The Texas Memorial Museum will lose nearly $400,000 in University funds and experience a staff reduction from 11 employees to three as a result of budget cuts, which will be implemented on Sept. 1 of next year.
The on-campus museum, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary next year, currently operates on an annual budget of $600,000. Without University funding, that budget will shrink by more than two-thirds.
The Museum will continue to receive $108,000 in state funding and $50,000 from gift shop sales, and raises roughly $50,000 in donations annually, though museum administrators hope that number will increase. The three remaining positions will include a security guard, gift shop operator and one other employee.
“I’m still not entirely sure what the best skill-set will be for the remaining staff member or members to have,” said Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and museum director. “The security guard’s job will be security, the gift shop operator’s job is going to be the gift shop and it will fall upon that third person to take care of everything else that the museum does. That’s the hardest piece the puzzle — to figure out what’s going to be the best solution there.”
The Texas Memorial Museum is a part of the Texas Natural Science Center, an organized research unit within the College of Natural Sciences. The center was established to promote research and educational activities surrounding biodiversity.
Lee Clippard, College of Natural Sciences spokesman, said the decision to cut the Museum’s funding comes from the College of Natural Sciences dean’s office.
“The [museum] has long been an important fixture on the UT campus and is a wonderful resource for our community and visitors to campus,” Clippard said. “Unfortunately, the budget situation at the University and in the College of Natural Sciences is such that we must make difficult decisions.”
Natural Sciences Dean Linda Hicke was not available for comment.
Theriot, who will also lose his job at the museum, has been tasked with finding alternative sources of revenue and deciding the best strategy for a museum with dramatically reduced staff.
“I don’t doubt that the decision was made with some anguish and difficulty,” Theriot said. “I’m not complaining — my job is to try to find a solution and for the last two weeks that’s what I’ve been out there trying to do. I’ve met with a dozen stakeholders within and outside the University. In some ways we’ve been anticipating this [but] I do wish it was coming two or three more years down the road where we’d be in a much better position with the things we’re trying to do.”
Theriot said a museum program that employs students may not survive the budget cut.
Holly Hansel, a studio art senior and work-study student for the museum, said eliminating the student docent program would be taking away a rare opportunity.
“As docents, we lead tours and do a lot of intern-type help and it would be a shame to see the opportunity to be an actual tour leader to be taken away,” Hansel said.
Theriot said the museum, which receives more than 90,000 visitors every year, had been working towards a more stable income involving more outside funding over the past several years.
Hansel, who assisted at the museum’s annual Halloween festival last weekend, said the event was bittersweet. The event was one of several the museum hosts throughout the year to educate and connect with the community.
“[There] was a great turnout, we had over 2,000 kids there,” Hansel said. “I’m glad we got to do that but some of the workers were a bit misty-eyed because this may be their last Halloween even at the museum.”
John Maisano, museum exhibits designer for nearly 14 years, said he is unsure about what the future holds.
“I would love to continue [working] in the museum world of course, but museum jobs are just not easy to come by,” Maisano said. “We’re all just in a really scary place, but I don’t feel like I’m finished here. There’s so much I wanted to do.”