U of M president skirted the details on Troubled Waters fiasco

In response to Minnesota Data Practice Act requests, the University of Minnesota unloaded a deluge of e-mails on reporters over the weekend related to the college's decision to cancel the "Troubled Waters" documentary last month.

Though it will take reporters a while to mull through all 2,500 pages, the e-mails already published online give fascinating insight into the behind-closed-doors conversations between U of M administrators as they tried to perform damage control.

One e-mail indicates that U President Bob Bruininks skirted the truth to a reporter.

In a Sept. 29 interview, Minnesota Public Radio's Stephen Smith asked Bruininks what role he played in canceling the screening. Bruininks was in Morocco when Karen Himle, Vice President for University Relations, made the call to shut down the film. To hear Bruininks tell it, his role began only in talks to reverse Himle's cancellation.

"What my role was," Bruininks told Smith. "I was part of a conversation in Morocco that decided this film should go forward. It will be shown."

But Bruininks' role actually began much earlier than he lets on. Bruininks knew about the decision to cancel the screening at the time it happened, according to the U's e-mails.

From an e-mail dated Sept. 7 -- the day the documentary was cancelled -- addressed from Allen Levine, Dean of the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, to Bell Museum Director Susan Weller:

"Karen Himle viewed the documentary and called TPT to cancel it--the President is aware of this. Sorry to ruin your vacation."

The decision to run the documentary didn't come until weeks later, after much public outcry and accusations that Himle was carrying water for Big Ag.

There also appears to be discrepancies between the e-mails and statements from the U of M to a reporter asking why the movie was pulled in the first place.

In the Sept. 15 Twin Cities Daily Planet article that broke the story, U of M spokesman Dan Wolter (who works for Himle) told reporter Molly Priesmeyer that it was the Bell Museum's call to pull the film. Said Wolter:

"It was determined by the Bell Museum director and producer of the production," he says. "We are an academic and science-based institution, and we want to ensure a production like this is scientifically sound."

A Sept. 25 e-mail from the woman in charge of the movie faction of the Bell Museum says otherwise:

"I have just received a message from Bill Hanley (VP of Public Engagement/Strategic Partnerships at tpt). As you see, he has indicated that he will need to hear from the Regents before rescheduling "Troubled Waters." Bill Hanley was the individual that Karen Himle called when she cancelled the broadcast."

Himle's distaste for the movie is illustrated thoroughly in the e-mails. Here's an excerpt from one, titled "Mischief:"

There is a word for this mischief, and I just realized it. It has no place at a public university.


A classic application of the techniques of filmaker Michael Moore. It is all there. And that's why the voices on only one side have been heard - and the techniques of Rules and Radicals came into play when they were exposed.

surreal...unreal k

The e-mails also detail an internal battle between administrators who had different ideas on how to handle the media fiasco. Here are a couple excerpts of one from Himle [Full PDF here via Loon Commons]:

"I met with President Bruninks and Kathy Brown for almost three hours this morning. It was apparent at the beginning that he did not understand the totality of the problem. He simply wanted to issue a statement and "put this behind us." I must tell you I almost walked away then."

Later in the same e-mail:

"[Bruininks] believes that he will be asked to say something about this to the Senate on Thursday. I urged him to review the words of Professor Cramer in the FCC minutes, as it is apparent to me that Professor Cramer understands what is afoot. I was very direct with him about the complicity of Dean Levine and the Provost. And I urged him to provide safe haven for Susan Wellner, as I believe that she was muted under pressure by the Provost and Levine. My most important observation was that he say nothing until he understood his end game."

The tone differs greatly from that of the apology Himle delivered to the public on Oct. 15, more than two weeks after the date on the above e-mail.

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