My alma mater has decided to shut down the Rose Art Museum and sell off its collection of modern art. As an alum I received a letter from Jehuda Reinharz, the president of Brandeis and Allen Alter (’71), President of the Brandeis Alumni Association.
The school is clearly looking to collection as way to close its funding gaps. Given the laws for donation, they would have a hard time selling pieces while the museum is still in operation. I am sure it was a hard decision for the school administration and they knew they would get lots of bad press. (Cynics may claim that the closing was a ploy to increase donations.)
The Boston Globe is reporting a big increase in attendance at the Rose Art Museum since the announcement: With shutdown looming, Brandeis museum draws new fans.
I have not seen any reaction from Edward and Bertha Rose, the benefactors of the museum.
Felix Salmon writes about How Deaccessioning Rules Doomed the Rose Art Museum. He notes that legal limitation would prevent the school from selling off pieces. Apparently, shutting down the museum makes it easier to sell off some pieces for immediate funding.
I have no opinion on whether closing the museum is a good decision or a bad one. I only visited it once while I was enrolled. Even though I live in Greater Boston, I have not visited the museum since.
I am disappointed in how Brandeis has handled the process and the media relations.
This failure is described by another Brandeis graduate, Miles Unger, in an editorial in the Boston Globe: A Betrayal of Trust at Brandeis.
But we expect those who run our universities to be guardians, not managers. Treating its cultural treasures as mere commodities to be auctioned off when times get tough is a betrayal of trust. It not only deprives the community of vital resources but, more importantly, cheapens the entire notion of a liberal education by reducing these cultural artifacts and the ideas they embody to cash equivalents. The message it sends is that even here, capital is king and ideas expendable.
UPDATE: And more. . .
An Op-Ed in The Justice (the independent student newspaper of Brandeis) by Emily Liefer – Rose Shutdown Risks our Image.
From the Brandeis Hoot – Students Sit-in to Protest Rose Closing
From the Brandeis Hoot – Faculty Vote to Revisit Rose Art Decision.
From the Brandeis Hoot – University Faces Legal Issues in Selling Rose Art
From Innermost Parts – A Summary of the Student Forum on the Closing
Just further items showing that Brandeis did a poor job of handling this difficult process.
It is interesting to see that the Brandeis endowment decreased from $712 million to $549 million and is predicted to fall to $468 million this year. The estimated value of the Rose Art Museum collection of 7,000+ pieces is about $350 million. That is a big chunk of change sitting behind the neon for an institution desperate for cash.
The Director of the Rose Art Museum has issued a statement regarding the closing: Statement from Michael Rush, Director of the Rose Art Art Museum, regarding the impending closing of the museum.(.pdf)
I want you to know from me some basic facts: neither the Rose staff nor the Rose Board of Overseers had any knowledge of this decision. Indeed, we were never consulted at all. We were informed one hour before the press release went out. Do not be fooled into thinking that the Rose is being closed because it is a financial drain on the university. It isn’t. While acknowledging the profound financial challenges every institution is facing, the Rose, a fundamentally self sustaining entity within Brandeis, is in relatively good financial health. The Rose is being closed due to the University’s desire to sell the cherished collection. Period.
Further, Further Update:
A Brandeis Arts publication came in the mail yesterday, with several pages on the Rose Art Museum and its collection. A further blunder by Brandeis. They should have thrown them away and just lost the printing costs. Mailing them makes it clear that the administration did get its own house in order before announcing the decision to close the museum.
Further, Further, Further Update:
The February 3 Wall Street Journal has a full page of stories on the closing of the Rose Art Museum. All portray Brandeis very poorly.