This list is a response to repeated student requests for quality films to watch. Be forewarned: Unless you are multilingual, prepare for subtitles and not all these films are for everyone (just move on down the list!).  I list films in the order that I imagine the non-film buff will find most accessible.


Wings of Desire 


The Third Man

Spring. Summer, Fall, and Spring

To Live

Touch of Evil

The Lives of Others

Talk to Her

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

La Strata

Bad Education


White Ribbon

Umberto D.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Raise the Red Lantern

Dead Man

Citizen Kane

Jules and Jim




The Three Colors Trilogy

400 Blows

Seventh Seal

Farewell My Concubine

The Turin Horse (not for those with ADD)

The Bicycle Thief

Last Year at Marienbad

Falstaff (Chimes at Midnight)

Wild Strawberries

Belle de Jour

The Marriage of Maria Braun



MPR News Intelligence on higher education


Faculty to MnSCU chancellor: Overhaul teams have too many admins

Looks like Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU) system faculty reps don’t agree with the first steps being taken toward implementing Charting the Future, the plan to overhaul how MnSCU operates.

Got this just now — a letter today to Chancellor Steven Rosenstone:

The Inter Faculty Organization (IFO) supports the broad contours ofCharting the Future for a Prosperous Minnesota (CTF), but we are becoming increasingly alarmed by the make-up of the CTF Implementation Teams. In light of these concerns, the IFO endorses the Minnesota State University Student Association’s (MSUSA) resolutions (see attachment) on CTF.

Students and teachers are the heart and soul of higher education: All other partners support their teaching and learning. You have proposed eight implementation teams composed of 18 members each, yet only four are students and teachers. That means 14 members are not directly involved in the classroom or online.

What is wrong with this picture?

You stated, “Implementation Teams are made up of two-thirds campuses and one-third from the System Office.”  This claim does not accurately reflect the balance of power on these teams. Of the 18 members on each team, there are four system-office representatives and four local administrators, eight of the 18 slots. Couple these eight appointees with two college and university presidents, and you have 10 of the 18 seats on each implementation team occupied by administrators. These teams of 18 are not only top-heavy with management, but they will be cumbersome and inefficient because of size. We need nimble and pragmatic teams.

The IFO endorses the MSUSA resolution on team size and calls upon Chancellor Rosenstone and the MnSCU Board of Trustees to adopt MSUSA’s preferred option. To that end, they recommend balancing the teams with one representative from each student association, Minnesota State College Association (MSCA) and MSUSA; one representative from each collective bargaining unit, IFO, Minnesota State College Faculty Association (MSCA), MSUAASF, MMA, MAPE and AFSCME; one president each from colleges and universities; and one system office representative for a total of eleven members.

We also disagree with your preference for a college or university president to chair each implementation team. Rather, we believe that each team should select their own leadership, perhaps co-chairs who will also set agendas.

The IFO also concurs with the state university students’ resolution concerning CTF’s desired outcomes:

  1. Transferability and credit for prior learning does not sacrifice quality of the education through standardization;
  2. The alignment with workforce needs does not diminish the quality and accessibility of the liberal arts programs;
  3. It encourages affordability and access without centralizing education;
  4. It aligns with Minnesota State College and Universities’ (MnSCU) policy to prepare students for life and citizenship, not just employment.

We look forward to working with you on this initiative.


cc:  Nancy Joyer

John O’Brien

MnSCU Board of Trustees


The following resolutions were passed by the MSUSA Board of Directors on April 13, 2014:

Resolution #1

MSUSA’s public/official stance on Charting the Future’s desired outcomes:

MSUSA supports Charting the Future if:

1. Transferability and credit for prior learning does not sacrifice quality of the education through standardization

2. The alignment with workforce needs does not diminish the quality and accessibility of the liberal arts programs

3. It encourages affordability and access without centralizing education.

4. It aligns with the MnSCU policy to prepare students for life and citizenship, not just employment.

Resolution #2

MSUSA’s public/official stance on the implementation of Charting the Future

MSUSA views starting the implementation process at the end of spring semester as denying/ignoring the value of student involvement. We request the Chancellor begin the process of implementation in alignment with academic schedules.

Furthermore, proportional student representation does not exist on the committees currently proposed. Student input from numerous consolations which include, but are not limited to: Charting the Future committees, university search committees, campus visits from the Chancellor, and testimonies and suggestions from the MSUSA State Chair have been heard but not listened to. Here are the three options that we see appropriate. The first presented option is our most favorable option. However we offer two additional options as alternatives.

  • Configure the committees in a balanced power. This would include one representative from each collective bargaining unit: 1 MSUSA, 1 MSCSA, 1 IFO, 1 MSCF, 1 MSUAASF, 1 MMA, 1 MAPE, I AFSCME, 2 Presidents, and 1 representative from the System Office.
  • Donate the “Addition Campus Staff’s” four spaces to student representation, providing three members representing MSUSA and three members representing MSCSA. This will provide students (combined colleges and universities) with one-third (33 percent) of committee representation, Faculty and Staff with one-third, and presidents and system office staff with one-third.
  • Remove “Additional Campus Staff’s” fours slots and limit the “System Office Staff” to two. This will decrease the size of the committee and incorporate greater representation for students as a result. This provides students, presidents, and system office staff each with sixteen percent, faculty and staff each with twenty-five percent.

Additionally, in all options students have the ability to elect their association staff to represent student interest when qualified student representation is unavailable.

We request the committee meetings to be open to public attendance to ensure transparency in the implementation process.

Teaching and learning are not market transactions: They are sacred encounters of soulcraft. This graphic leaves one who teaches social science and the humanities with a heavy heart and despairing about the eventual extinction of well-educated citizens.


My suggestions were just discussed by MPR’s Kerri Miller and her guests on the “Daily Circuit.”

These books are not for everyone but are quite short and readable–and they have a bit more depth and bite than most of those on the list. Learning to Drive by Katha Pollitt, These are reflective and self-critical essays by an aging feminist. Facing Unpleasant Facts by George Orwell. George Packer’s recent anthology resuscitates the prickly social critic for contemporary readers. Finally, Dark Water by W.E.B. DuBois. Written in 1920, it was 75 years ahead of its time. He use autobiography to explicate issues of race, gender, globalism, and class.  No one since has done it better.

 Mark Twain’s little rules. These require that the author shall:
  1. Say what he is proposing to say, not merely come near it.
  2. Use the right word, not its second cousin.
  3. Eschew surplusage.
  4. Not omit necessary details.
  5. Avoid slovenliness of form.
  6. Use good grammar.
  7. Employ a simple and straightforward style.
George Orwell’s six little rules on writing:
  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Do not ever use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say something outright barbarous.


Torstenson 2014

This post was first published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press on March 6, 2014.

Metropolitan State University’s alumni magazine, Buzz, asked graduates for their favorite professors in the school’s history. As one of those chosen, the editor asked me to pick four favorite books for an upcoming story.

There is no finer homage to a professor than to live on as a favorite teacher in the memories of former students. What is especially gratifying about this recognition is that apple-polishing is no longer of any value.

Now that I’m nearly 70 years old, this list of books differs from those I might have chosen at age 30 or 50. Even so, I was surprised at the enduring influence these authors have had on my life and times. I offer these books because they were particularly edifying for me, and may be for others as well.

The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, Albert Camus

For more than 45 years, the fiction and essays of Camus have provided me insight and inspiration. While a man of letters, he was also a man of action.

He joined the underground French Resistance and courageously fought Nazi occupation. In this book, he rejects murder as a political tactic, whether committed by terrorists or revolutionaries. Being a realist and understanding human frailties, he advocates rebellion rather than revolution. He concisely defines the rebel and rebellion: “What is a rebel but a man [person] who says no”; and, “I rebel — therefore we exist.”

The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness, Reinhold Niebuhr

In the ’60s and ’70s, I was an unreconstructed student radical, a naive utopian. When reality sobered me up, Niebuhr saved me from cynicism and despair. He wrote, “The preservation of a democratic civilization requires the wisdom of the serpent and the harmlessness of the dove. The children of light must be armed with the wisdom of the children of darkness but remain free from their malice.”

Written in 1943, the book was a vindication of democracy in a dark time: “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.”

Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil, W.E.B. Du Bois

Du Bois wrote this long-forgotten gem in 1920. The most moving chapters are autobiographical, including one about being a servant at a Lake Minnetonka resort. Chapter after chapter demonstrate that he was a man ahead of his time. “The Souls of White Folk” is a founding document of Whiteness studies, and “The Hands of Ethiopia” earned him the accolade “father of Pan-Africanism.”

His feminism is evident in “Damnation of Women,” where he recalls the four women of his boyhood — “They existed not for themselves, but for men.” From Du Bois, I learned the art and craft of using auto-biography as a tool for sociological analysis, and that activism is for the long haul (some 65 years for him).

Facing Unpleasant Facts, George Orwell

While best known for 1984 and Animal Farm, his legacy more likely will be as the 20th century’s finest essayist in the English language. Orwell had a single-minded devotion to truth. In this collection, we get hints of his experiments with truth: as a colonial police officer in Burma, a dishwasher in Paris, a hobo in London, a chronicler of England’s industrial working class, and a participant in the Spanish Civil War.

His biography, shaped by world history, led him “to make political writing into an art.” Orwell’s intellectual honesty and his prose style have been the standard by which I have measured myself.

I leave you with the poet John Ciardi’s classic adieu, “Good words to you.”

I received this malicious and hateful letter yesterday. A good sociologist is both a participant in, and an observer of, the human comedy. Yesterday, I was a participant; today, I am an observer.

The letter is a case study in the sociology of gossip. Gossip is a form of social control and contains a moral judgment. It is what Tracy Wilson calls “malice with a purpose”—to destroy a rival’s reputation. Gossip is often motivated by what Max Scheler described as ressentiment, hateful assertions fueled by feelings of social impotence. This “friend” foolishly miscalculated the damage that the letter would do, imagining an outcome conjured up only in the author’s delusional and subservient psyche. How little you know me. I’ve always been, and always will be, impervious to all  efforts to break my spirit. Bring it on!  

Dear Monte,

I am contacting you because I have a great deal of respect for you and feel that you have a right to know about a situation that effects [sic] you very much.

I will be blunt and get right to the point. I have heard from several members of the Metro State community that there is a widespread belief that you have faked your illness for these many years. When I was told this by one person she said you had done it for all of the awards and recognition that you got because people thought you were going to die soon. When I asked another person about it, they said that everyone at Metro knew your illness was a lie for a long time.

There was even a friend of mine who told me that they went to a conference and someone from another university asked how you were doing. My friend told them you were doing better, and the other person laughed. When asked why they were laughing, they replied that they had heard from someone else connected to Metro that you were never sick to begin with. These stories are all over the place, and it makes me heartsick to know that people can be so cruel.

I am very sorry to tell you of such a thing, and to have to be anonymous about it. I hope you will understand that there are sometimes important reasons for this. And even though I know this news may hurt deeply, I felt you had a right to know about this.


A Friend


That tongue-in-cheek quip came from a TV reporter who had spotted me at a legislative hearing a couple of years ago. On my 65th birthday—February 17, 2010—I got a call informing me that I had a rare, terminal cancer. The median survival rate from diagnosis is 14 months. That was four years ago this week. By year five, the mortality rate is 95 percent. I hope to beat the dealer again.

Some claim that “Monte Bute” is a stage name. That is one of the few things I have not concocted. Having been stigmatized as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I’ve spent a lifetime giving my spoiled identity a do-over. Truth is that each of us has an existential freedom to script ourselves and our storyline—or to haphazardly allow others to do it for us.

Charles Lemert writes of the “mysterious power of social structures.” Far more than most of us care to admit, those powers define who we are and shape the contours of our lives. Too many of us live in a simulated reality analogous to the movie “The Matrix.”

Much of the time, this socially constructed reality seems immutable. It assigns us, for good or ill, identities and social roles. All too often, we accept without question those identities and play the roles we are dealt. A sociological aphorism to keep in mind: Either we “take” roles or we “make” roles. In other words, we have a fate or we have a destiny.

“Monte Bute,” a character I conjured up back in the day, seldom follows the screenplay. Whether it is the scripts of prisons and mental hospitals or political organizations and universities, he insists on improvising his lines and actions. This does not mean he does not run amok; he does so routinely, sometimes paying a god-awful price. Occasionally he even tilts at windmills. Nevertheless, he remains resolutely resilient and as stubbornly swashbuckling as a naive Don Quixote, ever looking for the next adventure.

I approach death and dying just like all other movies I’ve been in—ignore the script and improvise like hell! If there is any such a thing, I will be eternally grateful to family, friends, students, and colleagues for having shared the stage. Your nurturing presence during the past four years has empowered me to play my most challenging and fulfilling role. We are nearing the end of this film, but I am sure I’ll fashion a denouement that will surprise even Monte . . .


In tomorrow’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof’s column takes academics to the woodshed for failing to communicate with the general public. He refuses to accept the common ivory tower rationalization that the great unwashed masses are just too stupid to grasp our “arcane” and “turgid” prose in peer-reviewed publications. Kristof suggests an alternative explanation: Much of our writing is “gobbledygook.”

“SOME of the smartest thinkers on problems at home and around the world are university professors, but most of them just don’t matter in today’s great debates.

“The most stinging dismissal of a point is to say: ‘That’s academic.’ In other words, to be a scholar is, often, to be irrelevant.

“One reason is the anti-intellectualism in American life, the kind that led Rick Santorum to scold President Obama as “a snob” for wanting more kids to go to college, or that led congressional Republicans to denounce spending on social science research. Yet it’s not just that America has marginalized some of its sharpest minds. They have also marginalized themselves. . . .

I write this in sorrow, for I considered an academic career and deeply admire the wisdom found on university campuses. So, professors, don’t cloister yourselves like medieval monks — we need you!”