G. Wayne Clough, president of Georgia Tech, was tapped to run the Smithsonian Institution. As we’ve reported, he steps into a deeply troubled organization. His predecessor allowed infrastructure to crumble, appropriated museum artifacts for personal use in his offices, and focused more on cozying up to corporate sponsors than on the scientific and educational mission of the Smithsonian.
In many ways, Clough seems well-suited to restoring faith in the Smithsonian. He comes with an academic background, which means he will understand the needs of his staff, and appreciate the balance between the public face of museum exhibits and the important work that goes on behind the scenes. His background in civil engineering may even come in handy as the Smithsonian invests in building repairs, but I doubt that the infrastructure problems are that serious. The existing maintenance staff just need to be given the resources to do their jobs right.
Unfortunately, Clough has no background in running a museum, and I don’t know how much scientific street cred (lab cred?) to give to his engineering background. Some engineers understand science, but engineers are also disproportionately likely to buy into creationism.
Bringing in someone with museum experience would have done a lot to strengthen the institution’s core values, and would have been a signal to the scientific community and the public at large that the Smithsonian would be returning to its roots. Interim Smithsonian Secretary CristiŠn Samper had been in charge of the National Museum before taking over for Lawrence Small a year ago, and was seen as a possible permanent replacement. Peter Raven, of the Missouri Botanical Gardens, was often mentioned as a possible successor to Small as well.
The selection of Clough seems to be a step in the right direction, but recent experience suggests that it’s worth remaining skeptical until he proves himself.