ASeptember piece inThe Economist,makes the bold statement that “America’s universities lost their way badly in the era of easy money. If they do not find it again, they may go the way of GM,” the global automotive giant that became a global lemon in less than two generations.
The Economistlists some incriminating facts:
While “median (U. S.) household income has increased by a factor of 6.5 in the past 40 years… the cost of attending a state college has increased by a factor of 15 for in-state students…”
“The supply of papers that apply gender theory to literary criticism remains ample. But there is evidence of diminishing returns in an area perhaps more vital to the country’s economic dynamism: science and technology.”
“Between 1993 and 2007 spending on university bureaucrats at America’s 198 leading universities rose much faster than spending on teaching faculty.” Harvard increased “administrative spending per student by 300 per cent.”
As if to prove this brutal assessment accurate, two weeks later the University of Minnesota stepped out of the academic sunshine and into the ignorant darkness by quietly canning a 55-minute film commissioned by its own natural history museum that its ag dean claimed “vilified agriculture.”
The trouble with that explanation is its baloney content.
The film, “Troubled Waters: A Mississippi River Story,” not only features ag school experts in its examination of how “what happens on the land in Minnesota affects the Mississippi River” but that “every fact was verified by three independent sources,” and was previewed by “as many as 12 prominent university scientists,” according to the film’s producer.
So what shelved “Troubled Waters?”
The official explanation is that the vice-president of university relations, Karen Himle, pulled the plug on the film because she determined it required more “scientific review.”
More baloney, says Mark Schultz, associate director of The Land Stewardship Project in Minneapolis. “Karen Himle cancelled the film for one reason: she didn’t like that it looked into the impact of intensive agriculture on our environment. The film is only controversial because corporate agriculture brooks no controversy.”
Schultz – and all Minnesota journalists able to hold a pencil – jumped into story when published information noted Himle to be the spouse of John Himle, “president of Himle Horner, a public relations firm that represents the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council… a strong proponent of ethanol and industrial farming, both of which are criticized in the film.”
The subsequent firestorm brought even big Big U bigfoots into the fray. University President Robert Bruininks – who hired Himle for a reported $250,000 per year, according the Sept. 22Star- Tribune,to say she “continues to be an outstanding part of my leadership team.”
Well, maybe. A couple more days of newspaper and broadcast stories caused the bigfoots to step backward and allow the film to keep its original campus and Twin Cities Public Television broadcasts.
The Land Stewardship Project and others, however, aren’t backing off; they want Himle fired and a public look into why the film and academic freedom – not agriculture – were vilified.
Schultz suspects an honest examination into the controversy will show exactly whatThe Economistessay noted a month ago: “Universities can’t serve both public and corporate interests for long before they work themselves out of a job,” he says.
Kinda’ like GM.