U President Bruininks, sailing into ‘Troubled Waters,’ cites ‘academic freedom’ and says film should be shown

University of Minnesota President Bob Bruininks says the film “Troubled Waters” is an exercise in academic freedom and should be shown, even though its premiere on public television had been postponed by other university officials because the film allegedly vilified agriculture.

Bruininks was traveling abroad when the controversy arose over the screening of the film — a documentary that includes a description of how farm fertilizer causes water problems in the Gulf of Mexico. While he supported Karen Himle, the U’s VP of public relations responsible for the original cancellation, he noted in a Tuesday statement that “the decision and rationale regarding whether or not to show the film as scheduled could have been handled differently and communicated more clearly.”

Here is the entire Bruininks statement:

“I have been traveling abroad for the past week, but was aware of the concerns about the ‘Troubled Waters’ film and am in full support of the decision to present the film as scheduled and conduct a public forum afterward. As the facts surrounding the production of the film have become clearer, it was readily apparent to me that this is an issue of academic freedom; as a result, we immediately resolved to show it as planned. This is certainly not the first time the University and its leadership have stood behind the academic freedom of its faculty and staff with regard to complex or potentially controversial issues — indeed that is a fundamental value of the university.

“Certainly, the decision and rationale regarding whether or not to show the film as scheduled could have been handled differently and communicated more clearly. It is important for me to acknowledge that Vice President Himle was asked by the Bell Museum to review the film, and she raised questions and concerns about it in her capacity as Vice President of University Relations. As I have said before, Vice President Himle is an important member of my executive team, and I have confidence in her leadership and integrity.

“At no point was there a question about the importance of the issues raised in the film or whether such a film should be made and shown. I am pleased that we now have a consensus within the administration and faculty on our current course of action. We will continue to work together to protect academic freedom and the quality of scholarship and outreach at the U. We will continue to review this situation, and I am confident we will learn from this and improve our procedures as we move forward.

“The issues related to the Minnesota watershed are of critical importance to Minnesotans, to our nation, and to me personally. I am pleased that the Bell Museum, under the capable leadership of Prof. Weller, will provide the public with ample opportunity to see the film and participate in the robust discussion that will follow.”

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 09/29/2010 - 12:23 pm.

    Blah, b-blah, d-blah. Is anyone buying this? Bruinicks is getting ready to sail off into the sunset and doesn’t want his exit to be marred by something an impetuous VP did on behalf of some of the U’s big donors and purchasers of selective parts of it’s research. Academic freedom fills the bill as an explanation why this film should be shown. Sounds great to the general public

    But what about the University as a Land Grant institution and its responsibilities to provide ALL Minnesotans with research and outreach that meets their agricultural and business needs? Just ask MISA (Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agricuture) how support for its work has been lacking and the interference it has to constantly run to get information out to those in agriculture who would like to become a little more earth and water friendly.

    How many Extension outreach folks have we lost over the last two decades? And what effect has that had on making University research available to farmers and others? Now parts of that research are being provided by agribusiness and they certainly know how to pick and choose what pieces of research they are willing to share with their paying customers.

    No, Bob Bruinicks only wants to be able to walk out with clean hands. Whether is conscience is “clean” is a matter for all Minnesotans to decide.

  2. Submitted by bea sinna on 09/29/2010 - 03:48 pm.

    I must be missing something here- does one have to be an academic to understand the “controversy”? Farm fertilizers DO pollute water and are affecting water quality in the Gulf of Mexico. So the problem with this film is?

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