I had intended to writer a longer post about this situation, but the Star-Tribune has already done much of the job in today's editorial.
As a reminder:
"the poorly handled decision to delay the film's premiere has stained the reputation of state's flagship university."
"a strong stance on academic freedom by the next president is needed to prevent future censorship of projects like the film"
"Also puzzlingly left out of the loop was U President Robert Bruininks"
"Media requests for university officials' e-mails will soon shed further light on Bruininks' involvement and whether he should have acted sooner to prevent this debacle."
"That the U so clumsily stood in the way of its release is stunning. The retiring Bruininks needs to move quickly to prevent future censorship. A broad commitment to academic freedom should be on the top of the list for qualities sought in his successor."
With this as background, it is clearly inappropriate - and a conflict of interest - for President Bruininks - or those who work for him - to be involved in an investigation of this situation.
What to do? My friend and fellow alum Michael McNabb has kindly allowed me to post his thoughts on this situation. He makes a reasonable suggestion that should be considered by this administration. I note that the President has commissioned yet another outside group to justify the university's economic contribution to the state in preparation for asking for more money this Spring. This is wasting yet more money for unnecessary propaganda purposes. A better use of the people's money would be to use it to get to the bottom of this latest fiasco in Morrill Hall. Our credibility is badly damaged and needs to be repaired.
Mr. McNabb writes:
(added emphasis is my own)
An investigation of any conflict of interest or violation of principles of academic freedom involved in the initial decision to cancel the presentation of Troubled Waters will include a review of the role of a senior administrator, the vice president of university relations (as well as the role of the dean of the agriculture school).
If senior administrators (the president, provost, and general counsel) attempt to investigate one of their fellow senior administrators, the investigation will not have a shred of credibility. If the senior administrators find that their colleague did not engage in improper conduct, the finding may not be seen as an impartial evaluation. If they find that the vice president did engage in improper conduct on her own, the finding may be seen as a cover up of the actions of other senior administrators.
Enough harm has already been done to the reputation of the University by the ham-handed actions and inconsistent statements of the representatives of the University. The administration should do everything in its power to avoid the appearance of impropriety and should assign the responsibility for the investigation to an independent person of experience and qualifications.
One such a person would be Hank Shea, a former federal prosecutor and now a fellow at the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions at the University of St. Thomas.
Michael W. McNabb
Mr. McNabb is a double alum of the University both for his undergrad and law degrees. His children have attended the University of Minnesota both as undergrads and as law and medical students. His commitment to excellence at the university is long-standing and he is a life-time member of the University of Minnesota Alumni Association.
His observations - and the thoughts of many other concerned University alums - should be taken very seriously by this administration.