Petitioners protest proposed budget cuts to the Texas Memorial Museum

The Daily Texan

Published on January 29, 2014 at 9:30 pm

More than 1,750 people have signed a petition opposing the budget cut to the Texas Memorial Museum, which would cause eight of 11 employees to lose their jobs, according to the UT alumna Mary Newcomb, the petition’s founder.

In September, the College of Natural Sciences announced plans to cut approximately $600,000 from the Texas Natural Science Center, which includes the Texas Memorial Museum, according to Edward Theriot, director of the Natural Science Center. Currently, the Center’s total budget is $860,000.

“We will be able to make up some of the University’s cuts but not all of them,” Theriot said. “It will have a traumatic effect.”

Newcomb will be meeting with natural sciences dean Linda Hicke on Monday to raise concerns about the cut.

“It seems that, if you’re cutting the museum funding back that far, you’re basically giving it a death sentence,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb, whose father was director of the museum from 1957-1978, said the budget cut would harm the important educational tools the natural history museum provides.

“It’s been an important resource for local school children and teachers, as well as students at the University studying paleontology, biology or art,” Newcomb said.

Newcomb said she is worried that, if budget cuts are implemented, exhibits will not be maintained as well.

Hicke was not available for comment, according to natural sciences spokesman Lee Clippard.

Clippard said larger state budget cuts over the last several years have made the museum difficult to fund. Clippard said the college wants to focus its funding on its undergraduate students, faculty and staff.

Louise Meeks, manager of the museum’s gift shop, said her job would most likely remain intact because the gift shop is self-funded. Meeks, though, signed the online petition to preserve the museum’s funding.

“It’s very unnerving because I wonder what’s going to happen to the institution as a whole,” Meeks said. “I’m very discouraged by what’s happening and I’m afraid that, if we don’t get any state support, the museum will close down.”

Meeks said she has already noticed changes in the museum, including the departure of one employee who left because they knew their job would be cut. A case of modern mammal skulls was completely removed from the museum, and Meeks said the staff has discussed removing other collections as well.

Since the planned cuts were announced, two additional employees have retired, and Theriot said these positions will not be filled, which will help save money.

If implemented, budget cuts to the 75-year-old museum will result in the elimination of several administrative and technology support staff jobs, bringing the museum’s staff from 11 positions to three. Theriot’s job would also be changed so that it would no longer guarantee him a summer salary.

“Exactly what my duties would be are still be discussed,” Theriot, who does not teach any classes this semester, said. “I would be a professor first and director of the museum second.”

Theriot said the remaining positions would include a security guard, gift shop manager and an administrative assistant.

“It would be very difficult to operate the museum with three people, and we’re making every effort we can to make sure it doesn’t get to that,” Theriot said.

To generate revenue, Theriot said he has considered charging an admission fee for the museum. If the museum had an admission fee, it would have to independently pay for custodial staff, electricity and water, possibly making its budget problems worse.

“My personal perspective is we should be conservative in our budgeting,” Theriot said. “I’d rather have money left over at the end of the year than cut a bunch of staff.”

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