In the Justice today, I read that the the University has allocated an additional $200,000 to the Rose operating budget for this fiscal year. Puzzling, considering the museum’s staff has been downsized (its previous director, Michael Rush, a strong opponent of the University’s decision to sell artwork, was fired) and the museum has its own $16 million endowment used to fund nearly all its operations. The University claims to have authorized the additional money to enable action on the Rose Committee’s recommendations, but they give no concrete specifics on what the planned purpose of the money will be. Isn’t it a little weird to allocate money for an undefined purpose, especially when we’re strapped for cash and the University has made clear that the museum is not especially high on the priority list? The Justice editorial board disapproves of the decision because of its cost in a time of financial crisis, and its seeming lack of direct need – they seem to view it as an inefficient management decision.
But I think we need to look a little further. From all signs, it seems that the University is still planning to sell some artwork in the future, or at least keeping the option open. At Thursday’s faculty meeting, new VP Jeffrey Apfel said the University was considering “monetizing assets,” according to the Justice. He told the paper, “to some extent, that’s a reference to the Rose.” The University has hired a high profile defense attorney, Thomas Reilly, to defend itself against the suit brought by the Museum’s board of overseers to prevent any sale of the art. And if you read the Hoot a little while ago, you learned that this suit hinges on the financial independence of the museum from the University.
So to me, this new allocation, when we’re even more strapped for cash than we thought, seems a bit like a Trojan horse. By allocating so much additional money to the Rose, the University may be trying to build its case that the museum is not independent, in order to win the lawsuit. It will then be able to sell artwork for a quite a bit more than $200,000. This new “gift” to the Rose could be nothing of the kind. Of course, I don’t know how much merit this strategy holds, considering the allocation was made now, not before the suit was filed. So perhaps I’m stabbing at shadows, but I don’t think so.