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Museum's budget will be cut by 20%
by Renu Sehgal
March 14, 1997
The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History's budget will be cut by 20 percent in July, and its exhibits relocated from the Wilbur Cross Building to allow renovations to begin in two years.
One option under study is to disperse the collections since no other large exhibit space is available on the Storrs campus.
In protest, faculty and staff not affiliated with the museum last week presented Chancellor Mark Emmert with a petition signed by 887 students, employees and patrons to save the museum.
The University currently funds $210,000 of the museum's operating costs, a 10 percent reduction from last year's budget. In a letter to the museum's board of directors, Emmert said its budget will be cut by 20 percent in the next fiscal year and another 20 percent in the 1998-1999 fiscal year. The museum's exhibits, housed in the south reading room of the Wilbur Cross Building since the museum opened 12 years ago, could be relocated to exhibit cases around campus.
The museum and other units that can attract outside funding must rely more on grants and fund-raising, Emmert said.
Judith W. Meyer, the interim vice provost who led a task force that discussed future directions for the museum, said the space in Wilbur Cross is needed for the new Center for Undergraduate Education. The CUE's mission is to coordinate academic functions and to use resources more efficiently as a way to make programs more accessible to undergraduate students.
"The cuts are part of the University's broader budget-balancing effort in which virtually every unit at the University is being asked to absorb some level of cut," Meyer said. "It's important for people to understand that the museum has received disproportionate support from the University since it is primarily for outreach."
A variety of mechanisms are available to continue that outreach to Connecticut's youth without major University investment now provided to the museum, Meyer said.
Both reading rooms in Wilbur Cross are needed for large seminar rooms, she said. The other room is occupied by Career Services.
"They are nice spaces to assemble large amounts of people," she said. "They are also envisioned as having multiple uses, including quiet reading."
The museum has made significant strides in supporting undergraduate and graduate education recently, and those efforts can continue even without a central exhibit space, Meyer said. By providing different academic departments with exhibits, the students can work more closely with them, she said. For example, students could help design new exhibits in the additional space the departments are getting under UConn 2000, as well as conduct research with the collections. Layoffs planned But Kent Holsinger, chairman to the museum board of directors and an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, said the proposed cuts would hurt the museum irreparably. Two of the museum's six staff members will be laid off in July and programming would be cut back substantially, he said. Another two people will be laid off in July 1998. Among the programs that could be cut is the Office of State Archaeology.
"The cuts would be devastating," Holsinger said. "It would not only cause a substantial decrease in the number of programs, but also would seriously undermine the financial support we receive from the public. It would be a spiraling downward that would lead to the destruction of the museum."
Without the level of programming the museum currently has, Holsinger said members would not continue to retain their memberships.
Emmert, himself a museum member, said the cuts are necessary as the University continues its four-year budget-balancing plan to eliminate a $14 million operating deficit.
"It has long been understood that the University, in order to sustain, and to increase, quality, must make difficult choices about resource allocations," he said. "It must invest in those programs which contribute most directly and effectively to its mission as a public research institution. Those units of the University which can attract external funds, either through gifts or fees, are being asked to assume ever-increased responsibility for achieving budgetary goals without an infusion of University monies. That is what the museum is being asked to do."
But museum officials say the University only pays about 80 percent of the museum's employee salaries. The rest of the salary expenses and all operating expenses about $170,000 are paid by membership dues, admission fees and income from an endowment.
Currently, 1,500 individuals or families maintain memberships, but more than 25,000 visitors attend museum programs, displays or events every year. Another 60,000 people attend off-campus traveling exhibits and talks and use teaching kits each year. As part of classes during the fall semester, more than 1,000 students attended special lectures or labs at the museum.
Members of the museum have sent letters to Emmert and President Philip E. Austin in support of restoring the cuts.
"The museum serves a vital role in promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for all aspects of natural history, especially focusing on Connecticut," Steven K. Burian, president of the Connecticut Entomological Society and a biology professor at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, said in a letter to Austin.
"In these times of tighter budgets it is not difficult to understand the need to conserve precious academic resources, but it is often not so easy to see the real value of programs," he said. "The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History has real value - value in terms of educational opportunities for students at UConn and the general public and value to the University as a vital part of its commitment in fulfilling its mission to the people of the state of Connecticut."