Friday, February 06, 2009

More About the Rose Art Museum

The New York Times web site has a bunch of letters from Brandeis students and alumni. Dennis Slavin, one of the correspondents, was a music student at Brandeis around when I was there.

The Rose web site has lots of information. Their own Board was not informed that closure of the museum was under consideration until the University BOD told them it was happening. You can sign a petition they link to, and join a mailing list.

Here's the letter I sent to Jehuda Reinharz and various other people:

Judah Reinharz, President of Brandeis University
Allen Alter, President of the Brandeis University Alumni Association
cc: Peter French, Jacob Bockelmann, Nancy Winship
415 South Street
Waltham, MA 02453

Re: Rose Art Museum Closure

Dear President Reinharz and Mr. Alter:

Last week, I received email from both of you about the Board of Trustees' decision to close the Rose Art Museum and sell its collection. I am extremely disturbed by this for several reasons.

First, it's wrong to close the museum, which would require dispersing its collection, a strong and important one. These works of art may never be seen in public again or be available for study, if they are sold into private hands. How many donors would have given art to the Rose without an assurance that the works had a home in perpetuity?

Second, the University has been anything but transparent in making this decision and in providing information about why it's necessary. According to the NY Times, the director of the Rose, Michael Rush, heard about the possibility only after the decision was made. In other words, he never got to respond before being presented with a fait accompli.

Please re-read the letters you sent. There are no numbers, no specifics about the financial problems Brandeis is facing, such as current and future shortfalls, the exact shrinkage in the endowment, etc. There is nothing about the alternatives that were considered or why they were rejected in favor of this extremely drastic step. There is nothing in your communications reflecting the fact that the Rose has its own endowment and that Brandeis would take it over upon closing the Rose. And Michael Rush reports that the Rose is financially self-sustaining. The latter two points are especially disturbing: it is apparent that Brandeis is making a raid on the Rose and its free-standing endowment.

Further, President Reinharz's letter includes the outrageous statement that "Board members stressed that the museum decision will not alter the university's commitment to the arts and the teaching of the arts." Closing the Rose and selling its collections are in and of themselves changes in the university's commitment to the arts.

Here's a relevant story. Many years ago, the instructors of the martial arts school where I studied decided, without consulting the students, to close the school. They didn't succeed, because we, the students, bought the equipment and recruited our own instructors. Had there been more transparency in the teachers' process, much angst could have been avoided.

Brandeis is in a similar situation now. By failing to consult the greater community, you lost the opportunity to draw on our collective wisdom (and bank accounts). The university's standing and reputation are suffering greatly from the decision to close the Rose. I urge you to take the following steps to correct the errors you have made:
  • Release to the public all financial information the Board of Trustees used to make this decision. This shouldn't violate confidentiality,considering that as a nonprofit institution, you must publicly disclose a great deal of financial data annually.
  • Release to the public information about the Board's decision-making process and alternative considered.
  • Call upon the Brandeis community and ask for ideas about how to fundraise the money Brandeis needs to maintain its programs,
    including the Rose, at their current levels. I expect you would find many individuals, including myself, willing to increase their donations for the next several years, for example.
  • Reverse the decision, which is so damaging to the University and its reputation.
Thank you for taking the time to consider this letter.


Anonymous said...

Well done, but you're not really saying anything that Rush didn't say in his statement with desperate eloquence. "Art cannot be treated as a liquid asset. ... Brandeis is putting its intellectual capital and very credibility as an institution of higher learning on the auction block."

Perhaps you should have said what this meant to you as an alumna. They have sold your loyalty to them - have already, by the announcement, and they cannot buy it back even by reversing it.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I visited the Rose no more than 3 times when I at Brandeis, so I can't say much about what it means to me. And of course they can win my loyalty back: they need to reverse this decision and start a special Hard Times fundraising campaign, to which I will donate.

Anonymous said...

Very good idea: let's see the numbers behind the decision. Here's what I've gleaned from various articles. First, the financial problem at Brandeis came from the reckless, under-financed building program that Reinharz undertook, and the resultant crusing debt service. Reinharz has bragged about "living on the edge" and taking risks. That's fine for him to do in his personal life, but, hey, leave the university out of it. Second, to fix the problems he created REinharz is planning to completely change Brandeis, and I don't mean merely closing the museum. Far more radical changes are being planned; when it is all done, alumni will not be able to recognize the place. Good idea?

Lisa Hirsch said...

Links, please?

I was wondering about the amount of building going on. I mean, why, unless you're planning a much bigger school?

Anonymous said...

Not what the Rose means to you, but what the decision to close it means to you.

And if they can win your loyalty back, all the better. Wave the carrot and the stick in front of their nose.

Lisa Hirsch said...

I sent that letter out two days ago and do not plan any further explanations.

Anonymous said...

Well, I was speaking in the terms of your writing the letter, and I think I brought this up before. Sorry if my change to present-tense was misleading. They're not likely to pay attention to any one person, but every bit helps. Or would have helped.

I see that several of the letters in the NYT take the "better to close the museum than for the university to close." But what has not been demonstrated, nor has evidence been really offered, that this choice is necessary.