Extended Interview

An Interview With Wayne Clough

Jeffrey Mervis

Q: I'd like to welcome Wayne Clough to AAAS. He's the former president of Georgia Tech [the Georgia Institute of Technology] who, in 2008, became the 12th secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. We're expecting lunch, we promised you lunch, we're not going to renege on that, but since it's a little delayed, let's just go ahead and then break when it arrives. There are several of us who will be asking you questions.

Wayne Clough: Let me just explain my prop [holds up a large book], since I took it out in front of everybody. This is a new exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum is in what we call a rental center, ... but it was originally the patent building, the patent office, and the idea was that there would be three central buildings in Washington. One would be the Capitol, the other would obviously be something like the White House, and then there would be this other thing, and he [Pierre L'Enfant] said in Europe it would be a church, but he said in America, it would be a cathedral of innovation, meaning the patent building.

Now, the Smithsonian inherited that building over time, but still obviously inside [it] has remnants of what used to be the patent office where people sat with eyeshades, and so there's a sense of that when you're in that building, in many ways. It's a fabulous building. It's the third oldest building in Washington. And, so, Betsy Broun, who's one of the most creative entrepreneurial directors that we have and the longest serving director at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is doing some incredible things there with computer games, with getting kids involved in all kinds of different curatorial experiments, and so forth, and tonight, we will have the celebration of the opening, which will happen this week, of the Great American Hall of Wonders, which harkens back to the patent office, [The Great American Hall of Wonders:] Art, Science, and Invention in the Nineteenth Century [the book Clough is holing], and I think you will enjoy it. I'll just pass this around if you want to take a look at what's in here.

So, this draws on our own collection. We have many of the patent models. We have 10,000 patent models that have been issued. The one in my office is by John Ericsson, it's the engine he used in the [U.S.S.] Monitor, and, so, in those days, they had to actually make models, and so you can see these fabulous—but there are many other things. It's how art depicts science and technology, as well, and so it's a wonderful exhibition I think you'll all enjoy. This is my only copy right now, so I need to get that back.

Q: Well, we have a lot of questions, and I'm going to start off with a few, and then people will just jump in and we'll go from there. Let me start with what was the biggest problem that you felt was facing science at the Smithsonian when you arrived? Now, you came in June 2008, about 3 years ago?

W.C.: Correct. Well, there was more than one, but, certainly, one was its invisibility. It was not well-known that the Smithsonian was actually in the science business, and I found that to be true in many ways, because I was attracted to the position because I felt that that part I understood pretty well. And, you know, when you go into a fairly extensive administrative job, you can never be—there's no one person who could know everything at the Smithsonian, but I wanted to feel like I had some competency in about 50% of the business, and it was obvious that people didn't know about the science.

It was also obvious that people referred to the Smithsonian as "the nation's attic," so they thought of it as a dusty place not going anywhere, looking backwards as opposed to looking forward. That hurt us a great deal when I went up on the hill and spoke to Congress about the possibilities of funding for the Smithsonian. They tended to view us as a Washington-based institution that was a museum, and museums are wonderful things, don't get me wrong, but sometimes that was a pejorative term, which was bad, and that certainly science was clearly one of the most dynamic pieces of the Smithsonian and it wasn't visible.

And that extended much further than just Capitol Hill, it extended to the science community itself. I was surprised at how few people in the science community knew, unless they were in specific discipline, what the Smithsonian was doing in science. And, then, thirdly, the Smithsonian itself didn't put its pieces together. I guess, because of my nature and because of my position, you know, I've been behind the scenes in every possible nook and cranny of the Smithsonian, except some of our international locations—we're in 90 different countries, I haven't been to 90 countries yet. I've been to many of them, but not 90—that I would go into one part of the Smithsonian, and someone would describe what they were doing, and it was very exciting, and I would go into another part, and that person would describe something very similar, and I'd say, "Do you know Joe?" "No, never met him." "They're just right down the street." "No, never have been over there." And it was shocking to me how little interaction there was in the Smithsonian.

Q: Why do you think that was? Was that historical, or were there reasons why those stovepipes existed?

W.C.: A little bit historical, and a little bit sort of a trend. Over time, the Smithsonian has struggled with its budgets, especially it's become quite dependent on the federal government. In the beginning, it started as an institution that would take no federal money, and Joseph Henry, the first secretary, was adamant, and, in fact, in the Articles, if you will, of Confederation for the Smithsonian, he was very explicit, saying, "This is not a federal institution."

Now it is, but at that time, it did not accept any money from the federal government, and he felt that if the Smithsonian accepted money from the federal government, strings would be attached. Well, surprise, surprise, they were. Unfortunately, Mr. Smithson's gift was not invested wisely, and when the Smithsonian's second secretary, Secretary [Spencer] Baird, he was a person who loved collections, and the United States had collection expeditions out all over the place. The Wilkes was the biggest first one in 1838, and they brought back all of these things, and, you know, the Navy got it, and, you know, some admiral says, "What the heck are we doing with all this stuff? Give it to the Smithsonian."

And so the Smithsonian science collection began to build at a very rapid pace, and it could not sustain that on the endowment, and so it ended up being, then, a federal funding-type situation. So, what happened, I think, over time, people have grown too dependent, in the sense of being dependent on the federal government, and probably not in as competitive as one could be, and, therefore, not thinking outwardly, and not looking for opportunities beyond, you know, budget problems tend to draw people into a sort of a shell, as opposed to looking outward. And someone said it very well in our strategic planning process, that, you know, "Dr. Clough, the Smithsonian has to reinvent itself, or reinvent its relevance, every 40 or 50 years." Now is the time for us to do that.

Q: So, was that the purpose of the strategic plan, to address the fact that the Smithsonian's visibility was low, and that people weren't aware of the science that was going on?

W.C.: In part, but it was also to look more broadly than just at the science, of course, because we are an unusual institution. There are many great science museums—the California Academy of Sciences, the Field Museum, the American [of Natural] History Museum in New York City—and there are many great art museums. But the Smithsonian is an amalgam of all those things, and so the strategic planning process was larger than just that issue, but it would address that issue. And part of the problem is—you mentioned history, yes—that the Smithsonian science has outgrown its ability to stay on the Mall, and, so, if you look back, one of the first examples of that was what became the National Zoo.

The secretary at the time—actually it was [Samuel] Langley, who was an aerospace engineer—was very concerned about the loss of the biodiversity in the west. The buffalo were dying, and all this kind of thing. So he sent out a team, and they brought back collections of animals that they felt they might be able to breed, and they housed them behind the castle. And at some point, somebody said [sniff] and so they had a cattle drive, of a sort, that went up Connecticut Avenue to their new home, which became the zoo.

But the zoo is a very science-based institution. People don't know that, and, fortunately, new technology can help us get around some of that. So, and then, the Smithsonian's Astrophysical Observatory [SAO] left [Washington, D.C.] in 1955, and we have 900 people who work there—almost one-sixth of our workforce works with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory—and then another 400 people work in Panama [at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI)]. It's wonderful that the world's best tropical research institution is in Panama, and all over the world, actually. So, when you look around, you find that the Smithsonian's science is often not on the Mall, therefore, not visible, or, in the case of natural history, if you go through the museum, you don't know that two-thirds of that building is not accessible by the public, and, so, what the public sees, they don't realize behind the walls is incredible science going on. And, on top of that, we have a science collection center in Maryland where we keep our science collections, which was blown up in The Lost Symbol [the novel by Dan Brown], but it's still there, I can tell you, where you have remarkable science that's working out there. And, so, the science is invisible, so we had to work at that.

Q: Okay, well, we want to come back to the zoo, and SAO, and those other facilities, but let me ask you one other thing. Before you came, there was a call for Smithsonian science to become more focused, to concentrate on its strengths, because it couldn't afford to do everything. Has that happened, and, if so, what areas do you think have become more prominent, and what has had to be deemphasized, or changed?

W.C.: Well, I think, to some extent, my experience is they need to be a little self-selective. I don't think somebody can't just come in and do that—the last secretary [Lawrence Small] tried to get rid of what was then the Front Royal [Virginia] part of the zoo, now called the Conservation Biology Institute. I think it can't be a top down decision; you need to think through the consequences of those kinds of things. So that's what we tried to do in the strategic plan. About 1500 people participated in that strategic plan process, and we got the world's best facilitator, Peter Schwartz, to facilitate it. He did it for us because he loves the Smithsonian, otherwise we couldn't have afforded him, and he is a master at getting people to think through these complex sorts of issues. What we wanted to do was for folks to define a focus for the Smithsonian, because it's just hard for me, or anyone, to describe the Smithsonian. When I say, well, yes, we have art museums, we have an aerospace museum, you know, we have a history museum, oh, and we have astrophysics. We have a zoo. So, how does this make sense?

So, the question was, how do you do that? And so the idea—and it was interesting how it happened, because we started out with maybe 20 areas of potential focus and we ended up with four that we ended up calling grand challenges, and that was an amazing, natural process, partly because Peter's a great facilitator. Everyone in that process agreed on these areas. And what they do is they give you a set of umbrellas under which the Smithsonian's work takes place, and that's not to say that you won't have something taking place that's outside of that, but you have to think very hard about why you're doing that.

We have enough collections, fundamentally, in size—we have 137 million objects and specimens—so, now, we only want to grow our specimens if they meet this test of fitting within the grand challenges. Two of the grand challenges are largely science, and two are largely history or cultural, although we see overlaps in all those areas. And so it gave us a focus, and there is a self-selection, in terms of what we will and will not do in the future, because of budget constraints. And so our directors that we've met—you know, we have a process now where our directors meet regularly, make those sort of joint decisions as to what we will not do anymore. Some of those decisions may get a lot harder, if, in fact, our federal budget is cut severely. We've been fortunate not to fall victim to that yet, at least on the personnel side.

Q: Speaking of people and budgets, what's the purpose of the recent buyout offer? Is it supposed to be providing an opportunity to bring in new blood? Are you concerned about the demographics of the current workforce?

W.C.: It's true to a point, but I try to emphasize to our folks inside the Smithsonian, and outside the Smithsonian, is when I came to the Smithsonian, one of the big problems I heard was something they described as base erosion. And what that meant was that the federal government had been increasing the Smithsonian's budget. You should know the Smithsonian's a hybrid, okay, because we were created as a trust, and so about 30% or 35% of our budget is private. So I have to raise money like a university president. We raised $160 million last year in philanthropy and so forth, and we have business enterprises. We have a Smithsonian Channel, which is growing rapidly, but then the federal government does fund a chunk of the budget, and there's a rationale, I think, in and around why they should. But that budget had been going up only slightly, and inflation had been going up faster and, in addition, the Congress imposed salary increases on the Smithsonian, and those always were more than the Smithsonian budget could afford. And so what happened over 10 years, by my calculations, is that the Smithsonian lost 600 people, and so we are gradually dying sort of a slow death even before the current budget crisis.

Q: You mean positions, or people that walked out the door?

W.C.: We were down that many positions. You can see it in the plot of the number of people that work in the Smithsonian. So, we had a problem before there was a budget crisis, and so we had developed this strategy to be one that would address this ongoing challenge, because even if we have a budget challenge now, and even if somehow 4 or 5 years from now, the federal government says, "Oh, here's some more money," this is going to be a long-term issue with organizations like the Smithsonian. All federal agencies—the National Science Foundation [NSF], the National Parks Service, and USGS [U.S. Geological Survey]—we're all facing the same problem, and so you have to figure out a way out of that.

The other thing about the Smithsonian that's unusual and good, in many ways, is that people love to work there, and they never leave. It's a wonderful thing. So, when I looked at our demographics, not only did we see the number of people going down, but the average age of the employees was going up. Now it's nice that people are loyal, and you need that history. But we also need young people. We need talented people coming in with new ideas and new approaches to things who could bring that vigor to us, and so we had to figure out a way to address that. So there were a multiple set of factors that were related. So buyouts are a useful tool for institutions like the Smithsonian to create an opportunity for younger people to come in.

Q: So, what's your target? How many people do you hope ...

W.C.: We don't really have targets. The interesting thing, the last buyout [in 2008] was focused at what we call our professional staff. In other words, it doesn't do any good for us to have one of our security guards go out, because we've got to hire a security guard back. But if a scientist leaves, and we have an opportunity to refill that position, that can be helpful, in some cases. We don't always lose these folks, incidentally. A lot of them come back and work part-time, so it's not like they're gone.
So, this particular buyout is focused on our professional staff, and people are interested in it now because they look at the federal government and they say, "Oops, salaries are going to be frozen for the next 3 years, and benefits may be cut. Maybe now's a good time to leave."

Q: So, the deadline is next week? That's when you'll know?

W.C.: July 22nd, and the total number of people at the Smithsonian—I mean, this is all federal, and it's all dictated by the Office of Personnel Management, they tell you exactly how to run a buyout, all the agencies do it. So, of the 2400, the last time they did it 3 years ago, we had 150 take the offer. The number [varies] depending on the economy, like if it's a person who maybe wanted to get a job after this, maybe they would hesitate in doing it because of the job market right now.

So, it just creates more opportunity. Now, on the other side of that, we are working very hard to increase the number of post-doc opportunities at the Smithsonian, internships—we have a record number of interns at the Smithsonian right now—we are really working hard to bring them in. Those folks aren't going to stay here, but they will be here for a period of time, maybe a year or 2 years, 3 years in some cases, to help energize our efforts and bring in these new ideas.

Q: How many post-docs do you have now?

W.C.: You know, I don't know the number, but the number that we cite—in this room, the Smithsonian is not great with numbers, I have to work on that. But we can get the number.

I say that because I've asked this question three times, and I get three different answers, so what I know is that the most consistent answer I get is we have 1200 interns a year, and we probably have about 300 post-docs. But some of them come for, like, a month, and some are there for a year, and some are there longer. And then we have lots of visitors, like STRI will get up to 1000 scientific students and visitors a year. We're trying to build up partnerships with the universities, incidentally, to help, also, compliment our strengths where we can't add staff anymore, and we're working really hard on that, and that's working well for us.

Q: My question goes to the planned exhibit of artifacts from the Belitung shipwreck that were commercially salvaged and exploited. The plans for this exhibit, now in Singapore, upset many archeologists who thought that such commercial salvage violated both Article II and the annex of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. I'm wondering whether the Smithsonian officials were aware during their early deliberations of this kind of longstanding battle that nautical archeologists have been fighting to protect shipwrecks from bounty hunters.

W.C.: Yes, we were. But let's don't look at entirely from that viewpoint. The folks in Singapore would contest that. I'm not an underwater archeologist, and I've only learned about this subject in the last 6 months. But I've learned a lot about a lot of subjects in the last 6 months, and that's one of them.

And I can tell you, as an engineer, I come at things from a practical view. I'm told there are, perhaps, up to a thousand shipwrecks in shallow waters in and around Indonesia, and countries like that, that cannot afford to undergo a thorough salvage exercise. And so somehow you're going to have to find a way to protect these shipwrecks, because otherwise, while you're standing there talking about the most pristine way to do it, somebody's going to come in and loot it, and it'll be gone. It'll be gone to all of civilization, and we will lose the opportunity to learn from these underwater shipwrecks.

So I think the people in these professions need to sit down together and say, "What can we do about this?" Because, as this shipwreck was discovered, it was in shallow waters, and, I was told, it could have been looted any day. So the Indonesians contracted with a company who did, at some point, get serious about curating the objects from it, and, therefore, there was some science-base to the curation. Not entirely, but some of it. And, of course, the Singaporeans felt it was part of their history because it explained a great deal about the trade between the Chinese and the Arab nations, which was very little understood.

As it stands now, that exhibition will not come to the United States, and people who otherwise would have learned a great deal about this trade will not [learn anything]. So, I guess the question for the profession is, "Where do you want to come out on this?" Clearly, you don't want to encourage people to loot, or to desecrate these sites, or to not curate them appropriately. I don't know the answer, but somebody needs to think about this very seriously, I think.

At this point, we're not going to mount the exhibition, yet it does exist in Singapore. It does exist on the Internet, and so it's out there, to one extent or another. But I think it's a difficult problem that the profession needs to sit down and think about, from a practical point-of-view. That's just a non-archeologist speaking.

Q: You mentioned that the exhibit is definitely not coming to the Smithsonian now. But the Smithsonian is still, I think, involved in the catalogue, the catalogue is out there. Do you think in any way that this reflects badly on the Smithsonian, in any sense?

Clough: No. I think the curator, Julian Raby, and his staff felt when they were working with the Singaporean government, which had, in fact, bought these artifacts for the express purpose of helping educate people, that they were doing something that was useful and productive. Now, certainly not everybody agreed with that, but that's the way these things are.

So I don't think there's anything negative here. I think the Smithsonian tried to do it right. When we heard the concerns, we asked the community to come together and talk about it, and we listened, and some people in that audience had their minds changed, as a matter of fact, but not everybody. So, I think it's time in a situation like this to pause, and for the profession itself to say, "Okay, there's a problem, what are you going to do about it?" And, you remember, the United States never signed the UNESCO treaty.

Q: One final question [about this]. I know the Smithsonian has entered into an agreement so to cooperate very closely with UNESCO, and that it signed that agreement in September 2010. Do you think there're any conflicts there between the close working relationship with UNESCO, in the sense that the Smithsonian was, at one point, considering exhibiting shipwreck artifacts that convened a UNESCO convention?

W.C.: No, I don't think so. Again, I think I explained it.

Q: Another controversy, not about scientific exhibits, of course is Hide/Seek. Now, you made a statement after you decided to remove the video, the short portion, that if I could characterize your decision—and correct me if I'm not—is that the whole was greater, that the value of keeping the exhibit was greater than the fallout from the controversy would have been. You also said that you think you've learned something from that. Could you expand on both of those, because I think those have applications, not just to this exhibit. What was the down-side that you were worried about? How real was that and what have you learned when you get into a situation like that?

W.C.: Well, we had an exhibition that was discussed with me from the very beginning. It would explain to the public the contributions of gay and lesbian artists, particularly the portraiture—this was in the American Portrait Gallery—and it had been hidden from sight. And like everything the Smithsonian does, if you're talking about ships or anything else, our objective is to help educate and help people learn.
And as the exhibition developed and I was brought over to see the objects, I thought it was fantastic. So, we had a great exhibition. It was based on scholarship; it was based on careful choice of the objects, by and large. We had a review process. It turned out that particular video was not part of the review process, but that's another story.

After the exhibition had been up for awhile, a group obviously chose that as a point of contention and exploited it, and it came in at a time when there was an election cycle, and so there was a lot of controversy in that sector. So, I felt we ran the risk of losing the entire exhibition. The Smithsonian has been forced in the past to take exhibitions down. We are, and people forget.

Q: Forced by whom?

W.C.: Well, by Congress, and by the public. Folks tend to forget we're funded 65% by the federal government, which means every person in America owns the Smithsonian, and part of our job is to be bridge-builders, not divide-builders. I mean, a lot of people talk about culture wars. We're not in the culture war business. We need to appeal to people in my hometown of Douglas, Georgia, as well as the arts community in New York City. And our objective is to engage as many people as possible in what we do, not simply show an object for its shock value and steer people away from the exhibition.

And so those people who did not care for the video, I'd love to have them come see the exhibition. I think they would have, like myself, been informed by the exhibition. But I felt the controversy stood in the way of that. It brought in, obviously, the debate about religious desecration, which was not what this exhibition was about, and it was going to dominate the discussion.

Clearly, I also had to step back and think, I'm in charge of the fate of 6000 people at the Smithsonian, and we have lots of ideas and plans going forward. We were clearly going to be going into a period of very difficult budget circumstances. And so, from that point of view, I didn't think we needed to be in a long-standing debate about religious desecration. And, so, keep the exhibition up, I decided to remove the video.

Q: You said then, almost 6 months ago, that you think you had learned something. What is that? And if a similar situation were to come up again, how would you do it differently?

W.C.: After all of that, I think I made the right decision, I believe that. However, I would have gone about it a little differently. I would have taken a little more time, been a little more deliberative. Over time, I've learned more about the Smithsonian. It is a place that has lots of stakeholders, and so we need to take time, and even if we are not going to change your mind, you need to have people have a chance to tell us what they think. And so we should have had a little more deliberative process, for example, the directors at the Smithsonian, it would have been good to engage more of the directors. We have some very experienced [directors], Betsy Broun, for one, who's been at this business a long time, and it would have been good to have engaged Betsy, as an example, in that.

Now, in addition, we've gone through some simulated exercises now where you begin to realize that sometimes with a controversy, there's spillover, for example, from arts into science, and you need to let the science directors know what's going on. And so I think it's a question of information flow, letting people know what's going on. Believe me; you'll never get people to agree about everything at the Smithsonian when we do things. There's just too many points of view that come into this institution, and there's no way you cannot find somebody at odds with that point of view.

Q: Don't you have any concerns that, in the end, the Smithsonian actually got a reputation for caving in to special interest pressures, and so forth, which kind of goes against the scientific spirit? That's very much the accusation that was in the air after this episode. Did that come into your considerations at all about what the potential fallout of taking at least this one part of the exhibit down?

W.C.: Well, you know, I certainly don't agree with the expression "caving in." I think the Smithsonian has to be responsible to lots of constituencies. I hear this argument a lot of times that people cave into this, cave into that. The fact is Congress wrote the articles of operation for the Smithsonian. They can rewrite them; they have every right to do that. They have done so with the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and the NEA [National Endowment for the Arts]. Their right has been confirmed by the Supreme Court, and for us to act as if that does not exist would be foolish.

So, no, I think that, again, the decision was the right decision, and I think in the end, we probably had six- or 700,000 people come through that exhibit and be educated by it. The Smithsonian basically is positioning itself to say, "We will put on exhibitions that have sensitivities to them, but at the same time, we'll understand that there are some people who may not agree with it."

The Smithsonian's job is not one to go out and take on a controversial subject, and try to poke a stick in somebody's eye. Our job is, in fact, to engage people, and if there are things we need—well, look, the whole notion of making decisions about what goes into exhibitions is an ongoing process that happens every day at the Smithsonian, and at every museum. Every museum makes those choices, and they make choices in view of their audiences. The Smithsonian's audience is the broadest audience of any museum in the world, and so we have to take that into account. Our audience is different than that of a regional museum, if you want to think of us as a museum.

Q: We also wanted to ask you about another exhibition, on evolution, in the David Koch Hall of Human Origins. We've heard many good things about it, so, obviously, in and of itself, it's been quite successful. However, David Koch is not just another benefactor. He and his brother Charles are major philanthropists, but they're also quite notorious for being major supporters, both directly through Koch Industries and through the various foundations that they control, or fund, of climate change denialism, and basically, I think a lot of people would argue [that they] take a pretty clear antiscience stance on climate change, given the tremendous consensus among climate change scientists about what's actually happening to the planet right at the moment. Did the Smithsonian, at any levels, consider the possible conflicts, or the appropriateness, of taking money for this permanent exhibit from Koch at any point during the decision-making process, and so forth? And, are there any guidelines about who you take money from, particularly for major donations of this sort?

W.C.: Alright. Let me back up a little bit. Let's think about the greatest philanthropists in the history of this country. None of them were necessarily paragons of virtue, in some ways, in some people's eyes. Andrew Carnegie, the greatest philanthropist of all time, was a man who had controversy around him. His partner, [Henry] Frick, had controversy around him. Mr. [Cornelius] Vanderbilt had controversy. [John D.] Rockefeller had controversy around him.

So, the Kochs have controversy around them, as well. We don't take into account a person's political view. We would take a gift from George Soros, and we would take a gift from the Kochs, if they meet the criteria of philanthropists, and that is they make a gift without the intention of dictating content of what the gift is used for. Mr. Koch was, in fact, a perfect donor. He gave us his money. He never, at any time, interfered with the exhibition or the content of the exhibition. And, so, you don't apply a political test to someone, in terms of taking those gifts. And he obviously has been a tremendous philanthropist at MIT [the Massachusetts Institute of Technology]. He's been a tremendous philanthropist at the Lincoln Center, and many other places, as well.

If we had a donor who tried to impose a political viewpoint on the exhibition, we wouldn't take the money. So, yes, there are ethical issues associated with philanthropy, always are, always will be. But, in this particular case, if you know his motivation, you'll also need to know the donor's motivation. As a child, he traveled with his father to Africa and visited the Olduvai Gorge, and became fascinated by paleontology, and by evolution, and so he wanted to help millions of Americans, and other visitors, understand evolution. That was his motivation. It was a good motivation, and he, in no way, dictated anything about the gift.

Q: Looking closer to home. You have a very vocal skeptic of climate change on the SAO payroll, Willie Soon. The Smithsonian is getting more involved in monitoring long-range impacts of climate change. Are you concerned at all about how his views might color the community's response to what the Smithsonian is trying to do to understand the impacts of climate change?

W.C.: No. In the science community, we believe in freedom of speech. I've been a university president. There are times when faculty do things that you would not do, or the community might not approve of, but if you don't have—you know, it's just one of those things. I mean, the Supreme Court has dealt with some of these issues recently where people are doing things that are an anathema to the rest of the public, but they have a right to do those things because if you suppress their free speech, then somebody else is going to suppress your free speech. And I think in this particular case, he has a right to his opinions. We may not agree with him—I don't, just so that's clear—but at the same time, he's got his opinions and he has a right to those opinions. That's not the thrust of the research at the SAO.

Q: Well, that was the other part of the question. SAO doesn't do much climate research, so does he do this on a freelance basis, from your perspective?

W.C.: Well, to some extent, yes. But there is a question of freedom of speech and sort of an academic freedom concept, which doesn't quite apply to the Smithsonian. But certainly if you look at the thrust of our research, it is looking at climate change. For example, at STRI, they have Smithsonian Global [Earth] Observatories, and our objective is really to try to put facts behind the subject of climate change. We are not really here to try to force opinions on people, that's not really our job. But if we can put facts behind some of these topics, then that's a positive.

So, if you look at the data that's coming in from the 45 or so forest plots around the world, it tells you a great deal about what climate is doing to our forest. We know, for example, from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)—you know how this works—they monitor in these plots every tree, the growth of every tree over long periods of time. That is something the Smithsonian does very well, this long-term research which universities struggle to do. And we know there are forests in and around SERC that are growing faster now than they were before, because carbon's going up in the atmosphere.

We have Scott Wing, I've been with him on his digs in Wyoming where he is investigating the PETM, the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum, where there was a period 55 million years ago when there were probably three to four times more carbon in the atmosphere than there is today. Obviously, not man-made. I believe man is contributing to the carbon base, without question, today. We [are] in the anthropocene. Clearly, man is not only putting carbon in the air, we're putting hormones, and all kinds of synthetic materials, and plastics, and so forth that are leading to harm to our possible existence as a species. But Scott is doing some fabulous work on trying to understand what drove that period of enormous warming and carbon in the air from natural causes. And, you know, nature has its own cycles, then we superimpose things on top of that. So, we are doing work in climate and looking at climate change from a number of points of view. Even art, as a matter of fact. Artists are very perceptive about climate.

Q: You mentioned the fundraising part of your job. How much do you hope to raise in the upcoming capital campaign, and how much are you expecting each of the science units to contribute?

W.C.: Well, I guess that [at] this point I could say a lot, but we don't know an exact total, because we don't quite know our capacity. The Smithsonian has never had a campaign before. It's always raised money, but it's done it sort of [on] a museum by museum basis, and not, I would call it, in the sort of coherent, professional way that universities do it. And so we are gearing up to do something like that. It's new for us. We've had studies done as to try to tell us something about our donor base.

We have a small donor base, very generous, but it's a small donor base. Universities, if you're a big university like Michigan or something, you might have 500,000 living alumni. We don't have an alumni base, and so we need to do everything we can to increase our donor bank.

Q: So, who is your donor base?

W.C.: People who love the Smithsonian. You're going to find a lot of our donors are people who have given locally to all of their causes. They've given to their university; they've given to their church, if that's their specialty. They've given to their local museum. And then they want to do something nationally, they want to do something for the country. And they have some choices. They could give their money to the Defense Department, or IRS, and other things, which they're not going to do.

And, so, the charitable cause, we hope, of choice is the Smithsonian. So, we find a lot of people are patriotically motivated when they give to the Smithsonian. We find an awful lot of people who are first, second generation immigrants give to the Smithsonian. Mr. [Steven] Udvar-Hazy, [for whom the National Air and Space Museum has named a center near Washington Dulles International Airport,] is a perfect example of that. His family moved here. He felt that by living in this country, and not his former country, that his life changed dramatically for the better, and he wanted to give back. And so there's a lot of that. A lot of our smaller gifts come via that motivation, as well.

But our goal is not just to raise a set amount of money: it's to double or triple our donor base. The goal is, at the end of the campaign, is yes, we hope to have raised a certain amount of money, but, particularly, we hope to have increased, for the long haul, people who are willing to give to the Smithsonian. We believe that there are as many as is perhaps 50,000 of those people out there, but they don't know the story of the Smithsonian. And, again, if I can't tell people, potential donors, that we do science, and they don't know we do science, they won't give us any funding for it.

So part of our job is to explain to people what we're doing, and let them know the substance of it. We know we'll be well over a billion dollars, in some way, in our campaign, and we have already done very well. We're still in the quiet phase of the campaign, and we've raised about $350 million already. So we're doing very well in a very tough environment, I might say.

Each science unit has been tasked with the job, and we spent 3 years working on it, to assess their donor base, as it is, and assess the donor base as it might be, think about what are their aspirations, and aspirations are always much higher than what's real. And then to marry those aspirations back to some sort of reality, but keeping in mind the stretch-goal. Hopefully, they will all succeed.

Q: And that's over what period, 5 years, 7 years?

W.C.: Probably 7 years.

Q: Let's talk about some of those specifics. The Smithsonian needs to raise $70 million, I believe, as its 10% share of the Giant Magellan Telescope. Can you do that in time to begin construction in 2013?

W.C.: I don't know. We're working on it. You know, sadly, the federal government probably is out of the game, and that's a loss, I think, for our country. Astronomy and astrophysics has been one of the great strengths of this country where we've made tremendous contributions to science, and for our country to sort of withdraw from that, I think, is a mistake, and we see this happening in a number of places in our national endeavors now. We don't seem to be able to build big infrastructure projects anymore. We seem to be incapable of doing certain things. We're not supporting the National Science Foundation like I think we should be. Some of the big international collaborative science initiatives are going elsewhere or are being initiated elsewhere and not here. China, particularly, is investing enormously in their science infrastructure. We're not. So I think there are a lot of signs that suggest that we have problems.

Q: Do you regard the recent House [of Representatives] committee vote to kill the Webb Telescope as part of that? Is there any silver lining to that? If they don't go ahead with Webb, does that free up money?

W.C.: It might, yes, and I would hope so. I would hope that the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory is certainly one of the best astronomy groups in the world, and we want to maintain that strength. It is an obsession with me to try to do that. I get frustrated because you look around and it's tough, but SAO has the problem that it has not been in the fundraising business. It's been in the contract grant business with NASA, which has done very well, and it's been in the federal appropriations business. Only about a quarter of its funding comes from the federal government in appropriations, but it has not been in the fundraising business, and so we have not built up a constituency for our work in astronomy. Part of my job is to try to increase that constituency. So we're working hard. It'll be slow, but it's out there.

I should say, incidentally, I'll tell you one sort of semi-funny thing. When we developed the grand challenges, and one of them is unlocking the mysteries of the universe, which is perfect for SAO and some of the other things we do at the Smithsonian, I was at an archive function in New York. And the audience asked me to speak about our strategic plan, so I proudly announced that we had a strategic plan, and we had four grand challenges, and I said the first of these is unlocking the mysteries of the universe. There was like dead silence. And I realized nobody in that audience had any idea we did astrophysics. So, that's another part of the job, to explain what we really do.

Q: So, how worried are you that cuts to NASA's budget are going to hurt SAO?

W.C.: That could be a problem for us. Chandra is a mission that NASA is committed to, almost no matter what, as long as the satellite remains viable, the mechanics of it that continues to work, and so forth. We're into other important missions, like the solar probe is one that we're very excited about. We have some young scientists in that particular case who led our team and formed a team with [University of California,] Berkeley, and [the California Institute of Technology at Jet Propulsion Laboratory] and University of Alabama at Huntsville to win a big part of that solar probe project, and we're very excited about that. So, yes, we are concerned. We get funding from NSF. We compete for research, because we don't grant research, we're not a granting agency.

Q: Speaking of NSF, what's the effect of the prohibition from obtaining NSF grants by Smithsonian scientists?

W.C.: Actually, the ban allows only to the Smithsonian's federal employees.

Q: Has that ban been an obstacle?

W.C.: There is latitude within NSF; it's a guideline that the directors of different divisions interpret somewhat differently. If the Smithsonian is doing something nobody else is doing, we can receive funding for that, like our Global Earth Observatories [GEO] project is something that ties in with their NEON [National Ecological Observatories Network] project, actually, and so they do help us, and things like that. Secondly, we can be co-PIs on grants with universities, and we do that. In some cases, we cannot, because we do get federal appropriations, and our federal employees, in essence, can't be the PIs on the grant. So there are restrictions, but it's not a solid wall, it's a semipervious wall.

Q: Speaking of NSF, which you know well, one of the things in your strategic plan says that the Smithsonian should be the unrivaled leader in informal science education. Would you like to see Smithsonian scientists spend more time on K-12 education than they do now?

W.C.: I think a little bit, but we're not asking our scientists, our entomologist, Terry Erwin, who's brilliant, or Scott Wing, to become full-time K-12 educators. We want them to continue doing their science. What we do want is to find ways to share their knowledge and their findings and their discoveries with a larger audience, and there are ways to do that. Now, fundamentally, we'd like to think that philanthropy, and the federal government, actually, thinks this is a good idea, that we can, in essence, build up a base of funding that may not exist yet, or has not, where we could hire people who, in essence, would be younger colleagues of Terry or Scott, to work with them, learn what they're doing, and then be the person who does the K-12 part.

So, we don't want them to move away from what they do best and what they should be doing, but, in essence, to build up a capability with another mechanism so we can, in fact, be delivering education. Now, at the same time, we do use YouTube a lot now, for example, to demonstrate our sciences, and it's fabulous. Young people love some of the things that we put out on YouTube, and it's mostly all about our sciences.

Q: Given the current budget crisis and the need to eliminate duplicative government programs, would it be better for the Smithsonian to take over informal education programs at other agencies, like NSF? Why have more than one federal program?

W.C.: No, we don't want to take over NSF's billion-dollar education program. That's not our style. What we want to do is to share the knowledge that we have. We have collections that are the biggest science collections in the world. It seems a shame that we are not able to share more of that, other than through the limited exposure you get in an exhibit, with the public. We think it's a fabulous tool for teachers, and programs like the Encyclopedia of Life is an example of getting at that already, to share that in a different way and let people see what they own. They should see that. I think it's great, again, to have the folks that we have be visible in doing that.

We're not in the business of formally delivering massive K-12 programs, that's not where we're trying to head, but we do want to be much more vigorous. For a long time in this country, you've had formal education, and you've had informal education. They do different things, and formal education has become tied down, first of all, being strangled for lack of funds. The kids can't go on field trips now, they're losing the arts, they're losing civics, they're losing their science lab around the country. So that's the problem. Then they have to test all the time, and so you talk to science teachers and they say, "We teach to the tests now." They don't have time to do the inspirational things that they used to do, and they don't have time to do some of the things that the Smithsonian can do.

Informal education, on the other hand, has been sort of staid and complacent about where it's been, but it now has a chance to merge, not completely, but to overlap with formal education, and I think that's where it's headed. And you look at the [Museum of Science, Boston], they've done a wonderful job up there in terms of delivering formal education to schools, primarily in engineering, interestingly enough, and science. We have a lot to offer in that. And we do have a program called the National Sciences Resources Center which actually follows the model I was just describing. They get almost no funding from us, the Smithsonian. They generate it all through grants and through sales of science-based materials, curriculum materials, to teachers and to school districts, and they do a wonderful job. We need to find a way, I think, to make that bigger. They just got a $30 million innovation grant from the Department of Education to work with three major school districts for STEM [science, technology, engineering, and mathematics] education.

On top of that, I think, again, the Smithsonian's uniqueness is we have science, history, art, and culture, and so we think when we talk about STEM education, we talk about STEAM education, so it's science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, because there is much to be gained, as you just saw in this book, through arts about science. You can stimulate a youngster who wants to actually learn about science through the arts and get them interested in it. But we believe we are also much attuned to the idea of what I would call active learning, getting kids interested in going out and measuring trees, for example, and identifying leaves, if you will. You've seen our new app, Leafsnap, which is a fabulous free app. Everybody has it, I hope. It's free, and it was developed with NSF funding, so we did get funding from NSF with the University of Maryland and Columbia University, and it's based actually on the trees here in Washington, D.C., and Central Park, so far, but we will expand it to the rest of the world in time. But it's an example of how kids can go out into the forest, do some science with guidance, and it's an ongoing experience. You know, we have a computer game called Vanished with MIT, which was a huge success, which was an 8-week competition whether or not the kids could solve an environmental crisis, and every week a different part of the crisis exposed itself, like they do, and each week they got the opportunity to ask scientists at the Smithsonian and MIT for advice and to learn about science. So, I think there's a place for us to do the inspirational part, the wonder part, the getting kids engaged in science. We can do that, and others can't, and so we complement, I think, that, and I think we need to be able to fill that role. Where we get the money to do this is part of the philanthropy equation in those other things. We have to get donors excited about what we're doing so we can do this.

Q: Now, we wanted to hear about some of the new initiatives—global genome and some of the ...

W.C.: I should say, since you brought up the genome, we had the folks from the human genome part of NIH visit with us. What they know is that they have all these educational materials and they have limited success in reaching people, because people don't naturally go to NIH to find these materials. But they do naturally come to the Smithsonian, and so we're just now engaging in these discussions about what the Smithsonian can do to help NIH in their educational outreach.

And we can help a lot. We can do an exhibition in the science museum where 7.5 million people go through it, and we can deliver it digitally, under the right circumstances. And so the idea of rapid DNA sequencing is very important to us at the Smithsonian, because we do a lot of this work now with plants and animals. We have to do that if we want to identify a new species. And kids could be very interested in that. We had a visit from the patent office, they helped put on this exhibition, and they are very interested in education about innovation. We have the Lemelson Center for innovation, but we can do more than that. And we have a visitor tomorrow from Lawrence Livermore National Lab in high-performance computing, and we need high-performance computing capacity at the Smithsonian because we don't have enough for various projects that we have. But, again, because there's a natural subset of people who will go to the Smithsonian who wouldn't necessarily go to the patent office, or the NIH, or to NOAA [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration], and we can serve as a vehicle for that.

Q: One of the things that we're curious about is this new marine initiative that extends the Global Earth Observatory project. Can you tell me sort of how that got started, and where you hope it will go?

W.C.: Well, again, just a little context. We have these four grand challenges, but when you define those, those basically define what we do, and some of what we plan to do. So, for example, one of the grand challenges is understanding and preserving the biodiversity of the planet. It's in science, and we have a lot of entities that have to do with that subject: the National Zoo, STRI in Panama, the Natural History Museum, and so forth, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia. But there's nothing that inherently says that they should work together.

So we have something called our consortia, we have four consortia, and their job is to blend these strengths, and, in fact, maybe to find some folks in the arts who might want to participate in some of the science activity. And so they've been having a series of meetings which have been a lot of fun, actually, where folks are invited who just want to explore the topic and find out if there is a space for me. And they're doing things like letting people go up to SAO and meet our SAO scientists. They have a great education program up there, and then travel down to STRI and meet the STRI scientists, and find out what they're doing.

And when they do that, they come up with some really interesting ideas. The idea is to use the grand challenges as the core, but then there's another ring out there of lots of interesting stuff where we combine activities, and we can do creative things we haven't been able to do before. And one of these is to take the terrestrial Global Earth Observatory and extend that concept to the oceans. The oceans are 70% of the Earth's surface, so if you're really going to understand the biosphere, you've got to work with the oceans, as well as the terrestrial part. But it turns out that's not easy to do, because it's not like measuring trees. You've got a lot different environment.

So it's been very interesting, and NSF and NOAA have expressed an interest in this. What we're trying to do is, we're not going to take on the whole world, but we might set up six pilot projects to explore how we can do a marine version of the Global Earth Observatory. We're also working with Woods Hole [Oceanographic Institution] on this. So you can see how these things work. They tend to attach you to different partners than you've been attached to in the past, and they bring together different parts of the Smithsonian. We're not changing their strengths, but we're bringing them together in a way to do something we were not able to do before.

Q: So how do you see this program growing? Do you see it becoming as big as the terrestrial component?

W.C.: I think it has the potential to do that, and everyone who's discussed it says yes. We obviously are kind of running into headwinds as far as the budget is concerned, but it's an exciting idea. I think donors will support this.

Q: How is it funded now for the pilot project?

W.C.: Well, there are a couple of ways. One is that our people are so excited about it; they're willing to redirect some of their own budgets to do this. We also have a gift from the Gates Foundation of $10 million to fund cross-disciplinary initiatives, and we are giving those funds out over time in a competitive process, and the marine GEO is one of the major grants from this gift. We hope as these things get going that ultimately they'll find ways to sustain themselves by finding other partners who would want to help fund an operation like that. NOAA has expressed interest, and they've come over and we've had chats about it, but nothing formal.

We have about 20 of those initiatives going on right now. Some of them in the arts, but, for example, one that I love is Age of Plastics. It's a wonderful combination of science and the arts: Where are plastics going, and what are they doing to the environment? How are they used in the arts? How are they recycled? If we have something that's plastic that we want to keep, how do you keep it? What makes it sustainable?

Q: And that's a research project?

W.C.: It's one of these consortia ideas. It is a research project, because it combines our conservation institute, the Air and Space Museum, and a number of other entities at the Smithsonian working together in teams. So, the way I see these things is they're sort of like startup companies, and, as you know, with startup companies, not all of them succeed. But that's okay because you have a lot of fun doing them, and people get to know each other.

And what we're doing is really a culture change at the Smithsonian. They're talking to each other and collaborating with each other, and so even if that particular idea does not pan out in the long run, it's not a failure, it was a success because it got people talking to each other. So, out of that set of 20, maybe only five will be able to sustain themselves for 10 years.

I think of them through the lens of a university. Something that happened at universities was computers became important. As a freshman, I used a slide rule. By the time I became a senior, I had computers, and people were starting to talk in and around the subject of computational sciences. And today, we have computer science departments at colleges, and so forth. All of those all grew out of some interdisciplinary effort that started just like this. And some of them don't stick, some of them do, and that's okay. We have to learn at the Smithsonian to allow things to fail, but in a good way, because some of them will succeed enormously in ways that we didn't expect.

Q: There's another effort, sort of a global genome program. Is it one of these cross-cutting initiatives?

W.C.: It is.

Q: Does it also have Gates's money?

W.C.: Well, you know, the Barcode of Life part, which is trying to take part of a genome of a species and identify enough so you don't have to type it with the entire genome, but you can type it with a small piece of it. Edward Wilson and other people came up with this idea, and the Smithsonian is now the lead in that. So the objective is to rapidly be able to identify a species. When you find a species, it's very important to know if it's unique, and, therefore, whether it's endangered, those kinds of things, and so you don't want to take 6 months to find out. So genomics has become very important to us at the Smithsonian, and will be a growing area of endeavor in the future. We're actually doing a lot of that work with our existing collection.

Q: How are you positioned for getting sequencing done? Do you have a sequencing center?

W.C.: We do, but we're just getting there. We're sort of in the early stages, but we think it's going to grow fairly rapidly. We're trying to find ways to collaborate and use common equipment so we don't duplicate that across the board. But there's a lot of proteomics that goes on. The whole conservation profession really needs genomics, because if you're going to conserve certain objects, you've got to know what the genome is, you've got to know what it is in order to conserve it.

Q: Are you talking about collaborations within the institution, or with other organizations?

W.C.: Both, because the Smithsonian, for all of its diversity, we don't have a college of engineering or a college of medicine. I don't have an economics department, thank goodness I don't have a political science department or a basketball team, but there are a lot of things that we need in the sciences that we don't have. We don't have a computer science department, which would really be nice to have.

And so for us to do some of these big things, we have to collaborate with others who have the capacity we don't have, and that's where we're creating our MOUs [a memorandum of understanding] with universities and building out our relationships with strategic partners. In some cases, that's government agencies, and some cases, it's private industry, and in most cases, it's universities.

Q: You've made a lot of comparisons with universities, and, obviously, that's where you've come from. I think most people would not see any connection between the Smithsonian and universities. What are the similarities, and how can you make use of that?

W.C.: Well, I think it's similar because the Smithsonian is a place that's driven by creative impulses. It fundamentally comes back to its founding. Science helped in forming the Smithsonian that is today, which includes history, art, and culture. Joseph Henry was one of the very early prominent researchers in our country. He was probably a civil engineer in his early life, I have to admit. You know, he was a very poor man, and he actually grew up in and around Rensselaer, and he knew Stephen van Rensselaer, tutored his kids, got interested in electromagnetism, and basically helped invent electromagnetism. The Henry unit is named after him.

And when he became the secretary, he imbued the Smithsonian with this idea that research is critical, and so it helped drive the institution. So, we're based on creativity, research, discovery, and learning. Ultimately, what we're trying to do when we make a discovery is to help people learn. We need to translate that into a learning process. That's very much like a university. We're different in that we, for example, have huge collections. Universities can't afford to have collections. We have collections, basically, because the country, our nation, asks us to have collections. That's one of the mandates. As I would argue with Congress, it's their mandate to support collections, because I can't get donors to support collections in the usual sense of things. We do, I think, a great job of being able to stick to issues for long periods of time, and that's where federal funding helps us, gives us the capacity to do that. If you're totally driven by grant cycles, like universities tend to be, then you're sort of in a 3-year, maybe 4-year, sometimes lucky 10-years, particularly if you have philanthropy, you know, you can stick to a subject. In Panama, we've been observing Barro Colorado Island for 85 years, and it's extremely valuable to the rest of the world to have that database, the Global Earth Observatory. You couldn't do that if you were a university.

So we provide that capability that others don't. And then we have this interesting form of education and learning, which is different than a university. A university, if a student wants to learn, the first thing they have to do is pay you tuition, right? And that entitles them to have a seat in a classroom for, say, 75 lectures during a semester, if they're lucky. Some faculty don't show up for 75 lectures. But let's just say it's 75 lectures. At the Smithsonian, you can walk in the Hall of Human Origins that we were discussing for free, courtesy of a donor who helped us build it, and in one hour, you can learn an awful lot about paleontology and human evolution. One hour, not 75 hours.

Now, our job is not, therefore, to go deep. What we hope is that we stimulate those who see that exhibition to want to go deep, to go back to their university, to go back to their K-12 school or, in our case now, to visit our Web site, and they can go deep. And so we're getting more into the depth game. We've been more into what I would call the general knowledge game, as opposed to the specific knowledge. We're getting more into the specific knowledge game through technology by websites, and websites that change continuously and are updated continuously. Exhibitions are hard to change, while websites can change instantaneously as new knowledge is developed.

Q: As a former university president, are you concerned that public support for universities, public as well as private, is eroding and that that will have negative consequences, not just on the whole enterprise, but on what kinds of things you're trying to do with the Smithsonian?

W.C.: Sure, definitely. And I think it's a bigger concern for the public universities than it is for the private universities, because the public universities always had to presume part of the equation—one, that the state would support probably three-fourths of the students' education, the tuition would pay about one-fourth, that was the general formula. And, then, secondly, tuition would always be low, and, therefore, students of modest economic means would still be able to get an education and follow a career.

I'm an example. My family had very modest means. I went to Georgia Tech on a co-op program. Because of low tuition at Georgia Tech and the co-op program, I was able to get an education and made something out of my life. I went to Berkeley, another great public school. So I call them ladder schools.

Now, if the ladder stops working, this country stops working. If people of modest means, or particularly economically disadvantaged means, aren't able to lift themselves up, then this country's equation doesn't work anymore. That's the problem I think we're having right now, because the universities had to raise their tuition a great deal to compensate for big budget cuts, and so we haven't rectified that situation yet.

As far as the Smithsonian is concerned, yes, we'll have to curtail our activities and limit what we do, because we can't afford to do everything that we have planned, and that'll be tough. It's very hard for us. A lot of people will say, "Well, why don't you just stop doing X," but a lot of times X means a museum. So, we have a museum and it's closed on the mall, called the Arts and Industries Building. Want to close another one? What does our country look like if you come on the mall and half the Smithsonian's museums aren't open? Our country has to make some choices about its cultural institutions, and it's science institutions, and it's very hard for us to get out of this infrastructure that we've built, and I think they serve a tremendous mission—30 million people come to the Smithsonian, it's unbelievable.

Q: If you got a 30% cut, if it was part of across the board entrenchment, do you have a Plan B for preserving the core? What would that core be?

W.C.: Obviously, we've thought about that, and I will say we tried in our strategic plan, thanks to Peter Schwartz's help, was to think about three scenarios. One was it might get a little better. One, it might stay the same. And three, it might get worse, and, unfortunately, that's sort of where it is. So, yes, we've thought a lot about it, and the plan will help us, because it gives guidance as to where we want to focus our efforts.

We realize now that a lot of the drivers for our strategic plan will come from our business enterprises and will come from philanthropy. The federal government funding is probably not going to be there to drive some of our new initiatives that we have. But, yes, within museums, certain pieces, certain things they're doing will probably have to be stopped; they just can't do it at that level with a 30% cut. We're like a university. Eight-five percent of our budget is in people, and if you cut us 30%, you're going to have to lay people off, and we simply won't have the people to do the job anymore.

Q: You mentioned business enterprises. I mean, your predecessor ran into some problems on that score. On the other hand, universities are trying to emphasize entrepreneurship. You have no limitations on that, or what do you feel you can do and can't do?

W.C.: Okay, well I've told people we're being entrepreneurial, as well. There's a lot of things we do that make money: We have like 400 events at the Smithsonian. People rent our space and we make money on that. A lot of that stays with the museum, as it should, and so we do well. We also can, for example, expand the number of people who watch the Smithsonian Channel. That's something we can do. We struck a deal with Comcast, we're going from 8 million viewers when I came, to what we hope will be 30 million viewers by the end of next year. And more advertisers will, therefore, be interested in our channel.

Q: How much revenue does that generate?

W.C.: Right now, it generates us straight off royalty revenue, which is the basis for it, because we're reinvesting it rather than spinning off income. We don't get enough advertisements on the channel because there are just not enough households. But when we get to 30 million viewers, I'm told that's the threshold where you can start to do some things.

We hope to keep our content as close to our mission as possible, as opposed to going off in some direction that we would not want to be out there. I've also said we will not hang an advertisement for alcoholic beverages on top of the castle. Okay? But there are things we can do. The channel's a good example. There are things we might charge for in the future, like training exercises for people in the museum studies area that we've been giving away. And so there are ways. We've thought long and hard about what we can and can't do. And we work with our regents. We have, of course, six elected representatives on our regents, and we've run these ideas by them to see what they think.

Q: In recent years, universities have encouraged their faculty to apply for large collaborative efforts rather than just seeking single investigator projects, and there are a lot of people who have been left behind. Are you seeing any kind of pushback from scientists about this sort of shift into these more focused areas? And how are you preserving that creative impulse by the single investigator?

W.C.: We always have to have a mix. To me, as an academic administrator, these are the kind of things we should be good at doing. We should recognize that there are these certain individualistic geniuses who may do things nobody else would ever do, and you have to provide space for that. There also needs to be space for some of these collaborative exercises that you'd be left out of if you didn't participate, and there are some very important questions in that arena. To me, it's the interstices between a lot of things where very exciting things happen, and if you're only working inside the discipline, you're not going to get to that.

My comment to a lot of the faculty, if you want to call it that at the Smithsonian, is that you have to recognize that we can't do these cross-disciplinary efforts unless we're very good at the discipline. Nobody wants to work with you unless you're very good at what you do. We're not asking Terry Irwin, our entomologist, to not be an entomologist, but we're asking, perhaps—it's all voluntary—if he wants to participate in a larger project about the biosphere, and he'll brings this incredible expertise about entomology to that space. So it's that mixing of things, and I think it's part of the alchemy, if you will, of putting these things together. I also try to point out to folks who think we're making a huge shift in some way: remember that our grand challenges are not inherently interdisciplinary themselves, it's everybody still doing what they used to do, we just said this defines where they are.

It's the cross-disciplinary opportunities that we're trying to create, and right now, the main funding for the cross-disciplinary efforts are the Gates' gift of $10 million for 3 years. So, fundamentally, we're investing $3 million a year. Our overall budget is $1.2 billion, and yet some really interesting things are happening with that $3 million. So, you have to try to find the right balance.

I was a researcher myself for 30 years, and I always—because I was in geological engineering, it was inherently interdisciplinary, and I enjoyed working with my colleagues in earth sciences on projects that I would not have worked on—had my own specialized interests that I did, and so I always kept some of those specialized interests going myself that were not collaborative, in any sense, nor did I feel that they needed to be. I think it's finding that way to balance things out so you get the best of both worlds.

Q: So, will you preserve, say, the scholarly studies program for people who are, say, doing basic systematics, and people who are doing stuff where the only other game in town is NSF, and that chances for funding are not good?

W.C.: We're going to ask people who, when that funding gets parsed out in strategic areas, to come back and tell us what they want to do and what they don't want to do. We may decide we can't work in a certain area, and we won't fund that in the future. That's sad, but that's the reality of the world. So we're not going to dictate what people do within the space, but we may define the space, simply because we have to make choices.

Q: You had said thank goodness you don't have a basketball team. That's one of the advantages, yet when your school's basketball team wins the national championship, you derive a lot of benefits from that. Does the Smithsonian have the equivalent of a national championship team?

W.C.: No, but we do have a zoo. Animals are a great hook, and I love to use the zoo animals as a way to lead people into our science. One of our first YouTubes, and I still love it, was about the chef at the zoo who actually is a science-based nutritionist. He has to prepare 2200 meals a day for a pretty wide variety of appetites, from snakes to birds to elephants, and that was a fascinating story to people. It opened their eyes. When you walk into the zoo and you see people throwing stuff out to the animals, you think oh, they just got that from Safeway. Well, no, they didn't, this is really a science-based diet for these fabulous creatures. And so it's a way of opening their eyes.

So, we kind of miss a little bit of that, but I don't, honest, don't miss paying basketball coaches and football coaches. And it is exaggerated when people think, yes, their applications may go up the year after the national championship. But they always go right back to where they were. And while they do drive philanthropy, it goes to the athletics department. It doesn't necessarily help the rest of the institution. It can be fun, though.

Q: On that point, how closely were you involved in the movies, because I know my little cousin loved Night at the Museum, and all those movies, and one of them was in the Smithsonian, if I'm correct.

W.C.: Yes, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. And if you're a Transformers fan, they did something [at the Udvar-Hazy Center]. We have several new movies coming up, too.

Q: How involved is the Smithsonian with projects like that, and do they help boost revenue, or just public awareness?

W.C.: We're learning more about how to do it. Night at the [Museum] was a good family movie, thinking of what you can and can't do, and it was a fun movie, and it did drive up attendance for 1 year, we think, to some extent. At the Natural History Museum, we now have Night at the Museum. You can spend the night over there. They're still doing it, and it sold out for the whole summer, so it is a very popular thing to do. It does get kids into a chance and they get to learn science, obviously, while they're there, not just to have a séance around a campfire, or something, in the museum, but it's fun. It brings attention to us, and it brings attention to the fact, in some cases, that we do science. I mean, Transformers, which I happen to like but it's pretty violent, part of it was done out at the Udvar-Hazy [Center]. That was a little less family friendly than Night at the Museum was.

Q: Alright, we're going to put you on the spot. What's your favorite exhibit?

W.C.: Oh my gosh. You know, and I can't pick favorites, that's one of the things I learned here. We have a hundred every year, and I'm fascinated by what's going on, and sometimes I kind of get a little hooked up on the thematic things.

I did really enjoy—we've been running a series of ColorForms exhibits in the Hirshhorn [Museum and Sculpture Garden], which I really enjoyed, and so they had a series of them, Ann Pruitt, and then they had Blinky Palermo, as an example, Eve Klein, and Joseph Albers, who's a mathematician. And if you saw these in the context of each one adding to the other, it's been fantastic to see how that works, and to listen to the curators. I like to go and have a curatorial view of an exhibition.

We just did the one about the cave art, the Buddha cave art, which was a fabulous combination of science and art and culture, and, as I was explaining to Liz [Pennisi], the interesting thing to me is not only can you go in there and actually sit in a virtual cave, because they did the three-dimensional imaging of the cave and showed where all the pieces—you know, people stole parts from the caves over the 300 years—and the Smithsonian has some, and China realizes they can't get them all back because they're in a hundred different places. But you can show how all the pieces come back into the cave, and so it's a fabulous example of use of technology. And then you can use these three-dimensional object displays where people can rotate things and see what's going on.

But outside they have a series of computer terminals, and I was there Sunday, I've seen it three times, and I noticed that all these young people were sitting at the terminals getting so much more out of the exhibition after they'd gone through it, because they were willing to dig deeper and deeper and deeper, because we gave them more and more access through the computer terminal.

Q: How often do you get to the museums? How many times a week?

W.C.: All the time. Every week. I'm always out there. I'm a little behind right now, but tonight we'll be opening this exhibition, and I usually go, if I can, to the exhibition opening.

I'll tell you one of my favorites really is not in the Smithsonian; it's connected to the Smithsonian. It's in Anchorage, Alaska. If you get to Anchorage, go to the Anchorage Museum. They built a new Native American wing and it is a fabulously designed wing in every way. The exhibitions itself are high-tech, they're marvelous, and all of the exhibition objects, the artifacts, came from the Smithsonian. Some had been collecting in Alaska for 150 years.

Q: So these are donated or given?

W.C.: The Smithsonian started in 1846, and Joseph Henry realized early on that Europeans were going to Alaska and were going to change that state dramatically, and the Smithsonian was in the anthropology business, and so they started sending collectors up there. In fact, they were very clever about not having money. He realized, especially after 1867 when we bought Alaska and we were going to put in telegraph lines, and so he trained the telegraph line officers to collect. And so they've sent stuff back to the Smithsonian.

The tribes had materials they considered were disposable, and in fact they called the Smithsonian people "the people who paid for nothing," because these were objects they were throwing away, and the Smithsonian people would pay for them. So we collected objects from all the different tribes, you know, Eskimos and Indians, and amassed this fabulous collection. This is strictly a science collection, and so when the Anchorage Museum wanted to do this, they made us a deal we couldn't refuse. We have an Arctic research center and they gave us space for our Arctic research center in that museum. And we had the elders of all the different clans, as they call them, come to the Smithsonian and choose the articles for the exhibition. And, to me, that's just a fabulous example of working with native cultures, taking something that's never been seen before, having it there, and then they have these fabulous computer displays out in front of it, sort of like at the Buddha caves, and any object you see there, you can simply tap it, and it becomes an object this big and you can rotate it, turn it around, see everything about it, and get the metadata on it.

Q: You once said that the Hope Diamond was your favorite part of the Smithsonian.

W.C.: Well, that was my early, simplistic answer. I still like the Hope Diamond, and part of the reason is that I got to see it up close and personal, because Jeff Post, who's one of these fabulous people at the Smithsonian. ...

Q: And you held it in your hand?

W.C.: Well, I got to almost. He had, I forget the name of the other diamond, there's another blue diamond they thought that might be rough cut from the French Blue. You know, the belief is the Hope Diamond is actually part of the French Blue, which was obtained in India about 300 years ago by [Jean-Baptiste] Tavernier who went to India, brought this diamond back. The Indians thought blue diamonds were flawed. People in Europe liked them, and so Louis XIV started wearing it around in sort of a—and then when Louis XVI, they stored all the jewelry in a warehouse, and the guards supposedly either were given something to drug them or got drunk, and people came in and stole the French Blue. Nobody ever figured out what happened to the French Blue, but the Hope Diamond showed up, and it's clearly far less carats than the French Blue, but you could argue it came [from that]. The feeling was this other diamond was also another piece of it, and so Jeff had some science test he did on the two to find if they were the same. One was to pulse from a tremendous pulses of infrared light, and it turns out that they're boron atoms in these blue diamonds that gives them their color. And somehow the atom pulses, or something, and it gives off a glow, an incredible red glow for a period of time, and they can watch the decay rate of that glow and determine they were not from the same diamond. So, yes, that was fun.

Q: Well, we promised you that we'd get you out by 2:30, and it's that time. So thank you very much for coming over. We really appreciate it.

W.C.: My pleasure. Thank you for having me over.