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About Campus - Fall 2010

From Fall 2010 issue
Unconventional Wisdom on Iran
What should the United States do about Iran? It’s a question that has dogged every American president since 1979, when 52 Americans were held hostage in Tehran for more than a year. The answer, almost without exception, has been to isolate the country, cut diplomatic ties, inflict economic pain through sanctions, and threaten the use of military force. The Iranian government’s
Photo: William Beeman
recent actions—imprisoning three American hikers, executing its own citizens following elections in 2009, and allegedly developing nuclear weapons, to name a few—seemingly reinforce the wisdom of that approach.

Nonsense, says University of Minnesota Middle East scholar William Beeman, chair of the anthropology department and a frequent commentator in national and international media. “If you’re interested in stability in the Middle East, forging a constructive relationship with Iran is the most useful thing we can do,” he says. “We twist ourselves into knots trying to avoid dealing with Iran, when it has the potential to be our most productive relationship in the Middle East.” Beeman believes it’s high time to establish formal diplomatic relations. “Iran has a horrible human rights record,” he says. “It always has. But if we don’t talk to them except through the press, how can we address that?” Beeman’s contrarian perspective stems in large part from his deep appreciation of Iranian culture and history. A sociolinguist fluent in Persian and 11 other languages, Beeman—who is also a professional opera singer—has lived and traveled extensively in Iran and has written several books on the country, including The Great Satan vs. the Mad Mullahs: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.

Finely attuned to the nuances of Iranian speech—his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago explored the meaning of
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stylistic variation in Iranian verbal interactions—Beeman tries to shed light on Iranian cultural dynamics that are not well understood. For that he has been skewered as an apologist for the Iranian regime. He once wrote that politeness, which he calls an “exquisite art” in Iran, should figure prominently in the United States’ dealings with that country. One critic called that assertion a “groveling sentiment” and offered it as evidence that Beeman believes the United States “should prostrate itself at the feet of the mullahs and do all it can to avoid inflaming their apparently delicate sensibilities.” That criticism, Beeman says, reflects a major problem with public discourse. “We tend to confuse explanation with advocacy. I’m very critical of many things about Iran, particularly its human rights record.” But he says it also demonstrates how essential academic freedom is when it comes to taking unpopular stands. “I couldn’t be writing or saying anything I do if I weren’t tenured faculty at a major institution. Engaging, not opposing, Iran is the only way to go forward.” —Cynthia Scott
Emotional Cartography
To the list of things that can be mapped—continents, mountain ranges, oceans, rivers, streets, coffee shop locations, songbird migration routes, Wi-Fi hot spots—we may soon be able to add states of powerful emotion, thanks to a new interactive public art project conceived by Rebecca Krinke, an associate professor in the University’s Department of Landscape Architecture. Krinke, who is also a multimedia artist and sculptor, launched “Unseen/Seen: The Mapping of Joy and Pain” in Minneapolis in late July; she plans to take the project to the national level in 2011 and hopes to spark international interest as well.
Photo: Rebecca Krinke, right, explores her map with park-goers in Minneapolis.

The work’s methodology is deceptively simple. Krinke and a small crew of student assistants set up a large, highly detailed, custom-crafted wooden map of the Twin Cities in various parks (the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board is a partner in the project). Members of the public add color to specific locations on the map—gold where they have felt joy, gray where they’ve experienced pain. Slowly, from the accretion of many individual experiences, distinct emotional zones appear: irregular washes of gold, smaller, more concentrated nodes of gray. Early results showed an association of joy with water—the banks of the Mississippi River and Lakes Calhoun and Harriet were colored almost uniformly gold. Freeways and hospitals attracted much gray. Interestingly, Minneapolis’s Lakewood Cemetery was entirely gold.

“ ‘Unseen/Seen’ challenges conventional ways of seeing the Twin Cities,” Krinke says. “The project has the potential to be revealing, even cathartic.”

To find public participation sites, visit www.rebeccakrinke.com. —Jeff Johnson
Deep(water) Inquiry
Less than six months after the deadly explosion that unleashed the largest oil spill in U.S. history, students at the University of Minnesota will have the opportunity to study the event in a formal academic course called Oil and Water: The Gulf Oil Spill of 2010. The course will systematically examine the Deepwater Horizon disaster and its ramifications, from the rise of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico to the spill’s containment to the future of energy production. It’s the latest in a series of “rapid academic response” offerings by the U’s Institute for Advanced Study that have included courses on the 35W bridge collapse, the Asian tsunami, and the credit crisis.

Robert Gilmer, a Ph.D. candidate in history and a former resident of Louisiana, will teach the course. He says he’ll be taking a multifaceted, interdisciplinary approach to the material. “We’re going to be looking at the oil spill from historical perspectives, from legal perspectives, from the ecological science behind it, and also the engineering itself—the science involved in making offshore drilling possible, and what exactly went wrong in that technology—[as well as] the technologies involved in helping the recovery effort.” —J.J.
The Corn Supremacy
Corn and other grains have proven to be potent sources of biofuel. A new quintet of
 Overheard on Campus
I’m not surprised he’s done well, but this was not a guy you thought was going to someday be the prime minister of Great Britain.”
—University of Minnesota
professor of political science Kathryn Sikkink speaking about Nicholas Clegg, a student of hers at the U during the 1989–90 academic year. Clegg, leader of Great Britain’s Liberal  Democrats, became deputy prime minister in the government of David Cameron in May.
“[T]hose people who have been clever enough to escape poverty in other lands can contribute much to our society if we embrace them.”
—J. Brian Atwood, dean of
the University of Minnesota’s
Humphrey Institute of Public
Affairs, in a commentary piece in the Star Tribune about the contributions of immigrants in Minnesota
bioenergy research projects at the University of Minnesota will explore whether their byproducts could be just as valuable in paving the way toward reliance on renewable energy. The projects are jointly funded by the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) and the Initiative for Renewable Energy and the Environment (IREE), a signature program of the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment. The MCGA, through its Corn Research & Promotion Council, has committed more than $500,000 to the effort. IREE has pledged nearly $140,000.

The projects reflect a notable diversity of investigative focus. One will seek ways of capturing more energy from a major byproduct of ethanol production (so-called distillers’ grains, generally used as livestock feed) while simultaneously producing a potential soil-improvement product known as biochar. Another will analyze the genetics and potential economic impact of a new strain of highoil- content corn. A third will explore whether carbon dioxide from ethanol fermentation can serve as a critical nutrient in the growth of algae for biofuel production. The final two projects will look at various means of more efficiently converting corn residues (stalks, leaves, cobs) into usable energy products.

>WANTED: Your views about the next President
The Board of Regents invites alumni and others to participate in the search for a successor to University President Bob Bruininks, who will retire in June 2011. Board Chair Clyde Allen says, “As we begin the search, we would like to hear your views regarding major opportunities and challenges in the years ahead, the priorities that should guide the institution, the personal and professional qualities you value in a leader, and your recommendation of any individuals you believe deserve the Board’s serious consideration. All comments will be held in the strictest of confidence.” To submit comments, visit www.presidentsearch.umn.edu.
International Leadership
As a scholar, Robert Jones is an authority on agronomy and plant genetics, the science of nurturing crops that can feed nations. As the University of Minnesota senior vice president for system academic administration, he is a fervent champion of international education, a movement that can nurture understanding between individuals, cultures, and countries across the globe. His commitment to promoting international education was honored in July when Jones was named one of just three 2010 recipients of the Michael P. Malone International Leadership Award, sponsored by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU).
Photo: Robert Jones

Under Jones’s leadership, the U has more than doubled funding for international research, travel, study, and exchange; indeed, the University currently offers students more than 300 overseas-study options. Jones has also guided efforts to internationalize curricula across all academic colleges and to establish research opportunities at universities in China, Ecuador, India, Kenya, Norway, South Africa, and Tanzania.

“Making the University of Minnesota a truly international university has been one of our priorities,” says U of M President Bob Bruininks. “The relationships that are fostered through international exchanges in education and research have a lasting, positive impact on Minnesota’s economy. I appreciate the exceptional leadership of Dr. Jones in this area.”

Jones, who has served the University for more than two decades, says, “I am deeply grateful to the APLU for selecting me for this award. But my efforts to internationalize the University of Minnesota have been a team effort, so I accept this honor on behalf of everyone who has worked hard to bring international perspectives to our institution.” —J.J.


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