Report on today’s administrative presentation: The Rose

Students I have talked to seem to agree that today’s presentation by Pres. Jehuda Reinharz, COO Peter French, and Provost Marty Krauss was productive.  There was a massive student turnout (the room was packed), and a lot of important questions were answered.  I feel relieved that I’ve finally been given substantial information, but also some resentment that this presentation, which was prepared in December, could not have been shown to the student body earlier.  It seems crazy to hold back explanatory and even comforting information while the student body frets.

Here is a paraphrased summary of what  we were told regarding the closing of the Rose.  More summary to come regarding details on endowment return and other areas of the presentation.

Brandeis lost 25% of its endowment between June 30 and December 31, falling from $712 million to $549 million in market value. Peter French’s projections predict the endowment’s value will reach an all-time low of $468 million in Fiscal Year 2009. After that, the endowment will begin to recover, but until it surpasses its original principal, no withdrawals can be made due to Massachussets law.  Proposed changes in academic structuring and student/faculty ratio will help to close gaps, but not by a lot.  Selling the Rose, as sad as it makes the Board of Trustees, is the only feasible large-scale cutback.

So, what exactly will happen?  There are 7180 works of art in the Rose collection, with an estimated worth at about $350 million before the crash.  It will take months or years to sell the paintings, as we must wait for the art market to recover, as well as examine the terms of donation or purchase for each and every work to see if its sale would be legal. A full sale of the Rose collection is thus nearly impossible and undesirable.  If, by some miracle, the economy recovers and philanthropy picks up, Pres. Reinharz said that there may be no sale at all.The actual shut-down of the Museum will have little effect on budgetary savings. The direct operating expenses for the Rose (salaries, exhibitions, etc) and its operating revenues even out; both costs and proceeds from the Museum are somewhere between $1 and $2 million per year. In addition to direct expenses however, there are approximately $600,000 in indirect expenses (heating, lighting, water, maintenance) which would be saved by the closing of the physical Museum.

So, why was this decision kept secret? According to Pres. Reinharz, the Board of Trustees did not want a widely-publicized discussion, and they wanted to “protect” the director of the Rose, Michael Rush, who could not have been expected to collaborate on the decision to close down the museum he is responsible for.  Along these lines, the Rose’s Board of Overseers was also not alerted.

What are the alternatives?  According to Peter French, the Rose could only stay open if Brandeis drastically increased tuition or donations.  The university has no capacity to take out more debt, or make sufficient cuts without neglecting vitally important services.  An idea came up to close buildings temporarily, but according to Dan Feldman’s analysis, we would need to close about half of the campus’ buildings.  If the savings expected from the Rose were to come from additional personnel cuts, we would need to cut approximately 270 more staff members or 200 more faculty.

Some students brought up creative ideas to save the museum, such as attempting to sell the pieces of art back to the donors themselves, so that we could restore our collection in more prosperous times.  To this, Pres. Reinharz responded, “If it works, cool!”

Feel free to post your own thoughts on the presentation.