- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 17, 2002

Unhappy scholars and activists yesterday asked the Smithsonian Institution's Board of Regents to fire Secretary Lawrence M. Small, saying he has sold out the museum to commercialism.
"Secretary Small is permitting corporations, for a fee, to burnish their corporate identities and even promote specific products using the Smithsonian's good name," Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, wrote in a letter to the board that was endorsed by 170 scholars and activists around the country.
Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, and six members of Congress sit on the Smithsonian's Board of Regents.
Mr. Ruskin, whose organization is devoted to fighting commercialism, and his phalanx of academics charge that Mr. Small has departed from fund-raising tradition at the expense of the Smithsonian's historical integrity.
"From the beginning, private money has played a critical role in the Smithsonian's finances. Traditionally, this money has been given without significant 'strings' attached," Mr. Ruskin wrote in the letter that was copied to more than 50 other members of Congress.
"Maintaining the integrity of the Smithsonian and the public's trust is of paramount importance, and the institution's policies reflect our commitment to this important principal," Mr. Small told The Washington Times yesterday.
"The Smithsonian regents and staff control, without limitation or question, the institution's activities. They determine the content of its exhibits and programs," he said.
But Commercial Alert, which was co-founded by Mr. Ruskin and consumer advocate Ralph Nader, declared on its Web site that Mr. Small, a former president and CEO of Fannie Mae, is "better suited to the promotion of SUVs or hamburgers than to the management of our nation's most important cultural institution."
They say he has taken, even pursued, corporate money and donations with strings attached, instead of holding out for donations from private donors who expect nothing more than a thank-you letter and historical accuracy.
The letter cites several examples of encroaching commercialism in Smithsonian policy.
"In June, the Smithsonian Magazine set a new high-water mark for commercialism by placing a Ford Motor Company advertisement on its outside cover," the letter said.
Meanwhile, the National Museum of American History recently proposed to General Motors a new, 20,000 square foot "General Motors Hall of Transportation" in exchange for $10 million.
"Will [visitors] think the history of mass transit gets a fair shake?" Mr. Ruskin asked.
Mr. Small also has courted corporate sponsors Fujifilm, Kmart, and McDonald's.
Private donations have drawn the ire of the anti-Small coalition as well. "The real issue is whether strings are attached," said Mr. Ruskin. "The donors shouldn't be allowed to control the exhibits.
"It cheapens the Smithsonian. It makes visitors think twice about whether they can trust the materials and the exhibits. Everybody's going to think it's just what the corporations want in the displays."
When reached yesterday, Mr. Small said: "The public expects to see exhibitions created with the full scholarship of the Smithsonian behind them, and we remain totally committed to meeting that expectation."
Mr. Small also has come under heavy fire from critics who say he is neglecting research and focusing more on the museum's appearance and revenues.

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