Ag dean: I'm sensitive about ag getting all the blame

Here are some notes on U of M College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences Dean Al Levine’s remarks to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources. They are not a verbatim account:

I’m very sorry about the way it all played out. I have never experienced any censorship. We always defend the faculty first and foremost.  Communication has been unclear, and I apologise for that.

Levine said he wanted to clarify or explain a previous statement to Minnesota Public Radio, in which he said the film “vilified agriculture.”

Agriculture and farmers have been blamed for society’s problems over and over. I’m very sensitive to this. I’ve met a lot of farmers, and they’re very good people, and they’re not trying to destroy the earth. The opening of the film seems to blame agriculture for all the issues. But society is involved as well. There are other contributors — such as lawn chemicals and point-source pollution — and these all need to be discussed. It’s a whole societal issue.

On organic farming, which is featured in the film as a partial solution:

We need more research on organic farming and other methods to make sure they have the ability to help us feed all the people we need to.

Levine was pressed by a couple of commission members to say what the University will do specifically to make sure that such a fiasco doesn’t happen again. State Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL) described past efforts to beat back proposals to change the U’s constitutional autonomy, because legislators wanted it to be free of academic intrusion.

In light of the Troubled Waters flap, he told Levine, “I want to be able to trust the U is protecting academic freedom.”

Levine said:

A policy is in place. But something broke down at some level. We’re having deep discussion. The faculty won’t leave this alone.

He still didn’t give specifics, however.

After the hearing, he would not tell me who originally saw the film or what specific concerns they had — which is really the core of the issue behind why the film was originally pulled.

“I can’t speak for everyone,” he said.

  • wbgleason

    Dean Levine can't speak for everyone but he can speak for himself.

    Did he or did he not give Ms. Himle permission to pull the plug on Troubled Waters.

    Simple question, Al. First answer “yes” or “no” and then explain away to your heart's content.

    Sooner or later someone in Morrill Hall is going to have to come clean.

    I simply can't believe that Ms. Himle did this on her own.

  • Matt

    It's not that “farmers are evil” — does anyone say people who drive cars are evil? People who don't recycle or eat processed foods? Ridiculous.

    This is about having an intelligent discussion about what impact human actions have on the planet, but framed and zoomed in on one particular issue. That is the kind of discussion that should be happening in higher ed institutions and then spread farther in documentaries like Troubled Waters. What kind of Minnesota Nice cop-out is that, that we can't have a real discussion about problems and solutions, a real debate about the impact of agriculture because we might hurt someone's feelings?

    Between that and the comment that “The faculty won’t leave this alone.” is highly disturbing to me. If the faculty is the only side of this “deep discussion” that has a problem with this, then I propose some people need to reevaluate what they're doing in higher education — or step down