Before the internet and the age of the continuous news cycle, putting out bad news late on a Friday afternoon was a fairly effective organizational news management strategy. That’s no longer the case, but the University of Minnesota hasn’t gotten the memo. In an effort to bypass the continuous news cycle, Karen Himle, the University’s vice president for university relations, issued a half-assed apology for censoring Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story, without informing the documentary’s producers or funding agencies. But apparently after considering academic freedom repercussions “I am sorry for this mistake, and I accept responsibility for my decisions and actions in this matter,” writes Himle in the University’s statement from President Robert Bruininks with regard to the matter.
The apology is half-assed because Himle apologizes only for “... not immediately initiating a process that more broadly engaged academic leadership and other university experts to fully evaluate the options and to then make a shared decision as to the best course of action…” And we don’t know the entirety her decisions and actions are with regard to this episode of the University’s censorship, conflict of interest, and stifling academic freedom.
Bruininks expresses similar regret about not convening a group to reach a consensus about any necessary action with regard to the film and maintains that academic freedom is paramount in the lede of his statement: “One of the hallmarks of my 40-plus years at the university is a steadfast commitment to academic freedom. This value is the cornerstone of all great American universities. I have defended academic freedom at many levels throughout my career.”
Bruininks’s statement comes, not unsurprisingly nor coincidentally, with the University’s release of internal email in response to media requests under the Minnesota Data Practices Act.