A recent budget cutting decision by the College of Natural Sciences would not only impact the budget of the Texas Memorial Museum but are instead targeted at the entire Texas Natural Science Center, which the museum is a part of.
According to its website, the Center works to create awareness and appreciation of biological diversity, especially in Texas. In addition to the museum, the Center oversees both vertebrate and non-vertebrate paleontology labs, as well as the Texas Natural History Collections.
Edward Theriot, integrative biology professor and director of the Texas Memorial Museum, said the Center will be organized out of existence starting next fall.
Theriot said different parts of the Center’s collection have already started moving to other colleges, including the paleontological collection, which moved to the Jackson School of Geosciences last fall.
“What I have been told about the collections is as of the last discussion I had with [Linda Hicke, dean of the College of Natural Sciences], there was no plan at this time to cut the
operational funding for the collections,” Theriot said. “Technical, web and administrative support will become the responsibility of existing resources at the other entities.”
Theriot said, as of right now, more than $600,000 will be cut from the Center’s budget starting next semester. Theriot said the center had an operational budget of over $1 million before the paleontological collection was moved.
At the Faculty Council meeting last week, a resolution was passed that encourages the museum to find independent funding for its community outreach programs.
William Beckner, mathematics professor and chair-elect of the Faculty Council, worked with the Faculty Council executive council to write the resolution. He said they wrote the resolution after Mona Medhy, cell and molecular biology associate professor, emailed him and asked Faculty Council to consider the museum’s situation.
Beckner said the goal of the resolution was to encourage the museum to look elsewhere for funding.
“I recognize the financial constraints on the University’s operating budget,” Beckner said. “The goal was to support the museum but not to tell the University how to fund it.”
Medhy said she reached out to Beckner in order to promote discussion about potential solutions to the museum’s position.
“My point was: Is there any way to help this museum financially, at least in the short term?” Medhy said. “I felt that it was important for our faculty, or anybody who is interested in this topic, to see what the University could provide besides relying simply on the College of Natural Sciences.”
Theriot said he appreciates support from the faculty, but the resolution did not change the museum’s financial situation.
“Honestly, it puzzles me,” Theriot said. “It doesn’t mean anything to us because that’s what we’ve been working toward since October, when [Hicke] told me that we were being cut. My life and the museum’s life was the same the day before the Faculty Council resolution and the same the day after. It has had no effect whatsoever.”
Theriot said he is currently working on developing a business model to establish a new source of revenue for the museum. He said the museum’s general infrastructure will have to be adjusted to remain fiscally solvent.
“I think the museum and what it does and the services it provides are going to have to be rethought from the bottom up in order to get a good grasp on what sort of recurring funding we’ll have, which should come from admissions,” Theriot said. “The first thing we need to do is get it off of life support and get through this admissions phase, [and] then see where we can go from there.”