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Context and Variation


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Canopy Meg Happy In Her Job, Tra La La


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Well folks, it appears all is well at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and the Nature Research Center (go here and here for the backstory). How could I have gotten it so very wrong?

I’m so glad Drs. Koster and Lowman were kind enough to get back to me, one month after their promised response about the museum restructuring and Dr. Lowman’s new ambassador position. To be honest, their letters are predictable and largely missing any useful answers about the restructuring of the museum or Dr. Lowman’s new position. Dr. Lowman’s letter does say she will continue to mentor her “former direct reports” and that she will do her new job with “optimism and enthusiasm as always.”

Dr. Lowman’s letter says her job is 40% leadership activities, 25% research and academic partnerships coordination, 25% global initiatives, and 10% civic engagement. The global initiatives component explicitly involves assistance of women in science in developing countries.

Dr. Koster’s letter explains the reason for restructuring (and therefore removing Dr. Lowman as director of the NRC) as twofold: first, that the two names for the museum are awkward, and second, the different organizational structure of the employees in the two units. Dr. Koster’s letter also claims the reason for not following up with the New & Observer story, or either of my blog posts, is that the museum has been busy with a “comprehensive situation analysis.”

Other voices on the transition

Since I’ve shared the contents of the letters signed by Drs. Koster and Lowman, I think it’s now time to share some other email I received in the wake of the first posts I wrote on this story. “Safe Place to Comment,” or museanonymous@gmail.com, has sent several quotes along to me, scrubbed of metadata to preserve the anonymity of the commenters. Here is part of their email to me:

“Our goal is to shed light on the negative direction our new leadership appears to be taking. Many of us have invested our best years with this organization. Witnessing this needless destruction by an outsider a year after we were the toast of the town does disrespectful disservice to all who contributed to the NRC and the larger museum.

“With truth, we hope, will come justice.

“Many here wonder why you have taken such an interest in our battle, although we understand that you share our love and respect for Dr Lowman. Her reassignment is a blow to all women in the institution, not just those she recruited directly. Be assured that we are grateful to you, more than you may even know.

“The MuseAnonymous Project”

And a few of the quotes they forwarded:

“Everyone’s on eggshells. We were promised his white paper by Memorial Day weekend and then he shakes up the NRC without it. If he can do this to Meg, none of us are safe.”

“Why no one will talk publicly: We’re small and have a lot of new and longtime employees. I mean two ends of the spectrum. New employees want to stick around for five years to vest in their state retirement plans. Longtime employees want to keep their jobs. It’s tough for a 60-year-old curator to find a new job anywhere these days.”

“I think he was brought in by the Republicans to kill the museum. The secretary was interviewed and believes oil is renewable. The new guy shut down [the] last place in a year. I guess the GOP saw that and thought he’d be good with us.” (a few news stories that may put this quote in context: here and here)

If you want to share your thoughts anonymously and safely with the MuseAnonymous Project, please email museanonymous@gmail.com. While I’ll be happy to follow up with MuseAnonymous if they choose to contact me again, I am done chasing after letters from Drs. Koster and Lowman that are unlikely to even have been written by them.

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. rkipling 11:56 am 08/4/2013

    If i recall correctly Peter Drucker said that management causes 80% of the problems in business. I’ve spent decades in management. I’m not sure management gets it right as much as 20% of the time. I think the 80/20 rule applies more widely than business.

    Those in power usually do what they want, not what benefits the organization. Amazingly I’ve seen people who own the business do this. I had to form my own company to be in a position to give employees the respect and participation that I think Drucker envisioned.

    Link to this
  2. 2. rkipling 11:58 am 08/4/2013

    I too consider myself a labor activist.

    Link to this
  3. 3. acorndrop 6:58 am 08/9/2013

    Maybe the perception of two chiefs was just too much for some to handle. If I were an ego-driven n00b, I’d be threatened by Dr Lowman:

    http://www.waltermagazine.com/the-power-of-one-meg-lowmans-pioneering-legacy/

    Guess who wasn’t among those offering a glowing quote?

    Link to this
  4. 4. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 10:47 am 08/9/2013

    acorndrop — I just saw that the other day, and noticed the same absence of a quote… interesting, eh?

    Link to this
  5. 5. Kate Clancy in reply to Kate Clancy 10:49 am 08/9/2013

    rkipling — I did a little digging on Koster (meaning, I googled him for about five minutes) and it looks like he has been at the helm of several different museums. The last one, at least, he “resigned” from and I couldn’t find evidence why. I wonder if he made big messes at his other places of work.

    Link to this
  6. 6. rkipling 12:29 am 08/12/2013

    Dr. Clancy,

    It’s also possible that Koster’s greatest attribute was availability and not talent. The backstory almost never comes out. And at this point for the people still working there, what matters is that it almost never gets reversed. Chatter expressing dissatisfaction with the change has no upside.

    I know nothing about the situation beyond what I have read here. From following your blog, if you believe the change was unfair, it very likely was unfair. I’ve seen this movie many times. Anyone close to Dr. Lowman who doesn’t still report to her may be at higher risk.

    I wouldn’t presume to offer advice to you. But, some of the people affected there are reading your blog. They may not have been through a situation like this. However unfair it may be, they should consider what actions are in their own interest. I have my share of scars from tilting at windmills, but I understood going it that The Great Enchanter had the advantage.

    Link to this

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