asked her to call him to discuss the film and that Weller had independently postponed the film on 9/8 or 9/9.

9/25 Barbara Coffin to Weller, Levine, and Lori Engstrom
Coffin reports that Bill Hanley of TPT says he must hear from the Regents before rescheduling. But also says need to hear from someone higher than Himle, e.g. the President or Provost, before airing the program.

9/27 Himle to Gail Klatt (cc: to Ann Cieslak)
Himle analyzes procedural problems and proposes ways to avert a repeat. At one point she states, "This problem should never have arrived on my desk." She's also pretty brutal with Bell leadership, saying that there is a pattern of poor management, and asks a semi-rhetorical question as to whether it's time for a change of leadership--Susan and Barb, watch out for your jobs!

9/28 Himle to Ann Cieslak
"I was very direct with him [Bob Bruininks] about the complicity of Dean Levine and the Provost. And I urged him to provide safe haven to Susan Weller, as I believe that she was muted under pressure by the Provost and Levine. My most important overservation was the he say nothing until he understood his end game...Susan [Weller] is begging for help but has, I believe, and as I indicated last week, been threatened in some way by the Provost and/or Dean Levine...This is why I believe this to be true: REDACTED TEXT." Himle then proceeds to call "Troubled Waters" propaganda and to compare it to a Michael Moore documentary (as an insult, apparently...). She also expresses her admiration for Professor Cramer, who serves on the FCC. (You have to read this's ugly, very ugly...)

Undated, Himle to Bruininks
Himle tells Bruininks that the film does not focus on the Mississippi River. She times how much time is spent on various topics in the documentary, apparently as an effort to reveal the film's bias/lack of balance.


  1. I've got a post up on Community Voices (Star-Tribune) calling for an independent investigation of this matter. The involvement of the President and the strange redacted parts relevant to the Provost's behavior make it a conflict of interest for them to be conducting any sort of investigation.

    A Call For An Independent Investigation of Troubled Watersgate at the University of Minnesota


    From that post:

    Mr. McNabb writes:

    (added emphasis is my own)

    An investigation of any conflict of interest or violation of principles of academic freedom involved in the initial decision to cancel the presentation of Troubled Waters will include a review of the role of a senior administrator, the vice president of university relations (as well as the role of the dean of the agriculture school).

    If senior administrators (the president, provost, and general counsel) attempt to investigate one of their fellow senior administrators, the investigation will not have a shred of credibility. If the senior administrators find that their colleague did not engage in improper conduct, the finding may not be seen as an impartial evaluation. If they find that the vice president did engage in improper conduct on her own, the finding may be seen as a cover up of the actions of other senior administrators.

    Enough harm has already been done to the reputation of the University by the ham-handed actions and inconsistent statements of the representatives of the University. The administration should do everything in its power to avoid the appearance of impropriety and should assign the responsibility for the investigation to an independent person of experience and qualifications.

    One such a person would be Hank Shea, a former federal prosecutor and now a fellow at the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas.

    Michael W. McNabb


    Mr. McNabb is a double alum of the University both for his undergrad and law degrees. His children have attended the University of Minnesota both as undergrads and as law and medical students. His commitment to excellence at the university is long-standing and he is a life-time member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.

    His observations - and the thoughts of many other concerned University alums - should be taken very seriously by this administration.

    Time to come clean, Mr. President and Mr. Provost?

  2. It's worth noting that Himle recognizes that the Bell administration is being squeezed, probably because they have been trying to get funding for a new building, in really ugly ways.

    The Provost is undoubtedly a bigger player in this than has been publicly discussed so far.