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Conflicting Reports on Future of America's First Geology Museum

Rutgers University President Says 141-Year-Old Museum Will Not Close
Mastadon Skeleton
A mastadon skeleton is the centerpiece of Rutgers Geology Museum, the oldest in the nation. Save The Geology Museum Facebook

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—As support swelled for a geology museum believed to be on the chopping block, Rutgers University President Robert Barchi assured its supporters that the school will not be closing the 141-year-old free museum.

Still, supporters of the museum are concerned over conflicting reports that appeared in the student newspaper and on the internet.

Barchi, who took office in September, said the historic building will instead be transformed into a "museum auditorium" that would comply with federal laws for handicap accessibility.

"Rutgers is investigating modifications to Geology Hall to make it [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliant and to introduce seating for the students we bring to the museum, while preserving this historic room," Barchi said in a statement.

As we reported on February 1, rumors have been spreading throughout the university community that the historic museum could be shutting down, putting in jeopardy the future of its many specimens and collections.

Supporters have since taken to the internet, creating an online petition that has garnered 136 signatures, and a Facebook page with over 465 likes.

The Daily Targum's Chelsea Pineda reported that the museum's only employee, Lauren Neitzke Adamo, confirmed its impending closure before attempting to retract her statement.

"We can confirm this is true, and that the administration’s plan is to turn it into a geology-themed auditorium," she was quoted as saying in the Targum's February 13 edition.

An undated email allegedly sent by Adamo made its way onto a social networking site that appears to give further cause for concern to supporters of the museum.

"Yes it is true and we are really upset about it," Adamo wrote of the closure via an email that was shared on the Rutgers reddit.com page in response to our February 1 article.

In her email, Adamo pasted an email being circulated by supporters of the museum: "A week ago those running the museum were told the museum will close for good and the collections dismantled," wrote Missy Holzer.

"No one saw this coming since the message was delivered from the interim vice chancellor of undergraduate education and not through a discussion about cost saving measures or a need for space, etc.”

The email urged supporters to write to President Barchi and Rutgers Vice President Richard Edwards and oppose any potential closing and dismantling of exhibits. This also led to Barchi’s official response.

President Barchi has been responding to supporters of the museum with this official email response:

Thanks for your message concerning the Rutgers Geology Museum. Please be assured that the museum is NOT closing.

Rutgers is investigating modifications to Geology Hall to make it ADA compliant and to introduce seating for the students we bring to the museum, while preserving this historic room. We plan to expand our outreach in the life and natural sciences. Our bus will continue to operate, and we plan to keep all the museum’s bones and fossils on site and in sight (the mastodon will be encased in glass at the back). We want to keep this room as a museum auditorium.

Rutgers can not continue to operate a museum to which we bring young people that has no access for individuals with physical disabilities. In addition, we need a space for instruction for the outreach we do. We envision this space as being a beautiful hybrid space outfitted with the best technologies for teaching. It will not have university classes in it, but instead will be for outreach -- a place where professors will come and give talks to grade school and high school students.

The university is sensitive to your concerns. As you may know, the museum is not self-sustaining. We hope that by making it ADA compliant, while preserving its historic nature and modernizing it as a showcase for student outreach, we can win some of the many grants to which we are excluded from applying because of the standards of the present space.

Thanks again for writing and for your support of the Geology Museum.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Barchi

Adamo has declined to comment on the potential closing of the museum, reiterating only what President Barchi has said about hadicap accessibility.

Rumors about the potential closure began with the removal of Rutgers University professor Kathleen Scott, effective January 1, as assistant director of the Geology Museum.

After we reported on the museum's uncertain fate, many of faculty members, students, and fans of the museum have written officials in support of the museum.

Their concerns about the future of the museum and its exhibits are not unfounded.  As the Targum article pointed out, Princeton University's controversial decision to close their geology museum a decade ago left many in this area bitter.

That university broke its promise to create a new and larger museum, after it had already converted the old one into offices, according to the article.

The specimens and artifacts from the former Princeton Geology Museum have remained in a West Windsor storage unit since its closure.

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