'Waters' settled, U faculty speaks

  • Article by: JENNA ROSS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 10, 2011 - 7:46 PM

It's been months since controversy over the "Troubled Waters" documentary calmed.

But University of Minnesota faculty members are still discussing the academic freedom issues it floated. (Dredged up? Netted? Pick your metaphor.)

By canceling the documentary's Oct. 5 airing, then-vice president Karen Himle touched off a statewide tempest and a campuswide conversation about academic freedom. University leaders reversed her decision, airing the film in its original form as scheduled. Himle later resigned.

At a meeting Friday, the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee presented its take on six questions posed after the incident.

It concluded that the content of the "Troubled Waters" documentary was protected by academic freedom, that Himle (who goes unnamed in the document) canceled its broadcast "seemingly without recognizing the academic freedom dimensions of the issues" and that the U's policy on academic freedom lacks administrative procedures that might have prevented this from happening.

The committee recommended changes, including:

• If an administrator receives any question with "the slightest implication of academic freedom," that question should be referred to the provost -- the U's senior academic officer.

• The U should incorporate primers on academic freedom in training and orientations for all employees, including administrators.

"Preserving academic freedom should always take precedence," Prof. Karen Miksch, co-chair of the Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee, told the University Senate on Friday. "In the face of expected or actual controversy, academic freedom always takes priority."

The committee will soon compose a "white paper" on academic freedom that moves beyond particular incidents and speaks more broadly about its application in teaching, research and service. It will address the tenets of academic freedom, as well as the responsibilities that accompany it.

Jenna Ross • 612-673-7168

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