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October 30, 2010

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Conflict of interest in Troubled Waters Investigation


Who will guard the guardians?

A good question to consider now. Is it not a conflict of interest, when the General Counsel describes himself as the lawyer of the president and the provost to have Mr. Rotenberg involved in an investigation of the administration's censorship of Troubled Waters?

Based on what follows, I think so.

Academic Freedom and Tenure Committee Friday, October 22, 2010
"Mr. Rotenberg said he is the lawyer; his clients, the President and the Provost, have already answered the question"

"She [Professor Elliot] also noted that the President, at the FCC meeting the preceding day, had said that the default for decision-making must be to forward the issue to the Provost
if there is a question about academic freedom. Her question now, to which she invites Mr. Rotenberg to respond in the future, is what, in existing policies and procedures, did not happen? What flaw is there in policies and procedures that caused the problem? The Committee would like to work with him on answering that question. Mr. Rotenberg said that he would review the questions from FCC and that he and the Provost would do whatever they can to deal with them and will follow the Committee's guidance on what it needs."

As one of my friends put it:

If the clients of the general counsel are the president and the provost, then a conflict of interest prevents the general counsel from conducting an independent investigation and from advising any other groups, such as the Academic Freedom & Tenure Committee or the Faculty Consultative Committee.


Rule 1.7 (a) of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct (formerly known as the Canons of Ethics).

"Except as provided in paragraph (b), a lawyer shall not represent a client if the representation involves a concurrent conflict of interest.

A concurrent conflict of interest exists if:

(1) the representation of one client [president and provost] will be directly adverse to another client [the University]; or

(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients [the University] will be materially limited by the lawyer's responsibilities to another client [president and provost], a former client or a third person, or by a personal interest of the lawyer [a general counsel who may serve at the pleasure of the president].

Rule 1.8 (b) of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct

"A lawyer shall not use information relating to representation of a client [president and provost] to the disadvantage of the client unless the client gives informed consent, except as permitted or required by these rules."

Rule 1.13(f) of the Minnesota Rules of Professional Conduct

"A lawyer representing an organization [the University] may also represent any of its directors, officers, employees, members, shareholders, or other constituents, subject to the provisions of Rule 1.7. If the organization's consent to the dual representation is required by Rule 1.7, the consent shall be given by an appropriate official of the organization other than the individual who is to be represented [president and provost], or by the shareholders."

Are the administrators and the members of the faculty blind to this conflict of interest and the ethical obligations of the general counsel?

An outside, independent, investigation of this matter is called for. A suggested mechanism has been given in Community Voices on the Star-Tribune website:

A Call for an Independent Investigation of Troubled Waters at the University of Minnesota

October 29, 2010

How to Increase Tuition Revenue by Forty Million Dollars


I've got a new post up on Community Voices.

After posting, I began to wonder how much revenue we could actually raise in these troubled financial times just by charging the AVERAGE BigTen out of state tuition?

If Iowa, Michigan State, Ohio State, Indiana and Purdue can charge significantly more for out of state tuition, why can't we? Especially since we are on the verge of becoming one of the top three public research universities in the world - by 2014, I believe.

So check my math here. The result seems surprising, but it looks real.

Fall 2010 Undergrad out of state enrollment (not reciprocity states) is 4,166.

Source: http://bit.ly/9ZzXLO

If we charged the BigTen average for out of state ($26,015) instead of the current $15,293 we would increase our revenue by 44.7 million dollars...

10,722 x 4,166 = $44,667,852

Regent Johnson's Sports Page Comments on University of Minnesota Presidential Search


"During the interview of our presidential search, I will ask, 'What has been your commitment to athletics and to football and how much have you budgeted?' Not 'What are your plans, but what has your track record been?'"

And if they have no track record, Mr. Johnson? Does this mean that they are not presidential material? If their football coach had a poor record, like President Bruininks, does this mean they are not a suitable candidate? Where are your priorities, Regent Johnson? I'll also point out to interested readers that apparently Mr. Johnson is a big fan of K-State's ex-president Wefald. That he would make laudatory remarks about Wefald is an indication of how out of touch Regent Johnson is with the higher education presidential scene. For more details, please see:

University of Minnesota Regent Johnson lauds ex-Kansas State president, Wefald
How out of touch can you be?


My friend and fellow alum, Michael McNabb writes:
(emphasis mine)

Headline in the St. Paul Pioneer Press today (Wednesday, October 27):
U Regent Wants Football Focus

The report contains the following quotations from Regent Dean Johnson, the former majority leader of the Minnesota State Senate:

"The University of Minnesota has three things to do: teach, provide research and outreach. The first two are extremely important. The third, the outreach--I can think of no better outreach than to have a winning football team, a Big Ten championship and a competitive national football team. . .

"If the Golden Gophers were to go back to the Rose Bowl or be nationally competitive, that helps us to get through the workday; that takes care of a lot of things. The positives: the alumni become more excited, donors begin to feel good about their giving, not only to athletics, but to the law school, to the school of medicine, to whatever. And it all generates an enthusiasm. . .

"During the interview of our presidential search, I will ask, 'What has been your commitment to athletics and to football and how much have you budgeted?' Not 'What are your plans, but what has your track record been?'"

"Now, we'll ask questions of academics and research and on and on, too. They are equally important. But I think the people of this state want us to, and I think we owe it to them, to be more competitive in collegiate football."

Where to begin with this nonsense? For starters:

(1) Entertainment (football) is not outreach (or public service) for an institution of higher education.

(2) It is a myth that winning athletic teams generate widespread alumni support for academic programs. See the attached letter to the former director of the Minnesota Alumni Association.

(3) The objective of an institution of higher education is not to help people "get through the workday" by making them feel good about winning games. An institution higher education does prepare people to make intelligent decisions about their life and their work.

(4) The Regents owe it to the people of Minnesota to devote their time and effort to finding solutions to serious problems that threaten higher education today.

Michael W. McNabb

Attachment: Letter from Mr. McNabb to then alumni association director, Margaret Sughrue Carlson


October 16, 2010

What was the Provost's role in the censoring of Troubled Waters?

As part of a Freedom of Information Act disclosure request by the press, the University administration has had to cough up a number of embarrassing documents.

A particularly damning document alleges involvement of the Provost in an attempt to muzzle the Bell Director. It is difficult to say exactly what happened because the document has been obviously redacted.

The university did not disclose why this has been done, but it is in the best interests of the community to have this issue explored. I have suggested earlier that it would be best if this investigation were an independent one that was not conducted by the central administration.

A Call For An Independent Investigation of Troubled Watersgate at the University of Minnesota [Star-Tribune Community Voices]

I tweeted last night on the matter:

I [Himle] was very direct with him about the complicity of Dean Levine and the Provost http://bit.ly/a7F764 What is THIS about? #UMN

"urged him to provide safe haven for [Weller] as I believe she was muted under pressure from Provost and Levine
http://bit.ly/a7F764 #UMN

"[Weller]...has been threatened in some way by the Provost and/or Dean Levine" following REDACTED
http://bit.ly/a7F764 #UMN

October 9, 2010

Censorship blights U's reputation

From the Star-Tribune:

While the queasiness some University of Minnesota officials felt after reviewing the controversial "Troubled Waters" documentary is understandable, the poorly handled decision to delay the film's premiere has stained the reputation of state's flagship university. Muscular new policy and a strong stance on academic freedom by the next president are needed to prevent future censorship of projects like the film, which fall outside the realm of traditional scientific research yet are something far more than institutional mouthpieces like alumni magazines.

The official whose phone call delayed the premiere was Karen Himle, the U's vice president for university relations. Himle said in an interview last week that her "most important duty" is "to protect the reputation of the University of Minnesota with the public." Given that, Himle should have recognized that while she and two deans had questions about the film's balance and commercial product placements -- concerns shared by this editorial board -- anything smacking of censorship posed a far greater threat to the university's image.

She also asked two deans -- Allen Levine and Beverly Durgan -- for their input on the film's science. When they raised concerns, Himle said she made the Sept. 7 decision to delay the TV premiere. (Ultimately, it occurred on schedule.) The intent, Himle said, was not to cancel the film permanently, but to buy time to address concerns.

Also puzzlingly left out of the loop was U President Robert Bruininks,
who was en route to Morocco. Himle said she had made similar decisions -- such as rescinding a Goldy Gopher licensing deal with Victoria's Secret -- on her own and felt comfortable doing so again. Himle said Bruininks was told briefly before he left that the film was something entirely different than a previous Bell film series. 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.

I do not believe for a minute that Ms. Himle pulled the film without approval by someone in the administration. After a recent Board of Regents meeting, I asked the president whether he had spoken with Ms. Himle before the decision was made to stop the film showing and he declined to answer my question.

This matter needs clarification and the president needs to make a clean breast of things. I look forward to any light media requests for email may shine on this sordid matter.

According to a recent faculty committee meeting the investigation of this matter will be done by President Bruininks, Provost Sullivan, and General Counsel Rotenberg.

"Upon the return of President Bruininks next week, he and I [Provost Sullivan] and the General Counsel of the University will continue to review roles, responsibilities, and processes with respect to such matters. We need to be vigilant in supporting and encouraging, through all of our processes, decisions, and actions, the important values of academic freedom."

Faculty Consultative Committee
Thursday, September 23, 2010

This is an obvious conflict of interest that is not acceptable and an independent investigation needs to be done.