Canada Museum of Nature biologists fired

Julian Humphries jmh3 at CORNELL.EDU
Thu Oct 14 14:48:57 CDT 1993

(Pulled from a BioSci Newsgroup, Bad news for systematics in Canada)

October 12, 1993

Dear Reader,

The Canadian Museum of Nature is experiencing a profound crisis.
Recently a drastic change in direction for the museum was initiated
by the director and board of trustees. The most distressing aspect
of this change in course has been that the research and collections
section of the museum has been gutted. Many top level scientists
have had their positions terminated, and the collections have been
put under the care of people who are overworked and underqualified
to handle them. These collections are in serious danger of being
permanently damaged and their scientific usefulness reduced to
minimal levels.

In essence, mammalogy, ornithology, and herpetology research at the
museum will cease. Many other sections have also been severely
disabled. This will put serious constraints on Canada's ability to
participate in the international Convention on Biodiversity for
example, and will undermine the position of the only national
museum in this country with a mandate to preserve and study
Canada's natural history heritage.

The Sierra Club of Canada, in cooperation with other environmental
groups, scientists, and private citizens, has started a group
called True Fiends of Nature to try and redress this calamity.
We hope that you will help us to turn this situation around. Please
read the following background information and send us a letter
addressed "To the Prime Minister". We will see that it is forwarded
to the new Prime Minister after our elections, which are in
progress right now, are over.

[For Australians]

The President (formerly called Director) of the museum, Allan
Emery, is currently in Australia on a speaking tour of your museums
and universities. His topic is how to take museums into the next
century. He will be telling your institutions to follow the same
path he has undertaken here in Canada. It can only mean the end of
serious scientific research and the degradation of your leading
research institutions. Please attend his lectures and ask hard
questions about what he is selling. Get your colleagues together
and talk with him about the problems you see associated with his
approach. The British Museum has tried this approach and is now
almost a laughing stock in the museum world. Canada's national
Natural History Museum is trying to follow the same path. Don't let
your museums follow.

We greatly appreciate your help and look forward to hearing from you.
Sincerely,  Heather Hamilton  Conservation Director Sierra Club of
Canada and Coordinator, True Friends of Nature

               (Formerly the National Museum of Natural Sciences)

      The Canadian Museum of Nature is experiencing a serious and profound
crisis, the
result of more than eight years of poor management. A recent restructuring
of the
Museum led to 51 layoffs, 39 permanent and 12 term positions, together
about 20% of
a total staff of 267. Furthermore, there was a fundamental change in
direction, affecting
collections, research and public programming. The staff reduction was aimed
predominantly at functions directly related to end products and represents a 31%
decrease in this area.  By comparison, less than 2% of the administrative
was affected. The cuts include 9 researchers (7 scientists out of a total
of 24, and 2
assistants), 6 collection experts, 3 library staff, 13 in the Education and
Display Division
and 6 in Business Operations and Publishing.  Only two managers were laid-off.
Management blamed "functional" changes and reduced funding for the
reductions in staff.

      Research in ornithology, mammalogy, herpetology, bryophytes, isopods,
and palaeomycology will be discontinued, and in vascular plants, research
will be
decreased. Technical support has been eliminated for the following
collections: molluscs,
mosses, osteology, crystallography, and no new bird and mammal specimens will be
added to the existing collections.

      One has to question the rationale and judgement that eliminated
virtually all
expertise in living vertebrates while leaving that in fossil vertebrates
intact; that cripples
the ranks of producers, but left the mandarins and administrative staff
largely untouched.

      Deterioration in the general health of the institution accelerated in
1990, when the
Museum became a separate Crown Corporation and changed its name. At this time, a
counterproductive reorganization was imposed. The curatorships were
abolished and
collection and research functions were split into separate divisions.
Curators were
converted into generic research scientists, no longer involved in
collections. The
development and care of the national collections are now in the hands of
five collection
managers, a chief and a programme director, most of whom were recruited
from former
support staff. For example, the programme director and chief responsible
for collections
were assistants in Paleobiology and Mineral Sciences respectively.
Qualifications and
experience of present collection staff are, in most cases, not commensurate
with their
new responsibilities.

      In January 1992, an independent taskforce of prominent scientists and
from outside the museum, made 33 recommendations on research and on the
organization of research and collections. These recommendations were either
modified  beyond recognition or rejected by the director, now President,
Alan Emery. His most
recent plan does not bear the slightest resemblance to the original
recommendations of
the taskforce. It appears, therefore, that the taskforce report, prepared
at great cost (>
$ 125,000), is a waste of effort and taxpayers' money.

      In February 1993, a "transition team" was created by the director to
speed up
change and alter the course of the museum. Leadership of the team was
delegated to
a private consultant, Robert LeBlanc, who has no background whatsoever in
or natural science. Other members of the team included a former secretary,
a former
exhibit researcher, the associate director (also without museum experience), a
management consultant, and the director. The collective experience and
expertise of the
professional staff was not tapped and meaningful consultation did not
occur. Proposals
on human resources, research, collections and public programming, produced
by the
transition team have now been approved by the Board of Trustees and the
enumerated above, are a direct consequence. The decision of the Board of
Trustees will
also have dire consequences for research, collections and public programming.

      The new policy calls for research to be directed by the Board of
Trustees, who are
all political appointees, and none of whom is a natural history scientist
or has actual
experience in running a museum. Research is to be "focused" through
so-called Centres
of Knowledge. Taxon-oriented research is not looked on favourably, despite
lip service
to the importance of systematics. "Team work" and "interdisciplinary
studies" in "solution-
oriented research" is what Alan Emery wants. To achieve this six Centres of
are planned in: biodiversity, polar studies, inter-American studies,
planetary origins,
humans and nature, and science and society. The Centre for Biodiversity's
scope will be
severely restricted by the elimination of all taxonomic expertise in
mammals, birds,
reptiles, amphibians,, mosses and fungi, and a reduction in expertise in
vascular plants.
At a time when the issues of biodiversity are prominent, especially with
commitment to the Convention on Biodiversity, and the museum's desire to have a
leadership role in biodiversity, the loss of basic taxonomic research in
vertebrates is crippling.  The Centre for Polar Studies will also be
severely handicapped
by the loss of the museum's two chief arctic experts from the Ethology
section, and the
rumoured sale of the High Arctic Research Station.

      Collection staff has been reduced, no preparation in vertebrates will
take place and
taxon-oriented biologists are no longer associated with the collections,
jeopardizing their
proper development and use. A plan approved by the Board of Trustees
(Collections: The
Canadian Museum of Nature's Role and Responsibilities, Fitzgerald, G.R.,
1993) calls for
the "regionalization" of collections and specimens are to be categorized in
classes with
"defined levels of importance" (permanent and working collections).
"Collection managers
will be delegated authority to manage the working collections", and it is
anticipated that
"...collection reviews will result in the ...disposal of significant
numbers of surplus
specimens." It is conceivable that the collections will end up scattered
across the country
or even outside Canada. Use of the collection by scientists is hampered by the
introduction of unnecessary bureaucratic devices.

      At a time when education regarding environmental issues is of
critical importance
to our survival, half of the museum's public education staff has been
dismissed. Public
programming has been directed to abandon reality for the new fad of
"virtual reality".
There will be a move away from "traditional" three-dimensional exhibits to
more dynamic displays employing the latest electronic gadgetry. Emphasis is
on the
medium, not on the quality of the message. Productions of travelling
exhibits, long a
mainstay of the national outreach of the museum, are being severely curtailed or

      A new "entrepreneurial spirit" will rule all programs and the
dissemination and
pursuit of knowledge will be subject to the profit motive.

      Fundamental flaws inherent in the governance of the museum, a crown
corporation, are in large part responsible for the present developments. To
state the
problem succinctly: too much power is concentrated in too few hands, the
director's and
the chairman of the board's and there is no participation by stakeholders
(e.g. groups
interested in nature, the museum's own staff) in shaping the policies of
the museum. The
Board of Trustees, appointed by the government, is not sufficiently
knowledgeable about
natural history or natural science museums to do a proper job.  A trustee
still on the
Board and a former trustee, both with  backgrounds in natural sciences,
have recently
criticized the functioning of the Board and expressed their extreme
frustration with the
present system.

      The staff of the Canadian Museum of Nature, through the Professional
Institute of
the Public Service of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada, has
asked the
Minister of the new Heritage Department for a stay on current restructuring
and a high
level investigation of management at the museum and the Board of Trustees. Your
support is crucial.

     Because of the current federal election and the present uncertain
political situation,
we would ask you to write a letter to the Prime Minister, but to mail it to
the address
below.  We will see to it that your message of support is distributed to
the appropriate
politicians and to the Board of Trustees of the Canadian Museum of Nature.
Please, mail
your letter to:

            1 Nicholas Street, Suite 620
            Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7, Canada

            Tel:(613) 233-1906             Fax:(613) 233-2292

      TRUE FRIENDS OF NATURE is a network of environmental organizations,
museum professionals and concerned citizens, coordinated by the Sierra Club
of Canada,
whose aim is to save the Canadian Museum of Nature.
        glen newton  EMR Canada, Ottawa
        gnewton at

"I believe in getting into hot water; it keeps you clean."
                -- G. K. Chesterton


All the good ones are taken....    :(

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