Saturday, October 23, 2010

Well behaved old dinosaur, free to good home

The Field Museum of Natural History is one of my favorite places in the world (just behind the entire city of Paris). I worked there as a preparator for seven years, starting the week I turned 18, working on the Tyrannosaurus rex Sue. I spent much of my childhood visiting the museum (back before it cost over $100 for a family of four to visit), I even ditched the first day of my sophomore year of high school and took the train downtown with a friend to visit the museum.

So obviously last month I was quite disappointed when I saw that Chris Norris posted this Sun-Times article(thanks Sun-Times for maintaining your excellent journalistic standards with your wonderful archives, here is another story covering it) announcing the elimination of 50 more positions at the museum.

Around 70 staff positions were eliminated in late 2008/early 2009, which put the museum below "World War II staffing levels", this next round is going to hurt something fierce. Incidentally, there are now 9 vice presidents, which I think is highly likely 9 times the number of VP's from WWII days. The poor institution has been suffering from cripplingly incompetent management for about a decade now, and with about $2 million tied up in executive level salaries, I kinda don't think laying off housekeeping staff and forcing retirements of curators and collections managers will prove to be a sustainable solution. Now that two million is a drop in the bucket of the $180 million in debt that the institution is currently saddled with, but the museum has been digging this hole since the dozers first broke ground on the new Collections Resource Center under the southeast terrace. Of course this project was a critical step in addressing long term storage needs, but the decision to carry through with the construction as planned, after tourism tanked with 9/11, after the state came through with only 20 of the 40 million that they committed to (despite giving the Chicago Bears $420 million of the $660 million it took to renovate-or destroy, if you ask the Historic Register folks who delisted it- their stadium), and after they realized that the Soldier Field construction was going to virtually eliminate parking and turn the museum into a ghost town for several years.

So, with all of that, I'm not surprised that 5 years after I started looking for a job with a future, all museum employees received the following email:

"Dear Colleagues: As you are aware, we had been planning to roll-out an Early Retirement Incentive Program (ERIP) and a Voluntary Separation Incentive Program (VSIP). The details of the programs have been distributed to those individuals who are eligible. The ERIP notifications were delivered to individuals throughout the day today. The VSIP notifications were sent from me via email this morning. If you have any questions regarding eligibility, please contact your manager, or the HR office... "

Even though I'm not surprised, I'm very, very disappointed.  Maybe the museum should start selling off collections again. After all, a museum that doesn't have the professional staff to care for the collections they do have would be better serving the objects by making sure they find a place that can adequately house, conserve, and curate them. Like the neglected dog tied to the tree in the back yard, the specimens will have a miserable shadow of a life until they wither and die a second death, abandoned and uncared for, a fate which would shortly follow for the rest of the grand old institution.

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