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By Geoff Edgers
Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz yesterday opened the
possibility that the university would not sell its $350-million art
collection, but said he would not change his mind about closing the Rose
Art Museum and turning it into a study and research center.
In a meeting with about 200 students yesterday morning, Reinharz
outlined the reasons behind the decision, which was unanimously approved by
Brandeis trustees on Monday. At the meeting, and in a later interview,
Reinharz confirmed a precipitous drop in the university's endowment, but
said that if the economic and philanthropic picture brightened, the
university might not need to disburse a collection of modern art that
includes works by Warhol, De Kooning, and Magritte.
"We have no particular mandate from the board of trustees as to when
to sell, how to sell,'' Reinharz said in an interview.
He added: "If in fact there is a miracle tomorrow morning and the
economy turns around and the stock market is up by 45 percent, nothing
impels me, nothing impels us, to do anything."
Brandeis provost Marty Krauss also shed new light on the
reasoning behind the closure, which is scheduled for late summer. In an
interview, she said the university felt it could not operate a museum which
is expected to abide by a code of ethics limiting the reasons it can sell
off portions of its collection, and then sell art to pay for needs other
than the museum. Closing the 48-year-old museum entirely would provide the
university more freedom, Krauss said.
She said the school has no regrets following the firestorm of
criticism it has received after announcing the dramatic move. At the
informational meeting, administrators revealed that the school's endowment
had fallen roughly 25 percent, from $712 million to $549 million.
"We knew this would be controversial," she said. "We also firmly
believe we're doing this for the right reason. This is a bold move to
ensure the future of the university."
Reinharz said there is no chance the Rose will remain open or that a
university museum will again someday occupy its space. Should Brandeis hold
onto some or all of its collection, ''we will do what other universities
do,” he said. “Lots of universities have collections of art, which they
display or don’t display.''
He said the study and research center would have a gallery space,
which will be of "great importance" to the university's fine-arts students
and to its core educational mission.
While student protests are planned for today and tomorrow, and arts
leaders around the country have condemned the move, there are some on
campus who say they understand the trustees' decision.
John Lisman, a biology professor who has taught at Brandeis since
1975, said that many of his colleagues support the trustees.
"To give away a family heirloom is a really painful thing,'' he said
yesterday. "But the overall question is, to ensure the long-term health of
the university, what do you do? Maybe you just reduce every department by a
third. Do you think leaving every academic weakened is a better option that
the Rose option?''
Geoff Edgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org