UConn student paper speaks out for UConn’s Natural History Museum

As previously reported here at Wait, What?, The administration at the University of Connecticut is on a mission to destroy Connecticut’s Museum of Natural History.  For coverage read;

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

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Arrogance and Hubris at the University of Connecticut

The controversy has led the Daily Campus, UConn’s student newspaper to publish an editorial demanding UConn administrators back off their effort to undermine the museum.  In, Editorial: UConn must give the museum a building, the paper writes;

The University of Connecticut’s relocation of the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History violates the law that established it, Senate Bill 341 (Public Act 85-563). This act created the museum so that it would prepare exhibits and programs to educate visitors about Connecticut’s natural history. The law does not designate a specific building, but it establishes that its board of directors is responsible for planning and establishing the museum. The co-chair of this board, Natalie Munro, revealed that it was not the board of directors who made the decision, but UConn itself. The university’s decision to move the museum from its building on Hillside Road to part of the Office of Public Engagement violated the law by infringing upon the power of the board of directors and removing the museum’s physical location. It also violated those who have donated money for the betterment of the museum as it was utilized in the expansion of its building.

The museum now exists as an institution without a physical location since its previous location was recently transformed into the CLAS Academic Services Center. This is problematic because the physical location of the museum is necessary to its established goals of creating both exhibits and programs for the public. University spokesman Tom Breen defended the university’s actions by stating that the museum fits well within the Office of Public Engagement because much of its work involves community outreach and education. Yet, an exam is more than the programs it offers. It needs a building to hold its exhibits and offer its programs.

The Connecticut State Museum of Natural History was located in the building on Hillside Road for 16 years. During its time there, the building underwent several renovations in order to serve its role as a museum. The museum’s supporters donated about half of the funds for the renovations, about $500,000 which included lighting, displays and classrooms for the building. The CLAS Academic Services Center has no use for these special renovations, as it was completed less than a decade ago. Even more heinous is the fact that these renovations no longer serve the museum, which is unfair to those who donated their money specifically for that purpose.

The university has an obligation to right the wrong it made in its decision to relocate the museum. Not only did it break the law that established the museum, but it also disrespected those who had provided monetary support. The university owes these supporters and the state either its return to its Hillside road location or a new site that is equipped with the same functions provided in the Hillside Road location’s recent renovations.

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