Eco groups still want Himle's head

The University of Minnesota’s decision to show the film Troubled Waters has only slightly dampened the call for the resignation of Karen Himle, the University official at the center of the flap.

A coalition of more than a dozen Minnesota farm and environmental groups has sent a letter today to University President Robert Bruininks requesting:

  • Himle’s resignation — if she’s deemed responsible for the decision — and “appropriately discipline others involved in making a decision that was ethically and professionally wrong”;
  • a full investigation of why and how the film’s premiere was canceled;
  • any necessary changes in procedures so that such a situation doesn’t happen again.

“It all smells so bad,” said Brian DeVore, communication coordinator for the Land Stewardship Project, a nonprofit organization that’s one of the signers of the letter. The about-face by the university, and its explanation, “kind of reinforces what we knew all along: Science was not reason it was pulled.”

Throughout the flap, he said, University officials “have been changing their story constantly. We want to know what was the reason (the film’s premier was originally canceled) and why.”

A press release issued by the Land Stewardship Project stated:

“Of particular concern is that (Vice President for University Relations) Himle was allowed to pull a film on agriculture and the environment despite a clear conflict of interest. Himle is closely connected to corporate ag interests: her husband is John Himle, former director of the Agri-Growth Council, a corporate agriculture lobbying group, and he is currently director of Himle Horner, a public relations firm that does work for the Agri-Growth Council.”

DeVore said this evening he’s concerned that the university is starting to focus attention on Bell Museum Director Susan Weller — and take the focus away from Himle.

In addition to the Land Stewardship Project, groups signed on to the letter

include: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minnesota Food

Association, Save Lake Superior Association, Friends of the Boundary

Waters Wilderness, Izaak Walton League of America – Midwest Office,

Conservation Minnesota, Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental

Protection (SEMEP), Mankato Area Environmentalists, Duluth Audubon

Society, WaterLegacy, Friends of the Mississippi River, Featherstone

Farms and the Mississippi River Fund.

Here’s a copy of the letter:

COPY BY FAX AND U.S. MAIL TO FOLLOW

202 Morrill Hall

100 Church Street S.E.

University of Minnesota

Minneapolis, MN 55455

September 23, 2010

Dear President Bruininks:

As organizations working in the interests of farmers and the

environment, we were appalled by the University’s recent decision to

cancel the premiere of the documentary “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi

River Story.” This decision, and the lack of transparency surrounding

it, causes us to question the University’s commitment to truth-telling

and academic freedom—two pillars of a public University.

The University’s unwillingness to speak openly to either the news media

or to the movie’s funders about the reasons for the film’s cancellation

has led to a great deal of speculation surrounding the decision.

According to multiple media reports, including the /Star Tribune,/ Vice

President of University Relations Karen Himle canceled the film abruptly

without informing any of its nonprofit and public funders beforehand. We

are deeply concerned about conflict of interest on the part of Vice

President Himle, as well as assertions that outside influences may have

played a role in this decision. Subsequent reasons given by the

University for stopping the film from being shown included misleading

statements, such as the assertion that the film’s public funding

required further review of the film, a position that the

Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources has repeatedly

said is untrue, and that the University has now dropped.

As a land-grant university, the University of Minnesota should be

committed to serving all Minnesotans by providing them with accurate,

scientifically based information on our agriculture and the environment.

According to those that have reviewed the movie—including leading UMN

scientists and the LCCMR—“Troubled Waters” is fair and accurate. Whether the film’s content pleases everyone is irrelevant. By withholding this film, the University is doing a disservice to the state of Minnesota. To

immediately resolve this situation, the University should:

· move forward with the October 3 premiere of “Troubled Waters” at the

Bell Museum and the scheduled October 5 TPT airing of the film.

· ask for the resignation of Vice President Himle if she is deemed

responsible for the decision, as reported in several media accounts, and

appropriately discipline others involved in making this decision, which

was ethically and professionally wrong.

· implement a review of university policy to ensure transparent and

conflict of interest–free decision making on the part of University

administrators going forward.

We also suggest that the University plan a post-film forum at the Bell

Museum on October 3, where those who have concerns about the movie can talk alongside those who felt it struck the right balance.

If the university expects to be a trusted source on these issues in the

future, it must become more transparent in how it makes decisions and

sets priorities. We look forward to working with the U to make these

improvements, and trust that you will keep the interests of all

Minnesotans in mind with this and future decisions.

Sincerely,

George Boody, Executive Director

Land Stewardship Project

Paul Austin, Executive Director

Conservation Minnesota

David Williams, President

Southeastern Minnesotans for Environmental Protection (SEMEP)

Glen Hill, Executive Director

Minnesota Food Association

LeRoger Lind, President

Save Lake Superior Association

Paul Danicic, Executive Director

Friends of the Boundary Waters Wilderness

Jane Cleave, President

Duluth Audubon Society

Jim Harkness, President

Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

Brad Redlin, Director, Agricultural Program

Izaak Walton League of America – Midwest Office

Jeff Brand, President

Mankato Area Environmentalists

Diadra Decker, Board Member

WaterLegacy

Whitney Clark, Executive Director

Friends of the Mississippi River

Jack Hedin

Featherstone Farms

  • The University must regain the trust of its community partners. There must be appropriate consequences for this monumental screw-up. As a University employee, I also want the U to regain MY trust. This incident has an extremely chilling effect on the climate of academic freedom, and many faculty are extremley disturbed by the implications.