Raleigh, N.C. — A long-time environmentalist resigned from an advisory board of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences last weekend, citing differences with the museum's director.
Brian Rosborough, founder of the 40-year-old environmental nonprofit Earthwatch, chaired the museum's Citizen Science Council, which is charged with advising scientists at the new Nature Research Center. Rosborough resigned from the 24-member council Saturday after what he called an "honest disagreement" with museum Director Emlyn Koster over the future of the council.
"As is his right, the director prefers that the Citizen Science Council should follow state rules with all appointments and agendas filtered by him and be managed by his office," Rosborough wrote in his resignation letter to the council. "I believe that the independence of the council is its strongest contribution to the museum, its staff and stakeholders, and especially the director who deserves and will need diverse and independent program oversight to properly discharge his responsibilities."
Reached by phone at his home in Concord, Mass., Rosborough said his resignation was well timed now that the council was up and running. He also said his departure allows Koster to chart his own course for the council moving forward.
"It was to be expected that he would have all kinds of ideas and new directions to go in," Rosborough said. "I want to make sure he has room to do that."
Museum spokesman Jon Pishney said the original purpose of the council was to help find ways to promote citizen science as part of the Nature Research Center's broader push to focus on science that affects people's daily lives. But the current makeup doesn't match what was originally intended to be scientists from across the state and faculty from the University of North Carolina system.
"Basically, it was created in a manner that wasn't consistent with the goal of the council," Pishney said.
Rosborough, a prominent supporter of environmental research, was recruited to the council by former museum director Betsy Bennett, who retired in 2012, and former Nature Research Center Director Meg Lowman. Lowman left her post for a California science museum in January, months after Koster effectively demoted her to director of academic partnerships and global initiatives, a role free of management duties.
Rosborough said his resignation was unrelated to Lowman's departure.
He said that, despite their different personalities, he's confident in Koster's ability to guide the museum forward.
"If you look at it carefully, I'm a starter, and the director is a runner – and he's a good one," Rosborough said.
According to Rosborough's resignation letter, a nominating committee will name his replacement at the council's next meeting on March 27.
Dear Members of the Citizen Science Council, Museum of Natural Sciences.
With the interest of the Museum of Natural Sciences in mind, I am relinquishing my responsibilities as Council Chair in time for a successor to be qualified and appointed before the next meeting. I think it best as the Director and I have divergent views on the independence and support of the Council making this the easiest path forward. In my place you have a well qualified Nominating Committee composed of Bob Bilbro, Kristin Replogle, Dan Solomon, and the Director. Meg Lowman was formerly a member, making three outsiders and two state appointed members charged with vetting the candidates to serve on the Council in staggered three year terms. Acting together, they shall have the responsibility to appoint my successor who will be installed at the March 27 meeting.
As is his right, the Director prefers that the Citizen Science Council should follow state rules with all appointments and agendas filtered by him and be managed by his office. I believe that the independence of the Council is its strongest contribution to the Museum, its staff and stakeholders, and especially the Director who deserves and will need diverse and independent program oversight to properly discharge his responsibilities. In fact, the Council was a derivative of a Erskine Bowles recommendation that the founders of NRC create an independent science advisory committee or board to oversee the Museum's public science programs. Without details that charge was left to interpretation. Like the Friends Board, the Council is not budgeted for in the annual state allotment, therefore leaving its operations and expenses private, to be covered by discretionary funds to date. Given an honest disagreement on how to proceed, now is the best time to step aside and let your Nominating Committee vet candidates to assume the Chair.
As I have drawn close to you and your mission, this decision is made with some regret. I firmly believe that the Museum of Natural Sciences is uniquely positioned to speak nationally and internationally about the role and responsibilities of Public Science. In our crowded, untidy world uncertainty about natural phenomena and the processes of living need to be illuminated by scientists and opened to public debate. The Museum has the communication assets to do that notwithstanding the complexity and occasional controversy that may arise. In this regard, I am full of optimism about the rich intellectual resources close at hand who will be called to serve the Citizen Science Council and advance the Museum's standing. And what better place to do that than Raleigh, North Carolina!
While you will hear shortly from the Director's office, please Save the Date, Thursday March 27 when the next regular meeting of the Citizen Science Council will be convened at the Nature Research Center of the Museum. Meanwhile, I wish the best for the Council in the discharge of your responsibilities. It has been an honor to serve you.