U-Minn. prez backs official who pulled film

Backing up Himle

The University of Minnesota president is heading off calls for the sacking of the U official at the center of the Troubled Waters flap.

While off in Morocco, Robert Bruininks issued a statement supporting Vice President of University Relations Karen Himle, whose scalp is wanted by the Land Stewardship Project because of how she has handled the film.

Bruininks said, “I have every confidence in Vice President Himle and her integrity. She continues to be an outstanding part of my leadership team and helping advance the important work of the University of Minnesota.”

The Project wants her gone because her handling of the film — which was yanked at the last minute under mysterious circumstances — was an “outrageous affront to science in the public interest.”

It called for her resignation, a full review of what happened, and for an October showing of the film as scheduled.

The U has said it pulled the plug on the film to review its scientific accuracy. But its story, as well as the circumstances under which the decision was made, has been muddled. Land Stewardship Project has joined other critics in speculating that the U pulled the film out of concern for how it portrayed corporate ag interests.

Project officials say they’re particularly concerned that Himle yanked a film on agriculture and the environment despite a connection to corporate agriculture interests that they say is a “clear conflict of interest.” Her husband is John Himle, former director of the Agri-Growth Council, a lobbying group, and he is currently director of Himle Horner, a PR firm that does work, or has done work, for the Agri-Growth Council.

“This appears to be a blatant example of the U of M putting corporate PR ahead of the public good,” the Project’s Associate Director Mark Schultz said. “Whether the film was pulled because of direct pressure from corporate ag interests, or whether U officials did it of their own accord, the result is the same: Censorship has seriously hobbled the school’s attempt to become a world class research and educational institution.”

Meanwhile, Provost Tom Sullivan wrote in a message to the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences that Regents Professor Peter Reich will chair a committee “of scholars and educators” to review the film and make recommendations.

“The protection and defense of academic freedom is the foundation for all we do at the University of Minnesota,” he wrote. “I want to assure all of you that the administration of this University does not, and will not, compromise on these principles.”