Tucked away in a corner of Cordley Hall in Corvallis, there was, for a short time, an amazing but tiny museum. Its artifacts ranged from medals to original artworks to photos, but there were no admission fees or interpretive plaques, and — alas — no gift shop. In fact, this unusual museum wasn’t open to the public at all and, at least for now, has been packed into boxes and stored away; whether it will ever exist again is unknown.
The museum’s subject, curator and docent was Jane Lubchenco, Wayne and Gladys Valley Chair of Marine Biology. As administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for President Barack Obama and current deputy director for Climate and Environment in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, she has amassed an astounding collection of mementos, medals, award citations and other artifacts that document her storied career as a marine ecologist and a leader in environmental conservation and policy. Before storing these treasures away in preparation for Cordley Hall’s remodel, Lubchenco spread them out in an empty office and allowed a few visitors to wander the collection and hear the story behind each piece. Here are some highlights.
Gift from a senator
While Lubchenco was no stranger to politics prior to being asked to join the Obama administration in 2008, some of Washington’s machinations proved challenging. Nominated along with the President’s Science Advisor for science-related positions in the administration, she was surprised that their Senate confirmations were put on hold.
“We were ready to go, the Senate was ready to vote for us,” she recalls, “but the Senate has these arcane rules where somebody can put a hold on you, and they don’t have to say why. They just say, ‘I’m not going to let this move forward.’” Lubchenco didn’t even know which senator had requested the hold.
A Washington Post investigation revealed the culprit to be Senator Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, and his actions had nothing to do with either of the nominees — he was hoping to gain traction with the president on an unrelated issue.
“His constituents, especially the scientists at Princeton and Rutgers in New Jersey, bombarded his office saying, ‘How dare you hold up these really important science positions. These are fantastic candidates.’ All of a sudden, the hold was released, and we sailed through,” Lubchenco says.
The next day this U.S. flag arrived in her office, a gift from Menendez. It had been flown over the Capitol at his request in honor of her confirmation — an apology of sorts.