“Not surprised; profoundly frustrated and disappointed.”
Kellum Tate-Jones, a second year PhD student in Earth Sciences, recounted her reaction after she heard about proposed budget cuts that disproportionately target arts and culture services and museums at the university.
This April, the office of the provost proposed $9 million in budget cuts from the general fund to handle the budget crisis at the University of Oregon.
One of the programs and services getting hit with these cuts is the Museum of Natural and Cultural History where Tate-Jones worked as a Graduate Employee winter term of 2019.
The museum could lose $225,000 of its $1.37 million budget — 17 percent of its funding from the university. Edward Davis, Earth Science professor and museum curator for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History, said these cuts could mean eliminating the graduate employee position.
Graduate students in the earth science department at UO are required to work as either a museum assistant, teaching assistant or research assistant each term to earn a salary while in school.
“Here at UO, we have a lot of [graduate employee positions] for graduate students,” Holley Flora, a graduate student of paleontology, said. “For earth sciences one of our [positions] is with the Museum of Natural and Cultural History as the Museum GE.”
With potentially one less avenue for graduate employees to make money, access to funding could become a barrier for graduate students at the university, Flora said.
Holley Flora – Antelope Analyzer
Holley Flora is a paleontology graduate student at UO who did her masters thesis on the evolution of the heads of North American antelope. She said her work at the museum will help her stand out to future employers because she gained experience as a curator while in school.
To finish her master’s degree, Flora traveled across the country to analyze fossils for her research thesis.
Flora worked at the museum spring term of 2018 and 2019, where she trained volunteers and organized and cataloged the collections.
She said the potential loss of the position could mean graduate students getting priced out of attending UO graduate school.
“You’re putting in everything to be here in school. So, if you were going to try and find a way to make money to live in Eugene outside of being in school, you would have to find another full time job. You’re not going to have time for that.” Flora said. “Making money by being on campus is probably the only way any graduate students are able to live in Eugene.”
The loss doesn’t affect only graduate students, Flora said. The loss for the Museum of Natural and Cultural History hurts the university as a whole because of the educational experience it offers.
“That’s a big part of UO’s mission statement, is providing education to the community on a bigger scale,” Flora said.
Adrian Broz – Space soil researcher
Adrian Broz is a PhD student in the Earth Sciences department who specializes is soil science and is studying space soils to identify signs of life on Mars with NASA. He said working at the museum gave him time to work on outside research.
Broz worked at the museum as a GE fall of 2018. There, he was responsible for cataloging, curating and organizing a set of fossils from the precambrian era — approximately 4 billion years ago, according to National Geographic.
“This entailed meticulous labeling, identification and organization of these priceless specimen collected from just about every continent on the surface of the earth and then housed for all to see at our wonderful, public museum,” Broz said.
Broz said working at the museum allowed him time to conduct his own research because of the flexible hours and ability to do research at work.
“It was wonderful for several reasons. For one, you’re learning about all these specimens, you’re furthering your research by gathering a background familiarity of the basis of knowledge that all your applied science projects are about,” Broz said.
As teaching assistants, GE’s are responsible for teaching and grading as many as three to four discussion sections. Broz said balancing teaching work on top of doing outside research can be difficult. Broz is conducting his own research initiative with NASA and the work is time consuming.
“I think the main reason why I was able to pursue this Mars project and collaborate with NASA scientists and ultimately score an internship at NASA this summer came from my lack of teaching duty through the museum GE appointment in the fall quarter,” Broz said.
Kellum Tate-Jones – Sea lion, seal and walrus expert
Kellum Tate-Jones is a second year PhD student at UO, specializing in the evolution of the movement of walruses, sea lions and seals. While at the museum, Tate-Jones discovered a new species that was mislabeled for over 30 years.
“It was sitting in collections for 30 to 40 years misidentified as a California Sea Lion. I’ve had the opportunity to prepare that fossil,” Tate-Jones said. “I’m currently working on writing it up for publication. That’s been a really exciting, fun, integral part of my graduate school experience so far.”
Tate-Jones worked as the GE assistant at the Museum of Natural and Cultural History winter term of 2019. While at the museum, she was responsible for cataloging and preparing fossils.
She said there was an entire area of the fossil vault that was inaccessible because boxes and storage had piled up in front of the shelves and drawers holding specimens. She cleared out the excess storage and had a researcher from Berkeley come out to analyze those specimens that hadn’t been accessible for three years.
Tate-Jones said she first heard about the budget cuts last February and she said she’s worried about how the work the GE’s do for the university will get done if the position is eliminated.“It seems like the university likes to say a lot of things but not actually put its money where its mouth is,” Tate-Jones said. “They talk about wanting to advance research and advance our position as a scientific institution but then they remove our funding.”