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Canopy Meg: Fancy Title, But Does She Still Have Authority?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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A quick update on the Nature Research Center “reassignment” of Dr. Meg Lowman, AKA Canopy Meg. Jonathan Pishney, NRC Museum Communications Director, wrote me this morning:

Hello Kate,

After reading your Scientific American blog post Why Has Canopy Meg Been Ousted? I thought I should offer you some updated information that was not available when the News & Observer article came out. Dr. Meg Lowman’s Director, Nature Research Center title is becoming, effective July 1, Senior Scientist and Director, Academic Partnerships and Global Initiatives, which is a position of wider responsibility and prominence for the entire North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

Meg has not been ousted. Rather, she has been elevated to a position of Museum-wide prominence to do what she does so well – thrive as a scientist, a communicator and a female leader.

A continuing member of the Museum’s management team, Meg’s new responsibility prominently recognizes her research and ambassadorial acumen, her oversight of our prestigious joint research and teaching appointments with three NC universities, as well as her appetite to continue to advance understanding of tree canopy environments with innovative citizen participation opportunities – regionally, nationally and internationally. Meg’s expanded responsibilities include her continuing to be a mentor to the Nature Research Center lab directors. And with a Museum-wide platform, Meg’s passion and skill to be a role model to girls and women in science will certainly also continue.

Meg sent me the following statement from a workshop she was conducting in Kansas in early June, after the N&O article came out:

The opportunity to be at the helm of the Museum’s Nature Research Center throughout its launch and inaugural year was an exceptionally rewarding personal and professional experience. Our board and new director, Dr. Emlyn Koster, have determined that other Museum components deserve equal prominence – through emphasis of a “one-Museum” strategy. We will therefore take the innovations of the NRC – the expertise, the engaging activities, university partnerships, and expansive reach – and leverage their benefit for the entire Museum. I have been asked to extend my NRC leadership into a Museum-wide position. I value Emlyn’s leadership and experience in the science museum field … I will be shifting gears, with optimism and enthusiasm as always, into this new professional challenge.

I hope that helps clarify Meg’s new role. But please let me know if I can be of any more assistance. As I understand it, Meg is on vacation until July 1, but I’m sure she would welcome a discussion with you upon her return.

There are a few things that upset me about this email. First, and I am so used to this form of sexism that I didn’t even register it until it was pointed out by a colleague, Mr. Pishney calls me “Kate” rather than “Dr. Clancy,” which is the much more common form of address in research circles when you don’t know someone. Especially when said female scientist just wrote a blog post about the treatment of another female scientist.

Second, this “reassignment” doesn’t appear to come with any new authority, no new people working under her, and certainly not a clear job description. Here is the most telltale sentence, to my mind:

“Meg’s expanded responsibilities include her continuing to be a mentor to the Nature Research Center lab directors.”

So her “expanded responsibilities” are that she is… doing what she did before? Except that mentorship is a pretty loose term. Are these lab directors reporting to her, or is she just taking them out for the occasional cup of coffee?

I responded to Mr. Pishney’s email requesting further clarification of how Canopy Meg will have any authority or people who report to her, and also asked what will happen to the several women who used to work for her. I’ll report back when I hear more.

Added 6/19/2013 3:20pm Central:

Mr. Pishney responded to my request for more detail on Dr. Lowman’s job description by saying he can get that to me after she returns from vacation. Which is July 1st. Which seems like an attempt to diffuse the situation by hoping it goes away in the intervening weeks. Here are both emails.

Mine:

Dear Mr. Pishney,

Thanks for writing. I was aware of the new title, but your email still doesn’t provide me with any specifics. I would love to hear from any and all of you more precise wording of Dr. Lowman’s new job description, the authority she will hold there and who will report to her, and the fate of the several women who worked under her. When you can provide that, I can even post it to my blog.

Best,
Dr. Clancy

Mr. Pishney’s:

Understood. Sounds like we should be able to get back to you upon Meg’s return from vacation.

As for the scientists under Meg at the NRC, I can tell you their roles and employment here haven’t changed.

-jonp

This still doesn’t tell me who the scientists will be reporting to who once worked for Dr. Lowman.

Kate Clancy About the Author: Dr. Kate Clancy is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois. She studies the evolutionary medicine of women’s reproductive physiology, and blogs about her field, the evolution of human behavior and issues for women in science. Find her comment policy here. Follow on Twitter @KateClancy.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. ejwillingham 4:15 pm 06/19/2013

    It’s not just the lack of a suitable honorific here, although I noticed that immediately and read it with Seinfeld’s “Hello, Newman” voice in my head. I also found much of the wording problematic, coming across as a rather desperate and tone-deaf effort to demonstrate awareness of how gosh-darned FEMALE Canopy Meg is, and how important it is that we know that they know that she’s, you know, female, and how she’s gonna thrive as a “female leader” and all. Badly executed.

    And then yes, there’s the “expanded responsibilities include her continuing” phrasing; first time I’ve seen a continuation of something be considered an expansion. And gosh, I’m glad they’re gonna allow “Meg’s passion and skill to be a role model to girls and women in science” to certainly also continue,” although, of course, that’s not really an “expansion” either if it’s just continuing. In other words … that email was a nonresponse response to the actual question you asked.

    Link to this
  2. 2. Paleoecologist 4:48 pm 06/19/2013

    Is it just me, or did this read a lot as a “we’ll let her do that stuff that you ladies are good at, like being excited about things and mothering people?”

    Link to this
  3. 3. killgrove 4:51 pm 06/19/2013

    Playing a bit of devil’s advocate here, since I’m not sure I fully understand the situation…

    The NRC is only a wing of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Granted, it’s a new, fancy, snazzy wing (the whole Daily Planet thing is fantastic), but if Dr. Lowman is indeed now the director of museum-wide outreach, that is likely a promotion.

    Dr. Lowman’s statement (as filtered through the PR person, of course) seems upbeat and positive about the change. Museums are reorganized all the time, and it’s not terribly surprising that the museum would want to find a way to better integrate all its programs now that the NRC and Daily Planet are complete (which has only happened, what, in the last 12-18 months?).

    That said, the News & Observer piece is pretty inflammatory. Did they run a follow-up piece with Dr. Lowman’s reaction? I just feel that this entire story is one-sided, which makes your reaction to it feel a bit premature. There may very well be something to this story, but my reading of it at this point seems to be a bit more cautious than yours.

    The lack of honorifics in email, though… Ugh. I agree with you there. I get “Mrs.” all the time while my male colleagues without PhDs get the default “Dr.” or “Prof.”

    Link to this
  4. 4. Sean McCann 5:06 pm 06/19/2013

    Maybe she did too good of a job in administration, and now they want her to be the boss of everyone…That is often the unfortunate side effect of being competent.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 7:32 pm 06/19/2013

    Hi killgrove. I hope you know me well enough by now that I wouldn’t risk my own reputation writing about these issues unless I had really good evidence to suggest that what is happening is problematic. Even putting aside things I cannot say publicly, we have:

    -The fact that no one can identify what Dr. Lowman will actually do in this new job, nor who will report to her.

    -The fact that, aside from this email from the Communications Director that is supposedly Dr. Lowman’s happy reaction to her new position (which is now weeks old, but we’re only now hearing of it?), she has remained radio silent. (If she is happy, I would imagine she would jump to tell us to leave off.)

    -The fact that there was no follow up from the inflammatory News & Observer piece. I have heard one news outlet had to pull their story because they couldn’t get anyone to give their reactions on record. The NRC seems to just hope this will blow over.

    This makes me think the restructuring is not in her best interests. But I would love to be shown to be wrong.

    Link to this
  6. 6. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 7:34 pm 06/19/2013

    Sean. let’s hope that’s the eventual outcome. I hope the restructuring at NRC becomes more transparent soon.

    Link to this
  7. 7. killgrove 9:19 pm 06/19/2013

    Yup, the details are definitely sketchy, and the museum would be well served to be a bit more transparent. It’s possible Dr. Lowman isn’t allowed to say anything publicly, especially if the terms of the restructuring / reassignment haven’t been completely hammered out yet.

    But definitely fishy that I couldn’t find anything in a google search for “academic partnerships” and “global initiatives” in reference to the museum (which still lists Dr. Lowman as director of the NRC). And odd that the museum didn’t come out and counter the N&O piece — seems like that would be appropriate, PR-wise. Then again, the PR person you’ve been communicating with isn’t the most astute — from the familiar tone of his email to his inappropriately latching on to the “female” terms in your post (which I read as his way of attempting to speak to the concerns in your post, poorly, rather than how Emily and Paleoecologist read it).

    At any rate, I asked around in my (limited) circle of Triangle area museum staff, and no one had heard of this. I hope it’s a non-issue; otherwise, I hope more details come out and this becomes something the museum is willing to talk about with the public it serves.

    -Kristina

    Link to this
  8. 8. francescowd 10:28 pm 06/19/2013

    Whenever a high-visibility corporate figure is reassigned within a company (i.e. fortunate to keep their salary), they are often represented to the outside world as overjoyed and 100% behind the person or persons who reassigned them and their new mission.

    It’s common practice in the corporate world for a statement to be drafted for such an individual to agree to, but for which they have limited editorial power. This allows a corporation to use such a statement for stockholders and internally that, for all intents and purposes, can be reasonably truthfully credited to the person being reassigned. As one might expect, any comments from that individual that deviate from such a statement might violate the terms of their continued employment.

    A common tactic to manage such an episode is to encourage the high-visibility figure to take some time off to reconnect with their family before they embark on their new responsibilities. The return date for the individual is most commonly on or after the human resources paperwork is complete.

    I’m not sure if the same sorts of things happen in a public institution but those are my thoughts.

    Link to this

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