Purdue Univ. president becomes Smithsonian chair

WASHINGTON (AP) ? Purdue University President France Cordova was installed Monday as chairwoman of the Smithsonian Institution’s governing board as the museum complex expands with the coming construction of a new black history museum and calls for another focused on Latino American heritage.

As Cordova begins her three-year term, she will maintain her post at the Indiana university. Cordova will lead oversight and support fundraising for the world’s largest group of museums and research centers. Cordova is an astrophysicist and previously held posts in the University of California system and was chief scientist at NASA.

Cordova succeeds Patty Stonesifer, a former Microsoft executive and former chief executive of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Stonesifer has served as chairwoman since 2009 and will become vice chair of the board.

The Smithsonian is developing its first institution-wide capital campaign to increase private support. Congress provides about 70 percent of the Smithsonian’s budget, but funds for programs and exhibits must be raised privately.

Construction also is set to begin this year on the newest museum to be added to the National Mall since the 2004 opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. A ceremonial groundbreaking has been set for Feb. 22 for the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Fundraising continues for the project.

The $500 million museum is planned for a site near the Washington Monument, and organizers have said it’s on track to open in 2015. The Smithsonian must raise about half the cost for what will be its 19th museum, while Congress has pledged to provide the other half of the funding. An advisory board supporting the effort includes former first lady Laura Bush, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones and others.

Legislation also is pending in Congress that calls for the creation of a Smithsonian American Latino Museum on the Mall. A bill introduced in November calls for creating the museum at the historic Arts and Industries Building, which is now vacant and is being partially renovated to stabilize the 131-year-old structure.

Creation of the museum is far from certain, though. Some in Congress have opposed building individual ethnic museums, saying they appeal to segregated audiences, rather than presenting a “melting pot” history of immigration and migration that formed the nation.

Cordova will also play a role in managing the Smithsonian’s relationship with Congress as head of the 17-member Board of Regents, which includes members of the House and Senate. She has served on the Smithsonian Board of Regents since 2009.