As museum reopens, UW minds close

University of Wyoming's S.H. Knight Geological Museum: Big Al, the Allosaurus, awaits the crowds.
University of Wyoming's S.H. Knight Geological Museum: Big Al, the Allosaurus, awaits the crowds.Courtesy Mark Ryan
The recent closing of the University of Wyoming’s S.H. Knight Geological Museum due to budget constraints resulted in an uproar of protest from paleontologists, geologists, others in the scientific community, and the public. On June 30, 2009, the museum closed its doors and the job of the museum’s director, paleontologist Brent Breithaupt, was terminated along with that of a part-time employee. Sure, times are tough all over. But we’re talking about a museum with an annual operating expense of only $80,000. In today’s world of massive bailout mania this amounts to less than nano-diddly-squat.

As the protests heated up, an online petition was created (garnering over 2600 signatures), bloggers gnashed their teeth, and the disgruntled public sent a barrage of emails to university higher-ups, and letters to the editors of local newspapers. A non-profit group known as Friends of the SH Knight Museum was also set up to gather donations to reopen the museum.

It appeared many people thought the university president, Tom Buchanan, and the UW board of trustees could have come up with a better solution than closing the museum doors.

Well, suddenly they did.

No doubt feeling the pressure from the public outcry, the mucky-mucks at UW have now reversed their decision and announced on July 18th that the museum would be reopened (but only part-time) starting August 24, 2009 with private funding from the UW Foundation.

BUT (and as you can see it’s a big but) - instead of reinstating Dr. Breithaupt or hiring another qualified director/curator to run the museum, the university plans instead to have a security guard oversee operations. Yes, you read it correctly - a security guard!! With all due respect to security guards (we have plenty of great ones here at SMM), this is a huge mistake on the university’s part. It makes no sense. What’s the point of having a scientific institution if there’s no qualified scientist running it?

This stunt will do nothing but diminish science everywhere. If an academic institution such as UW (the only 4-year public university in Wyoming by the way) considers a security guard qualified enough to explain the intricacies of evolution, plate tectonics, dinosaur cladistics, and the Permian Extinction to visiting youngsters, then what’s the point of attending such a university to become a degreed scientist? You might as well get a job at the local mall and save on the tuition.

This proposed move makes as much sense as replacing a university president with an unqualified janitor. No one would seriously consider doing that.

But in this case maybe that’s not such a bad idea.

Previous Buzz story on closing
Society of Vertebrate Paleontology statement on closing

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

mdr's picture
mdr says:

The Casper Star-Tribune has an online poll regarding the museum closing/reopening. It can be found here if you feel like adding your two cents worth.

posted on Mon, 07/27/2009 - 7:34am
JackU's picture
JackU says:

Maybe the President and Board of the University believe "Night at the Museum" is a documentary.

posted on Thu, 07/30/2009 - 1:09pm

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