The announcement today that the U of M official who tried to pull the plug on Troubled Waters has resigned is an important step toward accountability at our land grant University. Karen Himle and U President Robert Bruininks can argue all they want that this has nothing to do with the controversy over the film, but the fact remains the first vice-president to leave Bruininks’ cabinet happens to be the one who created a PR nightmare by yanking a science-based documentary she felt was “an anti-nitrogen/anti-farm bill/pro-organic farming advertisement.” But closing the door on the Karen Himle era isn’t enough.
This issue also highlights the need for the U of M to conduct a full review of policies to ensure transparent and conflict-of-interest free decision-making on the part of University administrators so that incidents like this do not happen again (such reviews are hinted at in today’s articles in the Minnesota Daily and Twin Cities Daily Planet).
This isn’t about one vice-president or one president or even a couple of deans—it’s about a systemic problem at an institution. It’s about why an environment exists at a public institution that makes it okay for one powerful public relations official to make a knee-jerk decision on how scientific information is disseminated. There are other Karen Himles out there, and we need to make sure our land grant system does not offer an environment they can thrive in.
As we’ve written here before, the controversy over Troubled Waters shows that there has been a consistent pattern of favoring corporate industrial agriculture at our land grant University. The result is that the very sustainable farming practices that could help up deal with the problems highlighted in Troubled Waters get underfunded, overlooked and even treated with derision. At times, they are even viewed as a threat.
LSP’s members will continue to engage University officials to increase research, education and outreach on sustainable and organic farming systems. The University should use this regrettable incident as an opportunity to show the people of Minnesota that rather than just serving a few select special interests, it is committed to doing research, education and outreach that benefits all Minnesotans, as well as the long term care of the land.