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On Brandeis and the Rose Art Museum…

We take a break from our usual troll through the filings to talk about something that’s been close to my heart this past week: the announcement by my alma mater, Brandeis, that it plans to close the Rose Art Museum later this year. For the past week, I’ve been reading the stories, the statements and the editorials, which have been overwhelmingly opposed to the idea of closing the Rose and selling its amazing collection of post-modern art to the highest bidder. I’ve also had several discussions — mostly via email — but sometimes over the phone, with a Brandeis administrator and several Brandeis trustees, who unanimously supported President Jehuda Reinharz’ decision to close the museum.

And here’s where this ties into what we normally cover here at footnoted: a complacent board and an imperial CEO. They should all be fired for their complete mismanagement of both the decision to close the museum, and, perhaps even more importantly, the amateurish way that the decision has been handled in the media, forever ruining the Brandeis brand. Unfortunately, universities are even less democratic than publicly traded companies.

Even though students and alums have banded together — creating a website, staging a protest, and launching an online petition — in the end, there’s probably little that can be done to save the Rose. It would be interesting to be able to dive through the numbers (and, of course, the footnotes) much the same way you can for publicly traded companies and see what’s really going on here. My hunch — just based on what I’ve seen and heard so far — is that there are a lot of numbers that aren’t quite adding up and Brandeis officials need to come clean. Given Brandeis’ motto — truth even unto its innermost parts — the administration needs to provide a clearer accounting before they sell off important works by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, to name a few.

To be sure, the financial crisis has probably hit Brandeis harder than some, given Bernard Madoff’s deep ties in the Jewish philanthropic community. One major Brandeis donor — Carl Shapiro — lost millions with Madoff — and the overall climate makes new fund raising very difficult. But based on the numbers that have been made public so far, the endowment fell about 23% last year and is currently at $549 million, it doesn’t seem all that bad, given the current market. Indeed, I think many of us wish we were looking at 23% declines in 2008, myself included.

Once upon a time, when Abbie Hoffman roamed the campus, Brandeis used to be a hotbed of protest. But when I was there, the biggest controversy was about adding pork and shellfish to the dining hall menu. It’s time now for my fellow alums and current students to stand up and raise their voices in opposition to the complete mismanagement we’ve seen at Brandeis over the past few days and call on both the board and Jehuda Reinharz to be shown the door. If we don’t, the value of our very pricey degrees will be worth about as much as the paper they’re printed on.