Retirement of Dona Bachman signals ‘end of an era’ for University Museum

University Museum director Dona Bachman discusses the restoration of Aaron Bohrod’s painting, “Dreams,” on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in the University Museum’s archives warehouse. (Andy Phillippe | @andyphillippede)

University Museum director Dona Bachman discusses the restoration of Aaron Bohrod’s painting, “Dreams,” on Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016, in the University Museum’s archives warehouse. (Andy Phillippe | @andyphillippede)

By Olivia Spiers

The innovative aura surrounding the University Museum may be temporarily lost in December when it waves goodbye to the woman colleagues call its biggest champion.

“I felt like I was absolutely born for this job,” Dona Bachman, director of the University Museum, said of her 16-year tenure at the university.

As she prepares to begin her retirement after the fall semester, Bachman said she wants to use some of her extra time to travel. She is remembered by colleagues for exemplifying a collaborative nature between the community and the University Museum. This is one strategy Bachman said she uses to keep the museum up to date.


“The thing about museums is they are always changing,” Bachman said. “At least the good ones are.”

In her time as director, Bachman has seen the University Museum through everything from celebrations of new exhibits to the weathering of piercing budget cuts. The past year has been more of the latter with Illinois public universities because of the state’s ongoing financial problems and the inability of state legislators to pass a full fiscal year spending plan.

For her coworkers, Bachman has been their army’s strongest soldier when fighting to keep the museum on the administration’s radar. And they say the scarcity of money spawns mass uncertainty regarding if and when she’ll be replaced.

“It’s not a question of who, but if they’d replace Dona,” said Alison Erazmus, curator of exhibits.

Erazmus said the staff feel ignored by upper-level administration when it comes to the topic. Calls to College of Liberal Arts Dean Meera Komarraju, she said, have yielded no results and no one knows whether anyone is being considered for the job.

During an interview Friday, Komarraju said the administration would like to replace Bachman, but whether that will be possible remains unclear.

This has created a great amount of stress at the University Museum, said Danny Rohr, a graduate student who works closely with Bachman. He said Bachman is constantly instilling persistence and assurance in her colleagues as the museum faces harsh budget cuts.


“[Bachman’s departure] is a big loss for us,” Rohr said, adding that the uncertainty surrounding the vacant position puts Bachman’s unseen efforts to modernize the museum at risk of being undone.

Bachman excelled at her “behind the scenes” obligation by assuring the museum will most likely be re-accredited once again in 2017.

“Depending on who the new director might be, we can expect to see some dramatic changes in the museum’s impact on the community and in the museum studies program itself,” said Susannah Munson, a curator of anthropology at the museum.

MORE: A wealth of history and oddity: The University Museum archives

In addition to overseeing the museum’s artifacts, Bachman taught courses in the university’s museum studies minor program. Munson said if Bachman is replaced with someone who is not qualified to teach museum studies, the minor program may not continue.

Munson said she has already begun to tell students they may have to pursue independent studies in place of these classes. She said this adds more strain for the understaffed museum because employees do not have time to teach one-on-one.

Without Bachman, the only two other full-time employees at the University Museum would be responsible for maintaining the upkeep of the 70,000 artifacts the museum houses. This is why an outside hire would be essential, Munson said.

Bachman also acted as a mentor to many of the students in the museum studies program and those affiliated with the University Museum. Eric Jones, former registrar for the University Museum, said he began working with Bachman in 2005 as a graduate assistant and became her “right-hand man” by 2011.

“[Bachman] took our inputs seriously and was a considerable, fair presence in the museum,” Jones said. “Her retirement will truly be the end of an era.”

Staff writer Olivia Spiers can be reached at [email protected], 618-536-3325 or on Twitter @_spierso.

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