No Shortage Of Names for Smithsonian Successor

David Evans, Samper's former boss, resigned yesterday.
David Evans, Samper's former boss, resigned yesterday. (Tetona Dunlap)
By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A day after Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence M. Small's resignation, the names of possible successors began to circulate.

Cristián Samper, 41, a respected biologist and the director of the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, was named acting secretary on Monday, and though it was purely water cooler talk, his stock seemed to be up.

After Samper was chosen, his former boss resigned yesterday. David Evans, the Smithsonian's undersecretary for science and an oceanographer, said he was leaving "to adequately chart my own course."

Evans, who joined the Smithonian in 2002, said he had accomplished most of his objectives for overhauling the scientific side of the institution and had for some time been thinking of taking on personal projects, including a photo book on 18th- and 19th-century spas.

Evans said Small's resignation after revelations of large housing and travel expenditures didn't trigger his own decision to leave, but he said he was surprised that the Smithsonian had "hopped over" him to choose Samper as acting secretary. "Frankly, that was a little disappointing," Evans said. "I thought one of my proudest accomplishments was bringing him aboard. . . . But I have the greatest respect for Cristián."

Other potential successors to Small from the top rungs of Smithsonian management are Deputy Secretary Sheila Burke and Ned Rifkin, the undersecretary for art and the former director of the Hirshhorn Museum.

In addition to Samper, the names of several Smithsonian scientists have been mentioned, including Hans-Dieter Sues, a paleontologist and associate director for research and collections at Natural History, and Rick Potts, an anthropologist and director of the Human Origins Program, which promotes research and public awareness about human evolution. Two members of the Board of Regents also have both scientific credentials and administrative experience: Shirley Ann Jackson, a theoretical physicist and president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Walter Massey, a physicist and president of Morehouse College.

Scientists outside the Smithsonian who have been mentioned include Peter H. Raven, a botanist and head of the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis; Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astronomer and the director of the Hayden Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History in New York; Thomas E. Lovejoy, a tropical biologist and director of the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment in Washington; and Sir Peter Crane, the former director of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, England.

Small's departure provides more than an opportunity to find a new leader. It also gives the Smithsonian a chance to rethink the qualities needed to guide a 19th-century creation through the 21st century, observers of the institution said.

In a staff memo yesterday, Samper laid out his priorities: "In the short term, I plan to focus my attention on strengthening the public trust in the Smithsonian."

Diana Aviv, president of Independent Sector, a coalition of 500 charitable groups, said a top priority should be finding someone with a well-stated vision.

"You need someone totally devoted and committed to the organization, humble and respectful of its place in America's heart. Then they have to be a fabulous fundraiser and superb administrator," said Aviv, an outsider who is a member of a Regents committee looking at the structure of the board.

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