Editorial: University must resolve Natural History Museum dispute

A Jan. 20 report from Marlese Lessing disclosed the unresolved issue of private funds that had been donated to renovate the museum building, but now sit unusable. With no physical space for the museum, which has been reduced to temporary exhibits throughout campus, these funds have no clear use. The University should have informed donors of plans to close the museum.  (Ruohan Li/The Daily Campus)

When the University of Connecticut replaced exhibits held within the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History with office furniture, officials acted with dubious legal authority, failing both Connecticut residents and private donors whose funds supported the space.

A Jan. 20 report from Marlese Lessing disclosed the unresolved issue of private funds that had been donated to renovate the museum building, but now sit unusable. With no physical space for the museum, which has been reduced to temporary exhibits throughout campus, these funds have no clear use. The University should have informed donors of plans to close the museum.

In a time when UConn could use all the private funds and donations possible, such a lack of transparency is ill-advised. Excuses regarding the new format for the museum—with no physical location—only serve as further evidence of disregard.

Lessing quoted former Conn. State House Representative, Jonathan Pelto in a Nov. 17 report as arguing “[The museum] was never about a traveling exhibit. [The university] doesn’t have the legal authority to close the museum.”  Pelto has been leading inquiries into the museum closure and is planning to meet with UConn officials after having met with museum donors as well.

Pelto is right in pushing UConn to find a physical location for the museum. Though the legal question must be settled, the concept of having a museum without a physical location is illogical. With tight budgets, constant construction and ever-changing plans, it is understandable UConn officials would struggle to find office space in Storrs. However, sacrificing a campus museum—in a purpose-built structure—for administrative facilities goes against the very mission of a university. Academic, research and creative spaces cannot be vacated in favor of administrative office space.

In this matter, the question of legal authority has given this issue more publicity. With legal authority in doubt, UConn officials cannot and should not seek to downplay the failure to take legal issues seriously. This is an issue which highlights UConn’s role as a public university, with spaces like the museum providing resources for the greater public. In turning a purpose-built museum space into academic services offices, the University failed Connecticut residents and private donors, expanding office space at the expense of a museum dedicated toward housing exhibits focused on Connecticut natural history.