National Museum of Math: new comments

What’s wrong with the National Museum of Math???

A lot, apparently, including race and class discrimination as well as horrible management policies.

I wrote a mixed review of this museum last year. I had observed that a lot of the exhibits weren’t working, and that there was more physics than math. I had noticed that most of the school groups were running around and not obviously learning anything. But there was still some good material there.

Now we have a new perspective, as posted on Glassdoor. The site requires employees to provide “balanced” commentary. (This sounds to me too much like Fox News; what is the difference between a balanced review and a mixed review anyway?) However, it’s not just Glassdoor, as I’ve been seeing similar comments elsewhere. Below is a remark from the great Sam Shah, followed by representative remarks on Glassdoor from three former employees. Check out the full batch.

“With respect to our educational mission, race and class discrimination are embedded in the Museum’s practices.”

To me, knowing that there are multiple people — including people who were high up in the organization — who felt the need to write an open letter to describe some of their concerns speaks volumes to me. They didn’t have to. It is easier not to. It puts them at some risk, publicly speaking out.

To me, one of the most problematic charges in the letter is that students from Title 1 schools who visit MoMATH often get lessons that end up being 20-25 minutes instead of the normal 45 minute sessions.

  • I came back from orientation to find that the person sitting next to me had unceremoniously left, without explanation.
  • I was told that a very large portion of my job would include HTML, which was not on my resume, nor was it mentioned during the multiple in-person or phone interviews.
  • I was informed at orientation that I was expected to work on religious holidays (Christmas Eve/Day, etc.) and other widely recognized days off. Staff could try to request off using vacation days, provided too many others hadn’t already.
  • The duties that were emphasized during my interviews were immediately back-burnered for duties that I was picking up “temporarily” since they were perpetually short-staffed. Again, all of this happened my first day. Over the next two months, four of the remaining twenty office employees left. There was a general atmosphere of distrust and a prohibitively burdensome level of involvement from the executive director. There were constantly shifting and changing procedures and job assignments. Incomplete or rushed instructions provided by harried staff resulted in frequent errors. I was often expected to work 10-12 hour days, and each day was a Sisyphean struggle to get the information/approval needed to do the most basic parts of my job.

The management (Glen and Cindy) are a couple incapable of working with creative people. They micromanage. They communicate poorly. Their disorganization creates extra work for employees. They treat people poorly. They blame others for their errors. They retaliate against employees who complain. Pretty much every single employee loves math but wants to leave the moment they can find another job. The high turnover of qualified employees who become unhappy should be a sign for the management to step aside and hire a real director, but instead they try to hide the problem by creating the fake review of Sep 21.

Advice to Management

You have had enough time to demonstrate that you are not able to do the job of running a museum. Recognize that for the good of the museum you should resign and hire an experienced museum director. (Perhaps continue in just a money raising position if you wish.) If your pride prevents you from doing that, get an independent management expert to speak with the ex-employees and hear what they all say.

The high turnover rate is a sign of the toxic environment that is created by the executive directors. One of them is a micromanager to the highest degree. Unfortunately, she does not trust the people she hires to do their jobs effectively, so even managers are not permitted to make decisions about what is best for their departments, their employees, or the museum. Someone may tell her that something just cannot be done with the current resources, and she will declare that it is going to happen anyway. This results in everyone being overworked and stressed, and nothing is able to be done very well. We have begun getting regular complaints from visitors about our terrible communication and lack of organization, both of which stem from the fact that nobody is permitted to do their jobs effectively under her management style, despite the fact that we all desperately want to do a great job and make the museum as successful as possible because we all truly believe in the mission.

To make the turnover rate clear, in an organization with approximately 25 full-time positions (not including the top four people: two executive directors, and chiefs of design and education), only 4 people have been here more than a year. Many of the other 20, or so, positions have had several people through them in the last year, meaning the turn over rate is over 100%. These are reliable, intelligent, hard-working people; they are the best people for the jobs for which they were hired. However, they simply could not work under the conditions in which they found themselves when they began their employment with the museum.

Everyone who begins working for MoMath is very excited about the possibilities they see in their positions and in the organization. However, many learn quickly that conversations they had during the interview process were misleading. I recommend extreme skepticism until you get everything in writing, and even then read the wording very carefully. To provide some specific examples of problems you may encounter:

There will most likely be part of your offer that will say that you can be asked to work on other projects or tasks, as needed. Even if most of the job description seems like exactly what you want and exactly what you are qualified for, you should expect to spend a small percentage of your time on those tasks, and large percentage on other things the directors consider more important. What you think is important will be irrelevant.

If the directors tell you that you are starting in a different position than the one for which you applied, but only on a temporary basis, expect to stay in that position indefinitely.

If you take a job as an non-exempt employee you will never be permitted to work more than 40 hours per week. They absolutely refuse to pay overtime. If you do accidentally go into overtime, do not expect to get paid for it. It is in the policy document that overtime must be approved in advance, in writing. This policy is against the law. The directors are generally ignorant of employment laws, and they do not have an HR person on staff.

On the other hand, if you take a job as an exempt employee you will never be permitted to work less than 40 hours per week. Forty hours will be the absolute minimum, and you will also be expected to work evening events, weekends, and other extra time with no compensation. If you ask to come in late or leave a little early in exchange for all of that extra time, you will be informed that MoMath “does not have a comp time policy.” During busy times if you work 60 hours in a week, you should consider those extra hours to be volunteered time. If you need to leave a few hours early one day for personal reasons, you will need to take a half vacation day for that. There is also no switching of shifts. If you want to switch days with another employee who has the same job as you, you can’t. You must take a vacation day for the day you want off. The directors do not allow any flexibility on this policy, unless, of course, it suits their own needs. The needs of the employees are not important.

Horror stories from former employees abound and are often discussed as whispered legends. Here are just a few examples: Did you hear about the multiple employees who gave advance notice of resignation and were then fired before their resignation dates? This is why people are afraid to give advance notice now.

Did you hear about the guy who was fired because he was not available to work a late night event with only 24-hours notice? Keep in mind that all of those extra hours would have been uncompensated and he would have had a difficult time getting home due to the train schedule. It didn’t matter; they fired him anyway, and then there was no one to work in the gift shop for that event or for the next couple of weeks. What did they do? They made the new girl from the office work in the gift shop despite her repeatedly telling them how uncomfortable she was with this arrangement.

Did you hear about the floor manager who was suddenly fired two days after her new “co-manager” started working?

Did you hear about the girl who thought she was starting as an employee and found out four days into her job that she was working as a volunteer and would not be paid? She did not return the next day.

Did you hear about the girl who quit after being screamed at by the director in front of the entire office staff?

Did you hear about the guy who was hired as a part-time employee and was then required to work full-time hours at the same salary? He quit, too.

Did you hear about the guy who quit via text message a few minutes before he was scheduled to start on his first day? He is our hero. He is the one who managed to escape unscathed.



Categories: Math, Teaching & Learning