University of Iowa Herbarium - Update

Diana Horton diana-horton at UIOWA.EDU
Tue Oct 21 16:30:08 CDT 2003

The Synopsis below summarizes a more extensive document that exceeds the
limit for posting on TAXACOM.  If anyone would like the entire document, I
will be happy to forward it either as an attachment or text.

Diana Horton

The Decision to Transfer the University of Iowa Herbarium
To Iowa State:  The Facts


         The University of Iowa Herbarium was established by 1869, if not
earlier, after the Iowa General Assembly mandated that the University would
make, maintain and exhibit a Cabinet of Natural History, which later became
the Museum of Natural History.  The Herbarium was the first in the state
and its development reflects the efforts of generations of Iowa scholars,
including Thomas Huston Macbride, Bohumil Shimek, Henry Conard and Robert
Thorne.  The collection is comprised of approximately 250,000 dried and
fossil plant specimens from all over the world, but the primary focus is
Iowa and North America.  It houses the only major collections of bryophytes
and plant fossils in the state.

         In December 2001, University of Iowa Dean Maxson decided to
transfer the Herbarium to Iowa State University.  Since then, a diverse
group of faculty, staff, students and the public have fought this decision,
internally initially and more recently in public.  Our strenuous efforts to
stop the transfer continue and we again solicit letters of support -- with
particular gratitude to those who already have written! -- to President
Skorton at david-skorton at, with a copy to me at
diana-horton at  Your letters are an effective tool to promote our
cause.  They empower us!

Recently, under the Freedom of Information Act, we have accessed letters
and statements concerning the Herbarium by three University of Iowa
administrators.  These documents contain, whether purposefully or not,
inaccuracies, misrepresentations and distortions, and we believe that some
or all of these documents have been provided to the National Science
Foundation (NSF).  The purpose of this communication is to elucidate the
most notable fallacies in these documents and to provide an accurate record
of the situation regarding the Herbarium.

         The essential facts are:
1.      The precedent-setting decision to transfer the University of Iowa
Herbarium to Iowa State evaded normal due process.  Rather than a
transparent, public process, the decision appears to have been essentially
unilateral, with successive administrators endorsing predecessor's
decisions, and without any serious consideration of opposing viewpoints.

2.      The research focus of the Department of Biological Sciences may
have shifted; however, the Herbarium is a university facility utilized by
diverse groups.  Furthermore, the Herbarium plays a fundamental role in the
thriving, interdisciplinary Environmental Sciences Program.

3.      Current activity levels in the Herbarium are robust, reflecting
active use of the collection by faculty, students, staff and the public of
eastern Iowa.  Over the last ten years, 100 publications/reports/creative
works and over 30 theses have been based on use of the Herbarium.  Over the
same 10 year period, class use of the Herbarium averaged over 300
students/yr in 10-12 courses.  We have an active outreach program that
includes presentations to conservation groups, schools and colleges, and
the Herbarium web site averages over 4,000 Requests for Pages and over
1,000 Distinct Hosts Served monthly.  A fundamental purpose of all of our
efforts to increase visibility and raise public consciousness of the
Herbarium has been to develop a strong foundation for resubmission of an
NSF proposal for collections' support.

4.      Funding is available at the University of Iowa for immediate and
long-term Herbarium maintenance.  An interdisciplinary environmental group,
the Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research
( that is funded directly by the state
legislature, independent of the University's budget, has pledged continuing
funds for the Herbarium staff position.  A bequest, estimated at $250,000,
has been pledged provided the Herbarium remains at Iowa.  The Friends of
the University of Iowa Herbarium, a nonprofit corporation, is engaged in an
effort to raise a $500,000 endowment.

5.      There is space for the Herbarium on the University of Iowa
campus.  One ideal site is Macbride Hall, a building specifically designed
for the Museum of Natural History and its collections, and named in honour
of one of the first Herbarium curators.  Approximately 4,000 square feet of
space is occupied by just 20 graduate student cubicles; the Herbarium
requires just over 2,000 square feet.

6.      The University of Iowa and Iowa State Herbaria are well cared for,
secure, and most accessible in their current locations.  Having a
collection in eastern Iowa is crucial to ensuring that biodiversity
investigations of this part of the state continue.

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