SMALL vs. RESEARCH
Small speaks of himself as a friend of science and research, however his actions show him to be an adversary of research. These examples indicate Small's misunderstanding, antipathy, and aggression towards research as well as Small's poor management practices.
Changing the mission of the Smithsonian: The Smithsonian's mission, "the increase and diffusion of knowledge" was mandated by founding donor, James Smithson, in his will in 1829, and reaffirmed in the enabling act of Congress that founded the Smithsonian (9 Stat 102). Small has stated in speeches and articles that this phrase is quaint and outdated and needs to be discarded. We believe that Lawrence M. Small has no legal authority to change the legislated mandate of the Smithsonian. Only the United States Congress can do that.
Research performance measures: Small's office recently drafted new performance measures that includes "% of scientists leaving voluntarily each year" - a very dubious performance measure for maintaining a top notch scholarly institution.
Ignoring expert advice: After a six-month search process, Small dismissed lead candidate for the Director of the National Zoological Park after a 10 minute interview, then named Lucy Spelman to position, without informing search committee or the zoo's private foundation, FONZ. Spelman was a junior-ranking vet and lacked any administrative experience or other criteria required in the job announcement. A June 19, 2000 memo from Spelman recounts how she was hired for this job, describing how she attracted Small's attention for her single idea of letting wealthy donors pet anaesthetized animals during surgery.
Misguided view of "21st century priorities": Small chose a new mission and new priorities for the National Zoo that severely cut research, and instead focused on displaying "charismatic megavertebrates." This vision was outdated by the 1980s. NZP is internationally recognized for its tremendous research, training, and captive breeding programs, centered at CRC, that Small attempted to dismantle. This would have left our Nation's Zoo as a small city-bound menagerie, with no opportunity to be a world leader of any sort or even fittingly display large charismatic megafauna.
Deception about reorganization process: Small first stated that science decisions are to be made by specialist outside review. However later on, Small announced that a commission would be formed to offer advice, though Small will not necessarily take the advice. Furthermore, Small will enforce a half-dozen previously-announced science closures even before he appoints the commission.
History museum scholarship: Small mandated that the history museum provide a large feature exhibit on the American Presidency, and that it be completed in record time of 6 months. Curators complained that to check facts and prepare a scholarly exhibit would take longer, and Small retorted that "all the information you need to know is in Microsoft Encarta."
Divesting earmarked research funds: When Small met a budget shortfall for his favored "American Presidents" exhibit he froze "402 funds" to help foot the bill. 402 funds are funds raised by scholars through special projects and fundraising, and the money helps fund their own bureaus, labs, etc.. Small himself encouraged researchers to be "entrepreneurial" and 402 accounts are where funds were held. Various people challenged Small's power to take these funds, evidently prompting Small to ask for Hirshhorn Director James Demetrion's resignation. The SI General Counsel's office finally told Small they couldn't support his taking the 402 funds, because some were clearly restricted. Funds were eventually "unfrozen," however Demetrion has since announced his retirement.
Fellowships suspended: To keep research fresh and cutting edge, fresh minds and outside thinking contributes tremendously. Many fellows are funded by the SI Fellowship program. Small has threatened this program many times and has announced a cut in the fellowship program for 2002. Since the fellowship program is very inexpensive (predocs and new postdocs cost SI institution only about $13,000--$ 27,000 per year, and require few or no benefits payout) the benefit/cost ratio for these programs is tremendous. These attacks on fellowships demonstrate a real lack of research savvy and lack of ability to evaluate cost/benefit of programs. Fellowship program announcements and letters of award have been delayed for two years now, throwing the program into disarray.
Scholarly studies funds taken: Federal workers are not eligible for many types of federal funds such as NIH, NSF and NEH funds, so a small internal SI pool of money was allocated for research, called the scholarly studies program. The money is competitive, and all proposals are peer reviewed, which ensures funding goes to the best researchers and for the best ideas. The Scholarly Studies program is now being discontinued, again demonstrating a lack of understanding of scholarly pursuits.
Peer review suspended recently (April 2001, at NMNH and NZP): this means there can be no promotions or raises in science. Without peer review, scholars will have difficulty proving their contributions in the face of attacks from Smithsonian management. Funding for this program has been cut for 2002.
Great researchers leaving: Many senior researchers and museum directors - some the very top in their field - are leaving due to the change in the administration and the rapidly eroding scholarly environment. In a hostile reorganization, the best scholars can and will leave, and many of those that stay are second-rate researchers with fewer options. Small's approach may undermine rather than build research programs.
Small's own qualifications fall far short of original job description for Secretary: The job description specifically calls for a person with scholarly accomplishments, experience in academic administration, and several other qualifications Small lacks. Small himself pointed out that having a non-scholar at the helm of the Smithsonian is like having a non-lawyer as chief justice of the Supreme Court. Both are very dangerous propositions. Small's pronouncements on research at the Institution are like a non-lawyer chief justice rendering a legal opinion based on his/her personal preferences, rather than the Constitution.
Not just research: While much of the public outcry has focused on the attacks on research at the Institution, Small has made it clear that he plans to replace the career civil service staff of the Smithsonian with minimum-wage, benefitless contractors, who can be hired and fired without the protections of the civil service system. This includes, for example, the staff of the Institution's print shop, its motor pool, and, it is rumored, perhaps even its guard force. Mail service is to be greatly reduced. Small's goals for the Institution include greater public outreach, reaching more Americans, bringing more people to the Smithsonian. He has stated that he wants lines out the door and down the block for every museum. That is to be its measure of success. However, by eliminating the print shop, Small has cut off the ability to produce flyers, announcements, posters, etc., of Smithsonian public programs, exhibits, educational programs, etc. Smithsonian units that used the print shop are not being given the money previously spent for the print shop. Since SI managers did not know it was to be eliminated, they have not budgeted for printing, sorting and mailing for the coming year. Thus, they will not be able to advertise and reach the audiences Small claims he wishes to bring to the Smithsonian.
Fear of change vs. fear of mismanagement: Small has stated that the outcry over his plans can be dismissed as merely fear of change in out-of-touch academics and bureaucrats. As a recent article in the Washington Post demonstrates (Isolation. Paranoia. Despair. 20 March 2001), the severity of a layoff's negative effects on those laid off and even those who retain their jobs is related to several factors, the first being "How the company carries out the layoff. (Is it perceived as being a reasonably fair and justifiable process?)" How necessary change is presented and managed has a significant impact on how staff cope with that change. The article notes, "By being honest and providing generous outplacement services to all 2,000 people who lost their jobs, the company was able to accomplish two goals, she says: treating the departing employees with dignity and respect and keeping morale high among the remaining employees." The secrecy surrounding the process and attempts to prevent staff from voicing their opinions to outsiders have made Smithsonian staff suspicious of Secretary Small and his plans. Small's mismanagement of the change process has produced a predictable reaction by the staff, which Small then dismisses as fear of change. The decisions made by Small are viewed as arbitrary, not reasonably fair, and misguided, not justifiable. In the absence of a clear vision for the future, of a chief executive with relevant experience and good personnel management skills, of careful data collection and analysis of the proposed changes, of thoughtful and disinterested advice from outside experts, and of open, honest communication with the staff, Smithsonian employees have grown to fear mismanagement of change, not change itself.
In sum, his decisions seem to be driven by doctrinaire principles of centralization and control, elimination of civil service positions that protect staff from capricious decisions, and elimination of Congress's line item control over the activities of the Smithsonian. The Congress and the American people need to look carefully at Small and his actions.