From today’s NY Times:
Hard times force hard choices on everyone. But that does not require bad decisions too. At Brandeis University, President Jehuda Reinharz has made hard times worse by deciding to close the university’s Rose Art Museum and sell off more than 6,000 works in its collection.
His dilemma is clear — an endowment that has dropped 23 percent, to $549 million from $712 million, since the economic downturn began, and an immediate budget shortfall of some $10 million. The Madoff scandal and its effects on some of Brandeis’s major donors have made new fund-raising possibilities especially bleak.
Selling the university’s art collection would help plug its financial gap, but it would create a gaping hole in Brandeis’s mission and its reputation. It would default on one of the great collections of contemporary art in New England, one built early on with extraordinary artistic acumen. The core works were acquired by the museum’s founding director from such young artists (at young artist prices) as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
The donors who made such purchases possible almost certainly did not think of them as temporary gifts to be cashed in during hard times. They thought of them as gifts in perpetuity, a way of enriching students, visitors, and the wider community able to see works from the Brandeis collection on loan to other museums.
Mr. Reinharz has indicated that there is a chance the university will not sell its collection if, in his words, “there’s a miracle tomorrow morning and the economy turns round and the stock market is up by 45 percent.” As thinking goes, this is about as sound as Mr. Reinharz’s decision to sell off so many valuable works in the current depressed market. Surely it would make more sense to share the pain across the university’s budget.