Investigate film snafu

U officials still must explain why they wanted to delay “Troubled Waters.”

Daily Editorial Board

President Bob Bruininks upped the ante on the âÄúTroubled WatersâÄù controversy after calling it an âÄúacademic freedomâÄù issue last week.
That it is âÄî and the University of Minnesota still needs to answer questions about what exactly led to one of its ugliest public relations snafus in recent memory that has caused people inside and outside the University to question whether academic freedom is at stake. That the film premiered Sunday doesnâÄôt mean the issue should go away; the public still wants answers.
Indeed, this is what Bobby King, a spokesman for the Land Stewardship Project, which helped fund the film, told the Daily about its delay: âÄúThese groups, like all Minnesotans, see the University as a public institution with a mission to further science in the public interest and promote academic freedom, and they clearly didnâÄôt do that in this case. I think people feel betrayed and upset âÄî rightly so. And they want to see the University take action to correct this.âÄù
Last week, Senior Vice President and Vice Provost Tom Sullivan told Academic and Freedom Tenure Committee of the Faculty Senate that himself, Bruininks and the UniversityâÄôs General Counsel will review what happened with the decision to delay âÄúTroubled Waters.âÄù âÄúWe need to be vigilant in supporting and encouraging, through all of our processes, decisions and actions, the important values of academic freedom,âÄù he said. This review should display transparency that the original decision to delay the filmâÄôs premier lacked âÄî especially to those involved in producing and funding the film who University officials apparently failed to consult before calling off its airing on Twin CitiesPublic Television.
We hope the Academic Freedom Committee and the Legislature also conduct a thorough review of the filmâÄôs delay because, frankly, itâÄôd be hard to believe the results of an internal investigation, a conflict of interest at its most basic level; itâÄôs not often that potential wrongdoers will make their own transgressions public.
YouâÄôd think the president and other University officials would be quick to explain to the public exactly what happened in the original decision to delay the airing of the documentary. But we still donâÄôt know who made the final call and all weâÄôve really heard have been passive-voice responses that raise more questions than answers. In an interview last week, Minnesota Public Radio asked Bruininks what his role was in the flap. In a seven-minute response, Bruininks never answered whether he made the call to delay the airing of the film. What he did say is that he was âÄúpart of a conversation in Morocco that decided this film should go forward.âÄù The public has a right to know whether Bruininks was involved in the decision to attempt to delay the filmâÄôs premiere âÄî or whether he made that decision.
Bruininks also expressed anger that the decision to delay the film caused a public uproar:
âÄúI am not particularly pleased that this became a big public issue, because I think the University has very deep values that go back from all the way to its founding to protect the rights of our faculty and students and staff, to pursue their curiosity and to really advance our culture.âÄù
That the University and Bruininks have defended academic freedom in the past does not mean the media and public should not raise legitimate questions whether the University, along with the officials running it, have failed to live up to its stated values âÄî especially when an academic freedom issue arises with palpable conflicts of interests.
WeâÄôre eager to see the results of any internal and external investigations into an incident that should teach University officials at least one lesson: conflicts of interest, whether real or perceived, are damaging.