Education

External review of UK archaeology praises two recently eliminated units

Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is a partnership between the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council, took additional soil samples at her dig site at the Oscar Pepper home site near the Woodford Reserve Distillery on McCracken Pike near Versailles, Ky., Tuesday, September 24, 2013.
Kim McBride, co-director of the Kentucky Archaeological Survey, which is a partnership between the University of Kentucky Department of Anthropology and the Kentucky Heritage Council, took additional soil samples at her dig site at the Oscar Pepper home site near the Woodford Reserve Distillery on McCracken Pike near Versailles, Ky., Tuesday, September 24, 2013. Herald-Leader

An external review of the University of Kentucky’s Department of Anthropology last year praised two archaeology units that are now being dissolved, resulting in the firing of 12 staff members.

“It is the view of the Review Committee that the Archaeology Units represent some of the strongest and best-known portions of the University of Kentucky’s Department of Anthropology,” according to a copy of the February 2018 review obtained by the Herald-Leader, conducted by faculty from Texas A&M University, the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and UK. “They have trained virtually all of the professional archaeologists in the state, and have created innovative educational and outreach programs and activities.”

The review said the Kentucky Archaeological Survey and the Program for Archaeological Research, which work on numerous public and private archaeological projects around the state, had become disconnected from the anthropology department, where they are housed and “this has hurt faculty, students and staff. For the Department to be successful in the longer-term, and for the Archaeology Units to be active, engaged, and relevant, will require conscious integration and collaboration, as well as new energy and focus. Some new staff/faculty will be required, but only with a careful, clear plan of integration.”

The review does not mention eliminating the programs.

The archaeology units are housed at the William S. Webb Museum, which contains an extensive collection of Native American artifacts at a building on Export Street. The survey program primarily works with non-profits and private landowners to protect archaeological sites and educate the public about Kentucky’s archaeological heritage. The Program for Archaeological Research works more with state agencies and private companies and developers on excavation, analysis, and technical studies required for projects, such as construction or new roads. Most of the salaries are funded through outside contracts and grants.

Last week, UK announced that it would eliminate the two programs and hire two new faculty and an educational director, recommendations that officials said were guided by the external review.

One new faculty member, a bioarchaeologist, will be tasked with maintaining the collection, in addition to teaching and research. The other faculty member will be hired to teach and research on African-American archaeology in Kentucky. One of the review’s strongest concerns was a lack of a Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act compliance officer. It recommends that role being given to the bioarcheologist.

George Crothers, the museum director, will continue to operate the Office of State Archaeology, which maintains the official archaeological site records for the state and issues permits for archaeological excavations or the collection of artifacts on land owned or leased by the commonwealth.

UK refused to release the review when the Herald-Leader requested it under the state’s open records law, saying it was “preliminary,” and therefore exempt, although the document is labeled “Final Report” on its cover page.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said external reviews are often considered preliminary. “The report is one stage of several with respect to the reorganization of archaeology,” Blanton said Tuesday. “The report is submitted; the department has an opportunity to respond. Ultimately, the Dean has an opportunity to weigh in on the report and make recommendations.”

He has apparently done so; Dean Mark Kornbluh of the College of Arts and Sciences notified 12 employees — seven full time, five part-time — last week that their jobs were ending.

Blanton also said the review’s discussion of a disconnect between the archeaology units and the anthropology department is “critically important,” and something that has been discussed for 15 years.

“It suggests that what has happened is that the enterprise in question has become distanced from the mission of the institution —teaching and research,” Blanton said. “That’s the core of what we do. Seeking private contracts, respectfully, is not.”

Public outreach and education need to stem from the university’s research mission, Blanton said.

Edward Henry, an assistant professor of anthropology at Colorado State University, said Blanton’s statement “makes no sense to me.”

As a UK undergraduate student, Henry said, he was encouraged to work with the archaeological units “for the explicit reason they could provide training and support the department could not.”

Henry, along with two other UK anthropology alumni who are now faculty at other schools, wrote a letter to the Herald-Leader about their dismay over UK’s decision. In a phone interview, Henry said the new plan also would set a new faculty member up to fail if they are in charge of modernizing the museum, teaching, conducting research, publishing and providing public outreach.

“I think there’s a better way to do what they’re trying to do,” Henry said.

UK has received numerous letters about the move, including one from the Society for American Archaeology, which said: “The elimination of a leader in public archaeology and one of the department’s strongest programs is a setback in the museum’s mission to disseminate anthropological knowledge. We encourage the University of Kentucky to reconsider this decision.”

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