Archive for Thursday, March 4, 2004

KU fires art museum director

Administration offers no explanation of surprise decision

March 4, 2004


Kansas University administrators have fired Andrea Norris, the director of the Spencer Museum of Art for nearly 16 years.

KU officials refused to say why Norris' contract won't be renewed, and even Norris said she wasn't given a clear explanation of the decision.

"I don't completely understand what's happened," she said Wednesday. "I serve at the pleasure of the provost, and it's his pleasure that I leave."

Norris, whose annual salary was $92,885, was informed of her firing on Tuesday. She will be on KU's payroll through June 30, when her contract expires, but she said she had been told not to return to work after Wednesday.

David Shulenburger, provost and executive vice chancellor, appointed Fred Pawlicki, associate director of the Lied Center, to be interim director of the museum. KU will launch a national search for a new director later this year, but no time frame has been set for hiring someone new.

Museum employees were informed of the decision during a meeting Wednesday morning with Shulenburger and Pawlicki. Shulenburger didn't explain the firing. Questions from the Journal-World were referred to Lynn Bretz, a KU spokeswoman, who declined comment, citing the need to maintain the confidentiality of matters dealing with personnel.

Even David Hiebert, president of the Spencer Museum Advisory Board, didn't know about the change until he received a call from Shulenburger Wednesday morning.

"It came as a surprise to me," Hiebert said. "Every organization needs new leadership now and then. ... Although I'm disappointed at a change in leadership, I know that Fred will do an exceptionally good job because he's done such a good job in so many areas before."

One source close to the situation said a university committee that reviews the museum's progress every five years had recommended a change in leadership, citing a lack of research and poor acquisitions at the museum.

Also, fund-raising has been slow for an expansion that would nearly double the museum's size. The expansion has been discussed since 1999, and a $20 million fund-raising goal had been set by the KU Endowment Association. So far, only $1.6 million has been secured for the project.

Past work defended

The museum, built in 1978, has more than 25,000 catalogued items, 22,473 square feet of exhibition space and a 150,000-volume art and architecture library.

Carolyn Chinn Lewis, assistant director of the museum, defended Norris' tenure, saying she felt Norris had worked to diversify the museum's holdings. The Spencer now has more art by women, blacks and American Indians, she said.

Chinn Lewis also praised Norris for securing an $850,000 Mellon Foundation grant that is used as an endowment for museum interns.

"I think the museum's going in a positive direction and always has been," she said. "We're a major university art museum and always have been. We've always been ranked in the top of university art museums across the country, and I see us continuing in that direction with our exhibitions, our programs, our outreach. We continue to move forward."

Norris, who was elected vice president of the College Arts Assn. on Sunday, said she felt she was leaving the museum "in really good condition."

"Its budget is balanced and growing," she said. "Acquisitions have been terrific, engaging, interesting and diverse. We have wonderful exhibitions up now and planned for the future."

She declined to comment when asked if she felt she had been treated fairly by the university.

"I don't want to be difficult," she said.

Interim director

Pawlicki has worked at the Lied Center since 1992. He was interim executive director during the 2000-2001 academic year before being named associate director in 2001. He will perform his Lied Center job and the museum job until a new museum director is chosen, officials said.

He previously was director of operations at the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka from 1987 to 1992.

Pawlicki said fund raising and increasing attendance, including outreach projects to attract Topeka and Kansas City residents, would be among his goals.

"We want to help the staff get over the initial -- shock is not the right word -- but stress of the change," Pawlicki said. "The staff, of course, is digesting what's happening. This will be a major change in their daily work routine in terms of who their director is, but I see business as usual."

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