[Taxacom] Natural History Collections Under Fire

Weakley, Alan weakley at bio.unc.edu
Wed Mar 29 11:40:35 CDT 2017

I agree with Doug's analysis of which account to give greater credence.

But...  I worry about the financial argument.  This is the classic double-edged sword.  The administration (which does not seem to value the scientific and educational value of the specimens -- by chance I was using this morning a M.S. thesis from ULM almost completely based on those specimens) could take the attitude of "oh, if they're worth MONEY, we won't give them away without being paid!".  Trying to argue for financial value of scientific specimens takes one into arguing for the worth of something on a different and unfavorable playing field -- reminds of the economic analysis of whales and whaling that suggested that the best thing (economically) would be to hunt all whales to extinction as expeditiously as possible and convert underutilized whaling fleet assets to other purposes.  I'm not sure the University administrators are interested in some intrinsic monetary value of the specimens.  I think they are making a market decision (and maybe a rational one from the POV of modern universities-as-businesses) that the museum/herbarium collection is an "underperforming asset", not generating grant overhead proportional to its space allocation.  


Alan Weakley
Director of the UNC-CH Herbarium (NCU), North Carolina Botanical Garden
Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Biology and Curriculum for the Environment and Ecology
Campus Box 3280, Coker Hall 419, 120 South Road
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill NC 27599-3280
919.619.1101 (mobile)

-----Original Message-----
From: Taxacom [mailto:taxacom-bounces at mailman.nhm.ku.edu] On Behalf Of Doug Yanega
Sent: Wednesday, March 29, 2017 12:23 PM
To: taxacom at mailman.nhm.ku.edu
Subject: Re: [Taxacom] Natural History Collections Under Fire

On 3/29/17 8:19 AM, John Grehan wrote:
> Last week Pani told leaders of the College of Arts, Education and 
> Sciences, which manages the museum, of the decision. He met with them 
> again this week. He said the collections, except for some of the 
> teaching specimens, will be donated and relocated by mid-July. The 
> CAES people asked for 48 hours to determine if space on campus could 
> be found and the entire collection retained.
Contrast this with what the collection staff stated:

"The College was given 48 hours to suggest an alternate location for the collections so that Brown Stadium can be renovated for the track team." 
and "we were told that if the collections are not relocated to other institutions, the collections will be destroyed at the end of July." and "They did not have the courage to inform us face-to-face".

Someone is not telling the whole truth here, and one has to suspect it is the administrator, who did not identify where the specimens were to be donated, says there was a meeting, and omitted the ultimatum. The staff posting, on the other hand, smacks of sincerity and desperation, and says there was no meeting; of the two versions of the story, I give it more credence, though I stand to be corrected if anyone knows better.

As a follow-up, I might point something out that no one has mentioned:

Another recent news item that got significant attention was the donation of a collection of 1.25 million weevils and planthoppers to ASU, valued at 10 million dollars.


At that rate, the collections at ULM are worth between 50 and 100 million dollars (surely fish and plants are worth more per specimen than weevils, at least in the public's perception).

Let's think for a moment about the Board of Trustees at ULM; *how do they feel about ULM administrators saying that if they cannot find a place to give away nearly 100 million dollars' worth of ULM assets, that those assets will be destroyed?*

If these people only care about dollars, is this not the exact kind of argument that could get them to reverse this decision? Would the Board of Trustees not be the first point of contact to start such a reversal in motion, if the admins have already made their decision?


Doug Yanega      Dept. of Entomology       Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0314     skype: dyanega
phone: (951) 827-4315 (disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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