DETAILS OF THE DECISION. University of Iowa Herbarium (IA): Endangered. Museum of Natural History: Threatened.

Diana Horton diana-horton at UIOWA.EDU
Mon Apr 14 18:01:07 CDT 2003

In July 2002, just days prior to her departure to the University of
Michigan, former University of Iowa President Mary Sue Coleman and Dean
Linda Maxson of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences signed a
Memorandum of Understanding to transfer the Herbarium to Iowa State
University.  This agreement was the culmination of a decision by Dean
Maxson in late 2001 that was made without the involvement of faculty in
Biological Sciences, the Environmental Sciences Program, numerous other
campus facilities that rely on the Herbarium as a resource, and me, the
Director and Curator.  We appealed the decision to Interim President
Willard ('Sandy') Boyd, who declined to change any decisions made by the
former administration.  In January 2003, we initiated the on-going media
campaign to stop the transfer.  Former Vice President for Research, David
Skorton, was installed as President in March 2003 and we learned that Dean
Maxson is interviewing for a position elsewhere.  Recently, President
Skorton has responded to letters of protest that he does not intend to
overturn the decision.

It seems that administrators engaged in unorthodox activities to promote
Dean Maxson's decision to transfer the Herbarium.  In January 2002, I was
told that Dean Maxson contacted three Directors at the National Science
Foundation and told them that IA has no Curator, although there can be no
question that she was fully aware of my status.  This would establish the
Herbarium as an 'orphaned collection' and would greatly enhance the chances
of Iowa State obtaining NSF funds to install mobile shelving, thereby
creating the space to absorb a portion of our collection.  Later, in
mid-August 2002, I learned that Biological Sciences Chair, Jack Lilien,
had, without my knowledge or consent, given my (unfunded) 1997 NSF proposal
for mobile shelving for IA to the Director of the Iowa State Herbarium.  In
addition, Chair Lilien recently authorized Iowa State to take four cabinets
of Iowa specimens and subsequently reported that the transfer has begun,
even though Iowa State currently cannot accommodate the remaining 172

External Reviewers Recommended the Transfer in 1998
The idea of divesting the collection surfaced in a departmental review of
Biological Sciences in late 1998 when reviewers were provided with "a list
of special questions of particular concern to the Dean".  One of these was
"What space and resources are needed to maintain or upgrade the herbarium
to support present and anticipated future research and teaching
needs?"  The reviewers suggested that the vascular plants could be
transferred to Iowa State "if the University Administration is unwilling to
support the herbarium".  However, they clearly felt constrained by their
lack of collections' expertise, noting that "only one member of the
visiting committee has even tangential knowledge of this field", and they
recommended that the administration consult some plant systematists.  This
recommendation was not implemented, and even though the reviewers
specifically stated that the bryophyte collections "should remain at and be
supported by" the University of Iowa, the bryophytes are slated to be
included in the transfer.

The combined collection will be accessed by more researchers
With Ames a five-hour roundtrip from Iowa City, the collection will be
inaccessible, to all intents and purposes, to people working in eastern
Iowa.  Recently, it has been suggested that the University of Iowa will be
able to borrow "even significant portions" of the collection for research
and teaching purposes.  If we have the facilities to accommodate
significant portions of the collection, then there is no reason to get rid
of it in the first place.  This also is tacit acknowledgement that there is
significant need for the collection here.  Finally, borrowing collections
will require storage space and personnel to manage the transactions.  If we
have these, we can keep the collection here.

The combined collection will be more likely to generate federal funding
Dean Maxson has stated that Iowa State will rank among the top ten largest
collections nationally when it acquires Iowa's specimens.  This is
incorrect.  Iowa State currently ranks 32nd and Iowa is 44th (recent data
from P. Holmgren, New York Botanical Garden).  Iowa State presently lacks
the space to absorb our collection and will be submitting a proposal to NSF
for mobile shelving.  Even with compactors, their capacity will be limited
and they will not be able to accommodate about one-third of IA's
collections.  Thus, a significant portion of our historic collection will
be dispersed out-of-state.  Given Iowa State's space constraints, absorbing
two-thirds of our collection would place them 21st nationally.  It is
difficult to judge whether this would significantly improve their chances
for external funding.  Furthermore, their space constraints actually may
jeopardize the combined collections in the long run because they will
require a significantly larger facility.  Given our record of activity (see
below), the Iowa Herbarium presently is in a strong position to resubmit my
earlier NSF proposal for mobile shelving.

The costs of maintaining the Herbarium are prohibitive
It was reported that Herbarium expenses include salary for the half-time
Assistant Curator position, and annual costs of $10-20,000 per year for
utilities, maintenance and supplies.  Salary for the staff position is less
than $25,000 per year, and the Center for Global and Regional Environmental
Research, which receives funding directly from the Legislature has pledged
to cover that expense.  In addition, the daughter of a former Curator
recently made a substantial bequest to the University of Iowa Foundation,
provided the Herbarium stays at this university.  This bequest could be
used to develop an endowment for the long-term care and support of the
collection.  The cost to the university actually amounts to approximately
$5,000 per year for utilities, and telephone, postage and supplies that
average less than $700, for a total of $6,000 per year.

A new facility is needed to house the Herbarium
Within the next few years, all Biological Sciences faculty and the
Herbarium will have to move out of the building in which we currently are
housed.  No provision has been made to accommodate the Herbarium in the new
Biological Sciences facilities.  It has been suggested that the cost to
build comparable space that includes temperature and humidity controls
would be prohibitive, perhaps $5-600,000.  While the existing room where
the vascular plants are stored has a special air-handling system that
maintains the temperature at 60oF (but no humidity control), a special
air-handling system is not necessary as long as the room is
air-conditioned.  The existing air-handling equipment was installed because
there was no air-conditioning and cooling the room to 60o was an effective
way to control insects.

In any event, raising the spectre of building a new facility for the
Herbarium is a red herring.  It is difficult to believe that no existing
space can be found.  Currently, the Herbarium occupies just over 2,000
square feet; however, with mobile shelving, this could be reduced by half,
at a cost of $50,000.  With support from the university, a strong proposal
could be submitted to NSF to cover this cost.  Alternatively, if just those
specimens collected in Iowa were retained, approximately 600 square feet of
space would be required with compactors, at a cost of $25,000, and this
could be accommodated in my research area.

Overall, arguments that this decision was driven by a recommendation by
reviewers, the desire to increase the utility and value of the combined
collections, and fiscal and space constraints are unconvincing.  It is more
likely a consequence of the increasing emphasis on molecular genetic
approaches in Biological Sciences.  Recently, a search committee discussed
what courses a faculty candidate might teach and was told that there cannot
be any 'ologys'.  Presumably, that stricture is not intended to encompass

Diana Horton
Director and Curator, University of Iowa Herbarium
Associate Professor, Biological Sciences
312 CB
University of Iowa
Iowa City, IA  52242-1297

Ph.:    319-335-1320
E-mail: diana-horton at
Herbarium web site:   

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