Pushing back against a cost-cutting plan to overhaul scientific research at the Field Museum, curators are meeting this afternoon with museum president Richard Lariviere.
Several said they hope to share concerns about his planned restructuring of the science departments.
The Field Museum shoulders a demanding dual mission: Its renowned public museum serves more than a million visitors every year, while its internationally known science departments discover new species or study ancient cultures.
Science at the museum is expected to be hit particularly hard by the planned budget-balancing, which involve cutting $5 million, or about 8 percent from the museum’s annual budget.
At a December meeting, the museum’s board of trustees approved Lariviere’s plan to merge the museum’s Zoology, Anthropology, Botany and Geology departments into a single unit, as part of his strategy to shore up the museum’s deteriorating finances.
Scientists at the museum say the reorganization could impede research and has left unanswered questions about who makes day to day decisions about the museum’s scientific work.
“We want to know what we were doing wrong before that we have to change so drastically,” said Mark Westneat, a curator of zoology. “We’re one of the world’s best collections. It didn’t seem like we were doing a whole lot wrong.”
A Tribune report published today found that the Field is struggling with a burdensome debt load in the wake of a decade-long spending and borrowing spree, during which the museum pushed forward with projects without raising the money to pay for them. The meeting today was already scheduled when the report was published.
The 80-plus member board of trustees for the museum is scheduled to meet privately on Monday, the rough halfway point in the budget balancing plan, which is expected to be fully complete in July.
Lariviere is also expected to meet later this afternoon with graduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Chicago. Matthew Piscitelli, who studies anthropology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said the students requested the meeting to talk about how opportunities for students to collaborate and do field work with museum scientists would be affected by the budget balancing plan.
He said the students’ message essentially is: “Please don’t forget about us when considering these changes for the future.”