PROSPECT HEIGHTS — More than 1,200 research aficionados have signed an online petition calling on the Brooklyn Botanic Garden to reinstate its science department after it was cut late last month amidst large capital improvement projects at the century-old city institution.
"This latest round of layoffs eliminates the last vestige of support for research and science at BBG," the Change.org petition states. "The current crisis is not a singular event. It's the just the most recent expression of a pattern of decisions by which BBG has eroded its science staff, programs and activities to nothing, in violation of its mission."
In an email obtained by DNAinfo New York informing staffers of the layoffs, BBG president Scot Medbury wrote that "increased insurance and employee-benefits expenses" were to blame for the science department layoffs, as well as the decision to shutter its science center and suspend its field research program.
"The Garden is using this hiatus — the result of a convergence of a financial shortfall, an engineering problem at our off-site science building, and the absence of our director of science who is on loan for a fellowship — to regroup and carefully develop a new focus for scientific research," said BBG spokeswoman Kathryn Glass.
"Several times in its 103-year history the Garden has strategically refocused its research efforts, and this is another such time."
Petitioners say that scientists around the world rely on the garden's research arm, and that slashing the institution's science department cuts to the core of its mission.
"BBG has raised tens of millions of dollars of funding for [capital] projects. But nothing for science," the petition states. "Elimination of BBG’s science staff, program, and activities is a huge setback for all of these efforts."
But the garden countered that those millions were earmarked for capital improvement, and while operational funding remains tight, its commitment to research is as strong as ever, and science is still a core part of its mission.
"We’ve had to make hard choices, and that’s regrettable," Glass said. "But BBG is not straying from its core values, and we will emerge from this with a stronger more focused approach to scientific research, one that complements the data set we developed over nearly a quarter of century by funding the NYMF project, and that recognizes the strengths in botanical science research in our region."