Commissioners still worry of possible U censorship, self-censorship and polarization

Still causing trouble

It doesn’t sound like some members of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources are buying the assurances today of Dean Al Levine of the U — or those of President Bob Bruininks yesterday — that no censorship or self-censorship was involved in the pulling of Troubled Waters.

Here are some edited comments from this afternoon’s meeting.

On censorship and self-censorship

Rep. Jean Wagenius (co-chair):

We have done some requests for proposals (in which) I’ve been very surprised that we haven’t got people saying, “I want that money.” Particularly in waters. … We need to go back and ask, “Why didn’t we get scientists asking us for money?

I think what has happened is that the U has kind of shattered its credibility, and what I think was happening back then was that there was a chilling effect, that scientists didn’t want our money to look at some of the issues that we thought were important because they would run into this buzz saw of censorship. So I think we need to discuss that in our next request for proposals. …

Why would you ask for money, research something that is going to say, “Ugh! This is a problem we have to solve. It deals with agriculture.” when the first thing that would happen is the Farm Bureau would come and say, “No no no no,” or “Nobody wants to deal with it.”

The elephant in the room is, I think chilling. I don’t think it was a process. I think it was a kind of self-censorship. But it is curious to me – more than curious – that we have had requests out there with real money, and we haven’t gotten anybody to say, “Hey, I want some of that money” for solving some of the problems we’re talking about.

Jeff Broberg (co-vice-chair):

I agree with that. And I think there is filtering that occurs, and it’s almost this institutionalized problem that we need to get to the root of. Last week I talked to probably 15 different people about the film, from the dean and professors … and…you know the first thing I found was when the vice president for communications (Karen Himle) calls, you jump and say, “How high?” on the way up. And it filters people’s opinions whether they really recognize it or not. And when it’s filtered around a denial of the problem, that’s a real dilemma. So we need to have that discussion, I think, and ask some serious questions about the University administration and maybe other agencies. I don’t know.

We have a Century Farm. And I’m scared. I’m really concerned, and the latest thing with the University of Minnesota really scared me. Because what I face in my community is what I term an ‘institutional denial’ about the impacts. There’s nobody listening that’s managing the land. And it really scares me that a public relations person (with) a single-minded view that doesn’t want to disparage anybody would think that it would be OK to squelch the discussion.

Al Berner:

I think sometimes we have to remember where the bulk of their funding comes from. If you’re doing drug testing, it comes from the drug companies. If you’re doing agricultural research, it’s coming from agriculture – the big ones, Cargill and the rest. I mean, you’re only going to answer the question they’re asking. You’re not going to look at the collateral damage, the externalities, because they don’t want to know that. So you’re not going to do stuff you’re not getting paid for.

On the polarizing effect of the U’s handling of the controversy:

Jeff Broberg:

My wife said, “Now everybody’s battle lines are drawn. So I know what people are going to say on both sides of this.” And that’s a consequence of that University decision that I’ve already seen. I have farmer friends who say, “I don’t want to see the film that vilifies agriculture.” So there was a blunder that is deeper than just that one thing, and it’s something they need to understand as public relations people – the consequences of their efforts.

Finally, here are some others on the merits of the film and its balance:

Sen. Jim Vickerman (co-chair):

If I look I can find faults on each side of that. … I don’t think the film was that bad. I can be on either side of that. It doesn’t hurt to show it.

Norman Moody:

Are we really farming the land, or are we farming subsidies? Farmers are at the mercy of what the next Farm Bill is going to be. And (the film) pointed that out. It was balanced. I didn’t feel negative one way or the other. I just thought: “This is the way the world is. … It isn’t (just) the farmers’ fault. It isn’t (just) the cities’ fault. We all own what we do. Pointing it out is OK.

Nancy Gibson (co-chair):

There are some alternatives shown (to environmentally damaging farming practices). That was what was bright about the movie.