In Musuem Anthropology 38.1, co-editors Maxine McBrinn and Tony Chavarria conducted interviews with museum anthropologists working within the university setting. This web-exclusive content adds to their collection of interviews published in the journal.
This interview is with Dr. Jill Minar, Instructor of Anthropology/Archaeology in the Anthropology, Economics, and Geography Department, Social Sciences Division at Fresno City College in Fresno, California. This Part 1 of 2.
1. Describe your job.
I am primarily a community college instructor of anthropology. At our college, the normal teaching load is five classes per semester. Because I am also responsible for our small museum and archaeological curation facility/archives, I am relieved of one class per semester.
2. How does being associated with a university assist your job and institution?
Mission – associated with education – having a built in community of learners every semester. Facility bills are paid by the college: we don’t have an electric, water, or trash bill for example. We can hook in to the campus outreach programs and advertising.
Museums associated with colleges can provide a unique setting in the academic world. Our museum, and I would assume most others associated with colleges and universities, provides a physical place where our community of learners can interact with each other and with faculty outside the classroom. This extracurricular contact provides a connection between students, their peers, and their teachers that stimulates engagement. Students find that their museum experiences are where the classroom meets the outside world. They see their studies actually applied and they see the results that happen with visitors to the museum. Students who participate as docents also have an opportunity to learn time management, collections management, educational tour development, as well as other job and life skills. In our department, we see that students who are engaged in this way have better success in the classroom and stick around to complete their degrees with actual plans for further education and career paths.
3. Does being associated with a university add challenges to your job?
The college is my employer and my primary job is to teach introductory level anthropology courses. It was assumed, when I was hired, that I would also be responsible for managing the Museum of Anthropology and the associated curation facility and archives. I was given release time from one class for one year to bring the museum and curation facility and archives up to modern standards of exhibit design and curation practice while at the same time revamping the college’s archaeological technician program. After one year, my teaching load returned to five classes per semester. It took seven years for the college to realize that this was unrealistic and I was given release time from one class every semester to manage the museum, curation facility and archives. Given that the museum, curation facility, and archives were very much ‘behind the times,’ the process of completely stabilizing collections, organizing the archives, and improving the museum exhibits is still on going.
It would seem that having a museum associated with a college or university would be beneficial to the museum and to the college. However, in our situation, the college has not recognized the financial and staffing needs required to run a museum and we struggle to keep the doors open. The college took federal monies to create the museum as part of constructing a new building in the 1970s and so realizes that it cannot “get rid of” the museum (though they tried to turn the space into a computer lab one year without even talking to the anthropology faculty), but there is little actual support.
In addition, the college staff, including senior administrators, do not understand the security requirements for museum and archaeological curation spaces. We have an alarm system, but the campus police regularly turn it off for anyone who asks. Recently, technology support staff entered the curation space without supervision and removed the computer with our collections data base on it to upgrade the operating system. It was not thought necessary to discuss this with me first. I simply received an email telling me the computer had been removed. Fortunately, I was able to stop the upgrade until we could make sure that our data base program was compatible with the new operating system. This could have been a disaster but was a blessing in disguise as it made me much more aware of how vulnerable our data and our collections are in the college as opposed to museum environment. Meetings with administrators and some changes to access policies will hopefully help.
4. How do university students interact with the museum?
The Museum of Anthropology has a docent program in which any student who has successfully completed at least one anthropology course may participate. Docents go through some basic training about housekeeping and maintenance, exhibit content, interacting with the public, and providing tours to visitors. The docents provide tours to visiting college students, faculty, and staff as well as visitors to the campus including grade school field trip groups.
Our anthropology majors have begun to use the museum as a meeting point since many of them volunteer as docents. This has created a space for community to develop and as such has been extremely important in our efforts to improve student success and retention.
Some faculty (anthropology, history, American Indian studies, among others) utilize the museum, having students come to visit the museum to complete various assignments.