Chicago’s Struggling Field Museum Makes Major Cuts to Scientific Research

With little left to cut after years of difficult finances, the Field Museum in Chicago is massively reducing its spending on scientific operations. Last week museum president Richard Lariviere announced a plan to scale back next year’s expenses by $5 million.

Lariviere, who has only been president for three months, told the Chicago Sun-Times: “Everything is on the table.” The cuts, which include the dissolving of academic departments, staff eliminations, and even the potential laying off of tenured scientists and curators, will effectively minimize the natural history museum’s role as a research institution.

There is some irony to the fact that one of the major sources of recent debt was the expansion of the Collections Resource Center, a $65-million project aimed at facilitating the study of its collection of millions of specimens. Its $300 million endowment is combatted by $170 million in outstanding bonds, with the museum operating in an annual a deficit of millions of dollars. The raising of admission and altering of operating hours is also a possibility.

James Hanken, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, told Scientific American: “It’s one of the great research institutions in comparative zoology, biodiversity, and natural history, and it has been one of the leading centers of research for more than 100 years. […] There’s no way the Field Museum will be able to maintain its position of prominence under those circumstances.”

Allison Meier