OVERVIEW. The University of Iowa Herbarium (IA): Endangered. The Museum of Natural History: Threatened.

Ken Kinman kinman at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 15 04:30:29 CDT 2003

Dear All,
     I think Diana may well be correct that this could just be the
beginnings of such problems at the University of Iowa (and at other
universities in the midwest).  Although in this case, perhaps the assault on
the Herbarium is giving some advanced warning of the even scarier situation
at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln.
      Perhaps we could learn a lesson from the world of banking, in which
midwestern banks have been slowly consolidated and then eventually taken
over by national banks.  I have personally closed my bank account at one
such bank (which consolidated regionally, and then fees jumped dramatically
when a national bank took over just a few years later).
      It is a rather insidious trend in business (and not only in banking).
That it should spread from business into the realm of science is increasing
alarming.  And that outgoing university officials would sell out their
biological research programs seems to reek of politics.  Something is
definitely rotten and the smell is too offensive to ignore any longer.  I am
totally fed up, and thus my present rant.
      And just a note of warning to molecularists who feel that they are
immune to this trend.  If you are not at an extremely strong university with
a lot of pull, you are liable to eventually suffer from the same trend
toward centralization.  Some minor consolidation may be warranted, but as in
other trends, I fear that this one will be far overdone.  The biggest
problem is that such trends have a momentum that's increasing difficult to
stop as time goes on and proceed far beyond the bounds of logic or normal
      I personally believe that cladism in its strict form is one of the key
causes (or at least a symptom or side-effect) of such trends, one which has
not been sufficiently resisted over the past 30 years.  And ultimately, even
the strict cladists will be squeezed into deciding between business and
science.  If giants like Monsanto, Philip Morris, and the national
government keep centralizing their grip over science, we will all be losers.
      If we can resist this trend, I certainly look forward to
participating.  If not, I can only pray that I will be dead and gone before
it gets that bad.  The writing is clearly on the walls, and the heartland is
where it's presently most apparent.  After sufficient centralization, even
the basic tenets of evolution could be more easily attacked by the politics
of fanaticism.  May sound absurd and unlikely, but history is full of
medocrity and resulting absurdities.   It's a trend that can still be
reversed, but perhaps it will be too late 10 years hence if its momentum is
not resisted now.
     The rather subtle strategy of divide and conquer (molecularists vs.
morphologists) may well succeed if we aren't careful.  In the end, even
molecular biology would most likely suffer as well, but it will be far, far
too late by then.  Is Biology a science or is it a subset of business?
Sounds like an absurd question to most biologists today, but perhaps it will
unfortunately be asked by more biologists if our discipline becomes
increasingly marginalized by funding decisions by business interests and
           ------- Ken Kinman
>From: Diana Horton <diana-horton at UIOWA.EDU>
>Reply-To: Diana Horton <diana-horton at UIOWA.EDU>
>Subject: OVERVIEW.  The University of Iowa Herbarium (IA):  Endangered.
>          The Museum of Natural History:  Threatened.
>Date: Mon, 14 Apr 2003 17:25:51 -0500
>In summer 2002, the President of the University of Iowa and the Dean of the
>College of Liberal Arts and Sciences signed an agreement to transfer the
>Herbarium to Iowa State University.  Shortly thereafter, that president
>left the university for another position.  Subsequently, we appealed the
>decision to the Interim President, but he declined to overturn it.  In
>early 2003, we learned that a vice president would be installed as
>President in March and the Dean is interviewing for a position
>elsewhere.  We initiated an on-going media campaign to stop the transfer,
>as documented on the Herbarium web site,
>http://atmos.cgrer.uiowa.edu/herbarium.  Recently, the new President has
>responded to letters of protest that he does not intend to overturn the
>It appears that the assault on the Herbarium may be just the
>beginning.  There is ominous evidence that the Museum of Natural History
>could be next.  The Museum has been without a Director since 2000 when the
>previous Director retired, and in 2001, it was transferred from the College
>of Liberal Arts and Sciences to Student Services with its annual budget
>slashed from $10,000 to $2,500.
>University of Iowa administrators have given various reasons for their
>decision to transfer the Herbarium, but none of these is convincing.  It is
>more likely that the decision was driven by the increasing emphasis on
>molecular genetic approaches in Biological Sciences.
>The Herbarium houses a regionally significant collection that plays an
>active and vital role in research, teaching and outreach, at modest cost to
>the university.  An environmental center at the university has offered to
>replace Biological Sciences as administrative home.  This center also has
>pledged to cover the salary of the staff position for support of the
>collection, and other expenses, for utilities, telephone, etc., are
>minimal.  The Herbarium currently is housed in a building that will be
>taken over by Chemistry within the next few years, so the collection will
>have to be moved.  However, it presently occupies just 2,100 square feet,
>and this could be reduced by half with mobile shelving.  This minimal
>amount of space surely could be identified in existing facilities, and a
>previous NSF proposal for mobile shelving for the Herbarium could generate
>external funding to cover that expense.
>We continue our strenuous efforts to stop the transfer of the Herbarium on
>the grounds that it will sever a historic link to the development of
>biological sciences at the University of Iowa; it will eliminate plant
>collections-based research at this university; it will compromise the
>quality of the educational experience for liberal arts students and
>seriously undermine the Green Track of the popular Environmental Sciences
>Program; and it will terminate a flourishing outreach program.  Overall,
>fewer people will learn about collections-based research, plants and
>conservation of Iowa's remnant natural habitats, and fewer will have ready
>access to a vital resource that serves myriad constituencies.
>If you wish to support our efforts, we would be most grateful if you will
>write to President Skorton (and copy to me).  E-mail is an effective way to
>contact him.
>David J. Skorton, President
>101 Jessup Hall
>University of Iowa
>Iowa City, IA  52242
>Email:  david-skorton at uiowa.edu
>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 uiowa.edu
>Herbarium web site:             http://atmos.cgrer.uiowa.edu/herbarium


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