When You Kill A Collection, You Kill Scholarship

Witness the beclowning of the University of Louisiana at Monroe (boldface mine):

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 on campus 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 donated 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.

Several points:

  1. Universities are supposed to engage in scholarship. Part of scholarship is the collection, curation, and archiving of data. It’s clear the University of Louisiana isn’t interested in scholarship.
  2. There has been a lot of talk about how intellectual capital is being increasingly concentrated in a few metro areas. Well, universities play a major role in preserving that intellectual capital and distributing it widely. Killing your collections doesn’t help.
  3. This seems like a very useful collection with a lot of specimens. Hopefully, some other museum will take it in.
  4. Most scientific infrastructure, despite what you see on the teevee machine is very precarious, and held together with very little funding–funding which is often uncertain.

This sucks.

The War on Science isn’t just being conducted by Trump et alia.

Update: Dr. Eric Pani adds:

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 on campus space. I just don’t want the search dragging on.

As for the track, the renovations will make it regulation size and will enable it to host meets. The visitors who attend those meets will add to our local economy and we will gain revenue. With the financial situation public higher education has faced for many years, that revenue is needed.

As we’ve noted many times, you get what you pay for, and you lose what you don’t pay for.

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2 Responses to When You Kill A Collection, You Kill Scholarship

  1. CBZ says:

    University of Arizona just accepted a collection of insects, from a couple who had been collecting their entire professional lives. Somewhere around a million (?). Don’t know if this info. Could be helpful.

  2. sedgequeen says:

    The need for a new home for the herbarium was posted on the appropriate listserve. I’m sure it has received offers, because I know certain big herbaria swallow up smaller ones every chance they get. The plant specimens (probably) won’t be lost, but they will move, probably out of state.

    I don’t know the situation for fish specimens. They’re harder to house. I know our fish collection couldn’t accept them.

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