UConn’s move to close Connecticut Natural History Museum is insulting, immoral and illegal

Following the news that the University of Connecticut had inappropriately closed its Museum of Natural History, the Wait, What? post read, Arrogance and Hubris at the University of Connecticut

Now, in a story entitled Former legislator questions legality of museum closure, Corey Sipe of the Willimantic Chronicle writes;

STORRS – Questions remain whether the closure of the exhibits at the Connecticut Museum of Natural History at the University of Connecticut was legal.

A former legislator who helped create the statute to establish the museum in the first place claims the closure was illegal, while university officials contend they are still following the law.

Jonathan Pelto, the former state representative for the 54th District from 1985 to 1993, said he helped co-sponsor Senate Bill 341, which later became Public Act 85563, in 1985.

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He was disappointed to hear that the university decided to suddenly close the exhibit space over the summer.

He believes it’s a step backward, as the closure would place components of the collection in different places around campus, which is exactly the situation the museum was in before the law was created.

Pelto said he believes university officials quietly closed the exhibit space knowing it was not following the law.

However, UConn deputy spokesman and manager for special projects, Tom Breen, claimed that even with the museum, most of the collection was not displayed.

“The whole reason to create the museum (by state statute) is to have a physical presence to bring all the collections together,” Pelto said, adding the university was allocated money under the UConn 2000 initiative for the museum allowing it to create a space large enough to display all collections.

However, he said the university decided to reallocate some of the earmarked money for other purposes.

“I think they have two options – either have the museum or have ( the act) repealed, but I prefer them to have a museum since millions of dollars were spent on it,” he said.

The act states in part that UConn ” prepare public exhibits at the museum and educational exhibits and programs that may be used by colleges, universities, schools, libraries, institutes.”

However, Breen disagrees with Pelto’s assessment, stating in a recent e-mail that “the language of the law requires only that the museum be within the University of Connecticut.”

Breen wrote there are no plans to cut budget or staff for the museum despite its lack of a designated exhibit space, adding that the museum “has been allocated resources to help meet its responsibilities and fulfill its mission, and the university remains committed to that.”

He added that when the law was passed, the museum moved several times to different on-campus locations, including the Wilbur Cross Building and, eventually, its last location, the old apple sales building at 2019 Hillside Road, next to the university bookstore.

The museum was moved out in July to make space for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Academic Services Center, which was previously located at 423 Whitney Road.

The center was the last of the university offices to be moved out of Faculty Row, a collection of nine historic Colonialrevival- style houses on Whitney and Gilbert Roads. The houses were built between 1912 and 1918 and will be demolished by the university to make way for a new commons area with a park-like green space.

Breen said by phone that the university is still considering opportunities for displaying parts of its museum collection, including creating temporary exhibits at satellite campuses and possibly off-campus areas.

In fact, museum officials are working on a design of a new exhibit for the BioPhysics building lobby and are setting up the Carl and Marian Rettenmeyer Army Ant Guest Collection, as part of Ant-U, a way to showcase disciplines regarding ants.

The Connecticut Museum of Natural History was formerly part of UConn’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences but in August was recategorized as UConn’s Office of Public Engagement, which Breen believes is a better fit as the university wants to use the museum as an outreach tool to the greater community.

As a result, staff relocated to 368 Fairfield Way, the same place where public engagement staff are located.

At that time, museum director Leanne Kennedy Harty, indicated she was not happy about the reclassification as it does fit in with the work she is doing for the museum.

Harty could not be reached for additional comment at press time.

She is one of the museum’s three full-time staff members who also include exhibit and communication design specialist Collin Harty and program and public information coordinator David C. Colberg.

For more about UConn’s move to destroy Connecticut’s Museum of Natural History read, Arrogance and Hubris at the University of Connecticut