Dan Mouer, a Virginia Commonwealth University archaeology professor, has until June 1 to find a new home for his life's work, almost 30 years worth of Virginia artifacts.
Mouer has overseen VCU's self-supporting Archaeological Resource Center, part of the school's sociology and anthropology department since 1978.
The center, housed in a massive, three-story, 30,000 square foot per story building on the 1300 block of West Broad Street, is the home of thousands of boxes of artifacts recovered from excavations all over the state. Countless maps, drawings, plans, schematics and texts fill the space, as well as a research lab and the many tools of the archaeology trade: shovels, picks, hard hats and the huge mesh sifting boxes that separate valuable pieces of Virginia's past from bits of dirt and clay.
But in February, Mouer received an e-mail that instructed him to get all of his archeological findings, equipment, artifacts and tools out of the building by May 1.
No mention was made of how, or where to. Last week the deadline was moved back to June 1, but the university has yet to address the fate of the artifacts, or the fate of the more than 70 students who study archeology.
"It's a little complex, and it has everything to do with money," Mouer says.
Since VCU incorporated the center, it has paid for itself, bringing in as much as $1 million dollars annually in the form of grants and research contracts from state agencies, like the Virginia Department of Transportation, which need to do archeological studies before they can undertake new construction.
Mouer says that in the last two years, the historic preservation and cultural resource management work that has been his center's bread and butter for 20 years has moved away from universities and into the hands of large, private engineering firms. So the center no longer pays for itself.
That means that rather than keep the center going with university funds, the university is considering other plans for the center's valuable Broad Street location.
"Since we're no longer making money, they're going to cancel the program," Mouer says.
Not only that, but Mouer has no where to move his research and equipment to, and no money to pay for movers to move it. Mouer has no idea now what will happen to his work. "I don't think anyone would be so irresponsible as to destroy the collections, but that's the way they're putting it to me, though," Mouer says. "It's a very, very tough situation."
It's not just artifacts that are in jeopardy with the center's impending close. No center means no field study opportunities for VCU's archeology students. Carol Baker and Debbie Miller hope that doesn't happen.
The pair say they first sensed a problem in January, shortly before the start of the spring semester.
They were signed up for a spring field school, an archeology work-study program at an actual site vital training when it comes time for students to find jobs or graduate programs. They found out the day before classes were to begin that the field school was canceled. "You can't get into graduate school unless you have field school experience," Miller says.
Although Mouer has assured the students in the program that they will have a summer field school, Miller says she was told by Stephen D. Gottfredson, the dean of VCU's College of Humanities and Sciences, in a meeting on March 16 that that wasn't going to happen.
The students really got worried when they got an e-mail from Mouer asking for their help in moving the center. "That's when it really hit home," Baker says.
Between attending classes and scrambling to find a place to move their professor's artifacts, Miller and Baker are starting a statewide letter-writing campaign to try to save the center. "It's a valuable program, not just for the students but for the history of the state," Baker says.
Miller transferred to VCU from Clinch Valley College in 1997 specifically for the archeology program. She says, "It's a sad thing, because it's [Mouer's] life's work, and now it's being thrown out the back door."
Neither Mouer nor Miller and Baker has had much news from VCU's administration. "We haven't made any decision yet on any of that," says Edwin Blanks, VCU's vice provost for academic administration. "The flow of funds has simply dried up, so we're sitting there with the university paying for what I would call storage space."
Blanks says that he recognizes the import of the artifacts and supplies in the center, but isn't sure where it will end up, or what will happen to the students. He says he is meeting with consultants this week to discuss the center's building. It may be used by the School of the Arts. As for the artifacts, Blanks says the university could "earmark the things that are truly, truly things that need to be stored. The university can step up to the plate on doing that. ... We always look around and find something someplace to store it.
"If we didn't put some kind of a deadline on Dr. Mouer, as far as identifying what's valuable and what's surplus, then that would sit there ad infinitum and we'd just be paying for storage." Blanks adds that "we wouldn't even be having this conversation if funds were still flowing from the external to fund this program."
As far as the students who want to study the practice of archaeology, Blanks says, "I apologize for not knowing the answer to that question."
Time is running out to find an answer.
"Nobody has yet offered any alternative space to go, or money for a move," Mouer says.
Miller is perplexed. "They should at least have a meeting, and let us know why things are getting cut down, and if we can save [the program]," Miller says. "I feel like we're kind of getting the
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