Budget bills weaken environmental protection, funding, raise constitutional issue

“If I have to go on record and say global warming — I think it’s a farce, I think it’s a fallacy,” the new chair of the Minnesota Senate Environment Committee Ingebrigtsen told a joint legislative-citizens advisory group on environmental spending in late February. “I just don’t buy it. And I think there’s a lot of folks that don’t.” Since then, Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) has been one of the leaders in crafting serious budget cuts and rollbacks for Minnesota environmental initiatives, together with Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), the chairman of the House Environment, Energy, and Natural Resources Committee. With a strong Republican majority in both the House and Senate, the Minnesota legislature has passed bills that would roll back regulations and restrictions on pollution and water standards, as well as making funding cuts and changes that critics say would unconstitutionally change the way that Legacy Amendment funds are used. Continue Reading

Wisconsin isn’t only obstacle for Minnesota’s rail plans

President Barack Obama recently announced a six-year, $53 billion high-speed rail plan that would connect the nation and give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail by 2035. Meanwhile, plans for Minnesota’s high-speed rail system – connecting St. Paul to Chicago, with links to Duluth, Fargo, and other cities – have come to a halt. The St. Paul-Chicago rail line suffered a major setback when Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker rejected $810 million in federal funds dedicated for a 70-mile line from Milwaukee to Madison, a key portion of the route. But the biggest obstacle for high-speed rail in Minnesota might be that other states have already sped far ahead in generating state funding and plans. Continue Reading

University of Minnesota General Counsel speaks on conflict of interest claims related to suicide

UPDATED 12/10/2010, 5:30 p.m.—Earlier this week eight University of Minnesota bioethicists  sent a letter to the Board of Regents calling for an independent investigation into the death of Dan Markingson, a research subject who committed suicide in 2004 while he was part of an AstraZeneca drug study. The letter raised issues such as whether Markingson was competent when he agreed to take part in the study, as he had been deemed incompetent and ordered committed to a state mental hospital days earlier. The eight bioethicists asked that an independent committee review “troubling questions that to day have not been addressed in the University’s response to the death of Mr. Markingson” and “particularly any larger structural or financial conditions that might have played a role in his death and which may still be putting patients at risk.” The University, they said, has yet to look into how financial incentives played a role in enrolling Markingson in the study.   The University of Minnesota has been under fire for both academic freedom and conflict of interest issues regarding the attempt to pull the Troubled Waters documentary. Continue Reading

University of Minnesota Vice President Karen Himle resigns after Troubled Waters brouhaha

University of Minnesota Vice President for University Relations Karen Himle resigned today, after months of dispute over her attempt to suppress or delay the Troubled Waters documentary.Troubled Waters coverage on TC Daily Planet• More Troubled Waters: University emails reveal big fear of big ag • Troubled Waters: Himle’s apology and her emails• U of M President Bruininks, faculty: Academic freedom at stake in Troubled Waters brouhaha• Troubled Waters: You can see it!• “Troubled Waters”: What we saw, why you can’t see it• U of M decision on “Troubled Waters” questioned by commission, other funders• Who pulled the plug on University of Minnesota’s “Troubled Waters”? Her resignation was tendered to the Board of Regents.In an interview yesterday, University of Minnesota General Counsel Mark Rotenberg said: “On the Troubled Waters thing, we published a report that looked into all of the details of the Troubled Waters episode. The president also instructed that the provost and I schedule opportunities to discuss the issue with Faculty Committee on Academic Freedom, which I have done.”As to whether Himle’s role was being investigated and what that could mean for her position, Rotenberg only offered: “I can’t address anything with regard to Himle’s position here at the U of M. What I can tell you is that the faculty is going to continue to discuss these issues regarding academic freedom.”The TC Daily Planet is following another story related to the University of Minnesota and conflicts of interest at University of Minnesota General Counsel speaks on conflict of interest claims related to suicide Continue Reading

More Troubled Waters: University emails reveal big fear of big ag

Late last Friday the University of Minnesota released more than 2,500 pages of documents regarding the film Troubled Waters. The film originally was pulled from its TPT premiere by U of M Vice President for University Relations Karen Himle on September 7 and later rescheduled after the University took a serious hit from the press and the community for what was viewed as censorship and a threat to academic freedom.  A review of these now-public documents makes three things clear: The University was so deeply concerned with negative reactions from the agriculture community that College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Sciences (CFANS) Dean Al Levine distributed the film to donors and prominent figures associated with big agriculture for feedback in April. Vice President for University Relations Karen Himle at first did not respond to requests from CFANS to view the film and participate in their “crisis management,” but then was responsible for pulling the film in September, though the U emails reveal a PR team intent on confusing that fact. Some U staff and faculty, including CFANS Dean Al Levine, were concerned that donors would object to the film, but also believed Himle’s pulling of the film equated to University censorship. Previous TC Daily Planet coverage of Troubled Waters U of M President Bruininks, faculty: Academic freedom at stake in Troubled Waters brouhaha Troubled Waters: What we saw, why you can’t see it U of M decision on “Troubled Waters” questioned by commission, other funders Who pulled the plug on University of Minnesota’s “Troubled Waters?” Continue Reading

Tiny Yurt

I have an interest in covering stories about the environment, sustainability, corporate interference, and consumer rights and human rights. I want to use this space to tell the stories that need to be told—stories that resonate, inspire, and empower people to get involved and help transform our communities for the better.

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U of M President Bruininks, faculty: Academic freedom at stake in Troubled Waters brouhaha

UPDATED 9/28/2010 6 p.m.: Yes – academic freedom is at stake in the attempt to stop the premiere of Troubled Waters documentary, said President Robert Bruininks in a statement issued late today. Faculty had already called for a full-scale investigation of why the premiere was canceled by U of M University Relations vice president Karen Himle. On blogs and in classrooms, U of M faculty, students and staff called the move censorship by the university.  A statement from U of M President Robert Bruininks regarding the “Troubled Waters” documentaryMINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (09/28/2010) —The following is a statement from University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks regarding the Bell Museum documentary, “Troubled Waters”:“I have been traveling abroad for the past week, but was aware of the concerns about the ‘Troubled Waters’ film and am in full support of the decision to present the film as scheduled and conduct a public forum afterward. As the facts surrounding the production of the film have become clearer, it was readily apparent to me that this is an issue of academic freedom; as a result, we immediately resolved to show it as planned. Continue Reading

“Troubled Waters”: What we saw, why you can’t see it

The latest wrinkle in the Troubled Waters controversy is that the University doesn’t “own” the film. A final “Project Abstract” was completed by the film’s producer, Barbara Coffin, on September 7, and the film was delivered to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), the legislative body responsible for overseeing $349,000 in funds for the documentary project.  What this means as far as an official release remains to be seen, but I viewed Troubled Waters at LCCMR on Monday, along with another reporter.   Troubled Waters had been set to premiere on October 3, but that was before the U of M’s public relations office canceled scheduled showings by TPT and the Bell Museum. “Vilifying agriculture?” Late Friday, the University PR machine shifted its story on pulling the film from one being about need for an additional “scientific review” to one being about concern over political tone. Al Levine, the Dean of the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences, told MPR that the film about the Mississippi “vilifies agriculture.” Continue Reading