Commission: Bell Museum got a raw deal

“The Bell Museum staff needs an apology from the university administration.”

— Mike Banker, communications manager for the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which oversees close to 70 percent of the funding of the film Troubled Waters.

A couple of University of Minnesota staffers are taking that message back to the mother ship after attending today’s meeting between Bell Museum officials, film co-funder McKnight Foundation and the commission.

The groups met to hash out the circumstances that led to the Bell’s (now-reversed) cancellation of the premier of the river pollution documentary Troubled Waters.

As you recall, Bell Director Susan Weller said she canceled the museum’s showing of the film after the U announced it was pulling the film’s public television air date, ostensibly out of concern for balance and scientific accuracy.

It looks like the U administrators that caused the whole mess still haven’t talked to the commission about the affair. And I get the vibe that commission members are a bit miffed over it.

That’s understandable, considering the commission is overseeing the lion’s share of the film’s funding, is giving the U roughly $7.7 million for various projects this year — and is scheduled to hand out another $6.6 million or so next year.

At today’s meeting, Banker said, Bell officials walked commission personnel through a timeline of events behind the Bell’s decision to cancel its premier and “indicated where there might have been some miscommunication or lack of communication.”

Bell officials also told the commission “they would be doing some soul-searching — for lack of a better word — to make sure something like this didn’t happen again,” Banker said.

The Bell Museum doesn’t appear to have been involved in the decision to pull the Twin Cities Public Television broadcast, Banker said. Yet through this whole affair, the U has focused too much on the Bell’s role in the matter and not enough on its own handling of it, Banker said.

Both the commission and the McKnight Foundation asked the U to report in later on how it’s going to “ensure that the integrity of future grants is protected.”

Commission members will meet in the middle of next week to discuss the Troubled Waters affair, the “breach of trust” that occurred with the university, and how that trust can be mended, Banker said.

  • All along, I have been sure that the U scapegoated the Bell in this matter, making Dr Weller take the heat for a decision over which she had no control. I'm angry at this because the Bell is trying to raise funds for a badly needed new facility and it was placed in an adversarial position with their major community partners. The U administration owed the Bell an apology, its community partners an apology and its staff and faculty an apology because event has a chilling effect on any of us who are working with community partners on research or service projects. Yet not a peep do we hear from the President, the Provost, or the PR team that created this fiasco.