Brandeis to give Rose Art Museum reprieve until fall

Backers question committee's work

Director Michael Rush is being let go. Director Michael Rush is being let go.
By Tracy Jan
Globe Staff / April 24, 2009
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Nearly three months after Brandeis University said it would close The Rose Art Museum and sell its $350 million collection, the future of the famed museum seems murkier than ever.

The university says that the Rose, originally scheduled to close at the end of June as Brandeis faced a financial crisis, will get a reprieve, at least until the fall, while a committee explores options for the space. But many faculty members and some on the museum's board of directors call the committee's work disingenuous and question administrators' refusal to keep the museum's director, Michael Rush.

In a letter to the Brandeis community last week, Provost Marty Krauss said that after the museum's current exhibit wraps up May 17, it would reopen to the public on July 22 and display works from its permanent collection. But gone will be the museum's esteemed director, along with most of his staff.

At least 30 professors have signed a letter of protest, to be delivered to Krauss and Brandeis president Jehuda Reinharz on Monday. If the university is serious about keeping the museum "open to the public with professionally trained staff," as stated in Krauss's letter, Rush should be allowed to keep his job, they say.

"During the difficult time ahead, we need a figure of Michael Rush's intellectual stature, accomplishments, and passionate commitment to guide the museum and engage in fund-raising as the museum continues to play a leading role in the academic and cultural life of the university," said a draft of the letter provided to the Globe yesterday.

Without a curator, museum supporters said, the Rose would be a glorified shell of its former self. Rush's pending dismissal at the end of June signifies the university's intentions to proceed with closure at a later date, and invalidates the work of the committee, they said.

"This committee is a sham," said Jonathan Lee, a member of museum's board. "It's just providing cover for a decision that's already been made. The university has decided to sell art, and they are closing this as a public art museum."

In February, amid an international uproar, Reinharz said the museum would transition into an educational arts center.

The committee weighing the future of the Rose is expected to issue an interim report next week. Members of the panel, which includes several professors, did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.

Krauss addressed critics of the committee in a statement yesterday. "It is unfortunate that a few members of the Rose Art Museum board of overseers do not have faith in the Committee for the Future of the Rose to provide strong recommendations regarding the programmatic future of the Rose Art Museum," she said.

Ellen Schattschneider, an anthropology professor who spearheaded the letter campaign, said many faculty members believe the committee has been "boxed in" by the administration. She said it has no power to decide on the fate of the museum's collection or its staff.

"That means they can only talk about the fate of the Rose building itself," Schattschneider said.

Rush, who said he was grateful for the faculty's efforts but would not say whether he would stay on if asked, said the committee's role was superfluous.

"You have a committee deciding on the future of an institution that has been closed and somehow wants to remain breathing in some way," Rush said. "The Rose Museum that I'm the director of doesn't need a committee to spell out its future. The museum as we know it will close May 17, when the last curated exhibit will come down."

Tracy Jan can be reached at