Friday, January 30, 2009

Museums and Academic Values

Inside Higher Ed

Arts advocates have been outraged this week by Brandeis University’s plan to sell all of the art in its museum as a way to raise money for the university. It turns out Brandeis isn’t the only university where critics are questioning the university’s commitment to important values for academic museums — although many may be relieved to know this other controversy does not involve a university selling off a collection. (Update on Brandeis: Its president on Wednesday indicated he might go along with keeping some of the art, but was committed to shutting the museum.)

The University of Pennsylvania’s Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology — long considered one of the leading institutions of its kind — last month told the 18 research specialists who make up the research division of the institution that they would all lose their jobs in May. Those laid off include many leading scholars, some of whom have worked 20 or more years at the university, managing research expeditions around the world, running labs at Penn, and publishing widely. These researchers are not tenured faculty members, however, so their positions can be eliminated with relative ease, which is what the museum is doing.

While these jobs are being eliminated, the museum is also considering ways to attract a bigger name for itself, and more visitors. The new director, citing budget constraints and changing museum priorities, wants research focused on the collections, not on scholarly inquiry broadly related to the museum’s fields, as the researchers have been able to do.

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