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New President Finally Chosen for Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia
Philly's Academy of Natural Sciences finally has a leader, but the head of
Hawaii's Bishop Museum, William Brown, (scientist and lawyer) doesn't start
'till February, 2007.
New hand to steer Natural Sciences
By Faye Flam
Inquirer Staff Writer
The Academy of Natural Sciences pinned its hopes yesterday on a new
president named William Brown, a lawyer and environmentalist whose
background - first as a zoologist and more recently a dynamic fund-raiser -
meshes with the museum's own distinguished history and current financial
Since 2001, Brown has presided over the Bishop Museum in Hawaii, where he
reversed budget deficits and expanded the century-old natural history
"He stood out because his experience at Bishop is very similar to what's
going on here," said R. James Macaleer, chairman of the board of trustees at
the academy, which is nearly two centuries old. "He's no shrinking violet
when it comes to getting out and telling people why philanthropy for his
cause makes sense."
Founded in 1812 and opened to the public in 1828, the Academy of Natural
Sciences is the oldest natural sciences institution in the Western
Hemisphere. It houses vast collections of plant and animal species,
including some picked up by Lewis and Clark. Scientists on its payroll go
everywhere from the Arctic tundra to the Amazon to study and catalog forms
of life both living and extinct.
But the museum has been losing money for years, with annual budget deficits
averaging $700,000 since 1993. In 2005, the academy laid off about a third
of its scientific staff. Last month, it announced the sale of a 123-year-old
mineral collection to raise money.
Yesterday, Brown said he thought he could turn the situation around by
increasing endowments and improving the public displays. Helping the
troubled museum, he said, represents what he likes to do most -
"strengthening institutions devoted to studying and preserving
He made clear that the academy's history, research, and collection of
specimens make it one of the best institutions of its kind in the world.
Brown, 58, said he likes the East Coast, and Philadelphia is a bit closer
than Hawaii to Washington, where his wife now works.
In an earlier Hawaiian tour, as a zoology student, Brown lived on a deserted
volcanic island off the windward coast of Hawaii tracking the mating habits
of two local seabird species. After earning his Ph.D., he decided to devote
his career to conservation and thought he'd be more effective with a law
degree, which he got from Harvard.
He later worked on environmental protection policies for the government, at
one point serving as science adviser to former Interior Secretary Bruce
Babbitt. Brown also has worked for the Environmental Defense Fund and the
World Wildlife Fund.
He decided a few years ago that he wanted to run a natural history museum.
"I have an emotional attachment to them that goes back to being a kid,"
Brown said, adding that old museums such as the academy particularly
Researchers at museums have responsibilities beyond those of university
scientists, he said, because they catalog species and keep track of their
populations and how they're distributed. Brown said he was impressed that
the academy also works in environmental conservation.
"For me, that was a real draw," he said.
Brown will take over in February, succeeding D. James Baker, whose contract
was not renewed.
Brown said he's already thinking about ways to improve the museum displays -
possibly by finding a way to give the public more access to the impressive
drawers full of specimens that now stay behind the scenes.
He is confident not only that he can help make the academy bounce back but
also that there's hope for the natural world in general. He said he agrees
with famed Harvard naturalist E.O. Wilson that if you don't wipe a species
completely from the face of the Earth, it has a chance to bounce back.
"There's potential for recovery of our lost biodiversity," he said. "But it
all comes down to what people care about."
Contact staff writer Faye Flam at 215-854-4977 or email@example.com
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004
firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com