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Natural History museum lays future plans

The search for a new director of the Museum of Natural History is underway, as plans are being finalized that will secure the museum's future and strengthen its funding.

David L. Wagner, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, has agreed to serve as the museum's acting director while a search is conducted for a permanent director. Mark Emmert, chancellor and provost for University affairs, who announced the interim appointment, said he hopes to have a new director in place by July 1, 1998.

"The museum director will report to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Ross McKinnon. This new relationship will strengthen the museum's contribution to undergraduate and graduate research and instruction as well as provide more opportunities to link scholarship and academic inquiry with museum activities," Emmert said.

The museum's funding also has been restructured. The salary for the new director will be funded in part by the University and in part by museum-generated revenue. Emmert said both the University and the museum's membership and supporters have made a commitment to private fundraising.

"Over the next year or two we will need to raise more funds externally for support of staff and programs than we have in the past," said Kent Holsinger, chair of the museum's board of directors. "It's an agreement that will cause some short-term pain and adjustment, but will result in a stronger institution in the long run. But ... with a new, full-time director, we will have direction and stability for the future health of the museum."

As for the museum's location, it will stay put - for now.

"The main exhibit space will continue to be in the Wilbur Cross Building until summer of the year 2000," said Emmert. He added that temporary space is being identified for other museum operations, such as the archaeology collection.

The University has worked with the museum to maintain a central exhibition space.

"The museum board felt strongly that central exhibit space was critical to the museum's identity," said Judith Meyer, vice provost in the office of the chancellor. "The best way to achieve this in the short term was to leave it where it is until appropriate alternative space could be identified."

However, Meyer added that renovations to the stacks area of the Wilbur Cross Building will continue on schedule. As a result, the university will attempt to locate appropriate space for any components of the museum that must be moved to accommodate construction activities.

While budgetary constraints raised questions regarding the future of the museum, Meyer said she believes that an equitable solution was negotiated.

"The agreement we have works for everybody involved," she said. "The budget reduction targets have been restructured so that the museum can meet its obligations over the next biennium. This started out as very public dialogue on the museum's fate. However, the museum board's willingness to compromise and deal with the realities created by the University's budget pressures are an excellent example of how cooperation can occur in this environment." DP