28 March 2017

The University of Loisiana at Monroe is run by vandals

This is shocking.

From the University of Louisiana at Monroe Museum of Natural History’s Facebook page:

Dear Friends,

It is my sad duty to report to you that the ULM administration has decided to divest the research collections in the Museum of Natural History. This includes the 6 million fish specimens in the Neil Douglas fish collection and the nearly 500,000 plant specimens in the R. Dale Thomas plant collection. They find no value in the collections and no value of the collections to the university. The College was given 48 hours to suggest an alternate location for the collections so that Brown Stadium can be renovated for the track team. With only about 20 hours left, we have found no magic solution yet. To add insult to injury on what was a very hard day, we were told that if the collections are not relocated to other institutions, the collections will be destroyed at the end of July.

While we weep that our own institution would turn its back on 50+ years of hard work and dedication, we will not abandon the collections to the dumpsters. They did not have the courage to inform us face-to-face, but we have the courage to persevere through these dark times.

Oh, in other sad news, we were informed that there will not be any expansion of the public displays in Hanna Hall.

I understand that sometimes universities need to change what they do. And I’ll say that it’s not reasonable that universities support athletics and student athletes. But come on. Giving 48 hours notice over the fate of millions of specimens is ludicrous.

This is the exact opposite of what universities are supposed to do. Universities are supposed to be institutions that preserve knowledge for future generations, not chuck it in dumpsters.

Shame on you, ULM. Shame on you. You’re acting like vandals, not scholars.

I think the only hope for this collection is that enough people draw attention to its plight on social media that the university administration will change its course.

Hat tip to Terry McGlynn.

Update, 29 March 2017: The original Facebook post is gone. Now there’s this one:

Press Release: ULM to donate two collections from Museum of Natural History

By mid-July the fish and plant collections of the University of Louisiana Monroe Museum of Natural History will hopefully have a new home, according to Dr. Eric Pani, Vice President for Academic Affairs.

Several factors led to the decision to donate the collections, which have been stored in Brown Stadium since the museum was moved to Hanna Hall last year. Many of the specimens are preserved in flammable liquid and must be kept in a facility with a fire sprinkler system.

“Unfortunately, the fiscal situation facing the university over the years requires us to make choices like this. We can no longer afford to store the collections and provide all of the public services we have in the past,” Pani said.

Last week Pani told leaders of the College of Arts, Education and Sciences, which manages the museum, of the decision. He met with them again this week. He said the collections, except for some of the teaching specimens, will be donated and relocated by mid-July. The CAES people asked for 48 hours to determine if space on campus could be found and the entire collection retained.

Tuesday posts on social media could have been interpreted that the collection would be destroyed in a few hours.

Pani addressed other statements on social media, including that there would be no expansion of the museum. He clarified that expansion will be postponed for about two years while another project is underway.

The collections in Hanna Hall are open for public viewing; the specimens in Brown Stadium are for research.

Pani said renovations and improvements to the track at Brown Stadium are slated to begin in the summer. The work will raise the track to sanctioned status, allowing meets to be held there and other schools to host track and field competitions. Thus, it will provide an economic development boost for the region.

“It would be an honor for the university to donate the collection to an organization with the space to preserve and display it, and we fully expect to find such a facility as soon as possible,” Pani said.

I’m still kind of gobsmacked that a provost would argue that a stadium should take precedence over a museum because money. A museum represents a university’s primary mission. Sports does not.

This press release is nowhere to be found on the university’s news center.

More additional: Gizmodo features the story and has more comments from the VP for academic affairs, Eric Pani.

Because state appropriations have been cut more than 50% since 2008, we have struggled to provide public services. The collections have not been used for research by our students and faculty much in the last few years but are being used in class. Research use has largely been done by others from loans we have made to them.

Given that, I asked that Biology pare the collection down to something that would fit into a space typical of a classroom and would meet their teaching needs. The rest of the collection needed to be moved.

I asked that they begin to seek other institutions willing to accept our donation and transport it to their new home. As I further explained to them, this work needed to be done by mid-July because of the construction timeline involved in the renovation of the space. The 48-hr period mentioned in the Facebook post was based on their request to locate other space on our campus where the whole collection could be moved. Given what I know about campus space, I doubt they will find anything, so it would be better for them to spend the time looking for someone to accept the donation. However, I am willing to listen if they can find oncamous space. I just don’t want the search dragging on.

Christopher Dick shares an email from Pani. It’s basically the same as the Gizmodo statement.

As the Gizmodo article notes:

You can’t spell Pani without pain.

Still more additional: Andy Farke lays out the problems of trying to find a home for abandoned museum collections.

Without $$$, it's asking the impossible. It costs a lot to transfer even a well curated collection from one place to the next, even under the best of circumstances. ... Space, cabinets, databasing, archival materials, staff time, etc. It adds up fast! This is also the reason why museums are often very picky about what we take as donations or accessions.

External links

ULM Museum of Natural History Facebook post

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