- Copyright © 2016, SEPM (Society for Sedimentary Geology)
Geology programs, especially at research-intensive (R-1) universities, are evolving. The number of traditional, collections-based courses is declining as the faculty who teach those classes retire and are replaced by faculty who increasingly do not use hand specimens in their research and teaching (e.g., geomicrobiology, isotope geochemistry). This change in research concentration and its concurrent effect on geoscience curricula have important ramifications for geoscience teaching and research collections.
The impetus for this essay comes from our recent experience at Michigan State University (MSU). Four years ago, the senior invertebrate paleontologist at MSU retired, and the room that had served as a dedicated paleontology teaching lab (and unofficial paleontology research lab) for over 55 years was slated for repurposing to accommodate new faculty hires in other geoscience disciplines. Closing the lab required the relocation of 22 cabinets of invertebrate research and teaching specimens. It fell to the remaining invertebrate paleontology (IP) faculty member (full disclosure: the senior author of this essay), to oversee the sorting, move, and disposition of the specimens. In the absence of an on-site advocate, the specimens would have been discarded. Sorting and relocating the specimens took four months. There is still much work to be done to ensure the safe disposition of the remaining specimens before the current IP faculty member retires, as there is no evidence that the specimens would be properly cared for without a tenure-stream faculty member who had a vested interest in collections.
Prompted by our experience, we initiated a study of invertebrate paleontology teaching collections in other Big 10 Conference geology departments. The issues we raise are not limited to schools in the Big 10, but we chose our conference as the institutional cohort for this study because there are commonalities in the research and academic missions, size, and expectations on the part …