Future of DePauw Nature Park Uncertain


By Elizabeth Cottingham and Thomas Curdt

Following the staff and faculty layoffs, last Wednesday, Junior Rachel Moore began a petition on change.org in an attempt to save DePauw University nature biologist Vanessa Fox’s job.

As of Mar. 5, 1,078 people have signed the petition.

Fox was laid off after 17 years of service and research at DePauw’s nature park. After working at both the biology department and the nature park for 13 years, she was transferred to the nature park full time.  

The circulating petition is calling for the reinstatement of Fox’s job. According to the petition, “outside of practical experience, academia, and research experience, Professor Fox’s position at the nature park is of the utmost importance to build lifelong citizenship skills every student should have the chance to learn.”

Throughout her time at DePauw, Fox has taught classes, worked to educate the community, hosted school groups and organized and ran research projects.

Fox is being laid off in the middle of a research project she was hoping to finish. She said, “We’ve got a long term research project where we have marked and measured 13,000 trees out in the woods. We started that 10 years ago, and so I was hoping to continue my position for another 10 years so that we could continue that project.”

Students working with Fox have felt the impact of her layoff. Junior Rachel Moore says, “I feel like her position is an essential and critical part to maintaining our university and a commitment to environmental education. I believe that in her position, she is more than just a part-time professor. She is the only faculty member who consistently and actively works to better the nature park by removing invasive species. She is the one who is doing the outreach group to the Greencastle community and beyond. She is the one who has continued this research for 17 years.”

Junior Donna Riner agrees and feels that her experience as a DePauw student has been positively affected by Fox’s work.

“As a biology major, I have greatly benefitted from Vanessa Fox’s commitment to the nature park and specifically the research going on out there as a biology major, we’re taught that long term data sets are vital in terms of understanding ecology and environmental processes. So, having 17 years of data on one tract of land that has been maintained relatively consistently can tell us huge things about the local environment.”

The future of the nature park is unclear. While Fox says that in a faculty meeting hosted by President McCoy, the nature park will continue to run, she will likely not be able to finish her research.

Anne Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs responded in an email that research will continue at the Manning Lab and a meeting with the nature park committee has been scheduled to decide exactly how this will be carried out. The position will not be refilled, but the nature park committee will investigate “other structures (i.e. at other institutions, at what was done before the creation of the position, and more).”While the petition does call into question the choice to lay off Fox specifically, students maintain that this is about the bigger picture of how the administration cares for the students and those employed by the school. Moore states, “Vanessa is not the only part-time professor to be fired. There were several others as well, so I don’t want this story to be just about Vanessa being affected because I feel like it’s just the insensitivity of the issue with them saying ‘but it was staff, and no faculty so it doesn’t matter’ you know? Just a blanket statement of the issue which basically said ‘Don’t look any further into it, don’t worry about it, you’re not going to be affected,’ which is a lie.”