More Info on the Rose’s Future: Art for Auction, but Not for Sale (Yet)

Two days ago, I wrote about the exciting news that the Rose Art Museum was named one of 1,000 Great Places in Massachusetts.  That, however, will be cold comfort if the Museum is later disbanded or if its collection is devalued by the sale of some of its major works.  Unfortunately, the latest updates in the Rose saga show that such an outcome is still very possible.

The Boston Herald reports that Brandeis has just signed a contract with Sotheby’s, a famous auction house, to explore options for raising funds by leasing artwork from the Rose.  Does that mean we’ve finally dodged the bullet of selling off the collection it took us decades to acquire?

The vote by Reinharz and Brandeis trustees Jan. 26, 2009, to sell the art remains in force. Asked whether selling the art remains a possibility for the Waltham-based university, [Brandeis spokesman Andrew] Gully said: “Yes, because the vote remains. But the intent is clearly at this point to explore nonsale options. Clearly you wouldn’t be selling anything while we were exploring those options.”

Why are we still considering selling artwork?  Didn’t we hear in March that the University had already developed a plan to balance its operating budget by 2014?  Board of Trustees Chair Malcolm Sherman certainly seems to think so.  In a letter to the Herald published on July 19th, Sherman reaffirms the 2014 plan and assigns a different purpose to the potential art transactions:

Now we are exploring options we hope will allow the university to retain ownership of the Rose collection while generating funds for: financial aid; state-of-the-art academic, research and residential facilities; faculty compensation that long ensure excellence in teaching.

Sherman’s letter is disingenuous from the beginning.  He claims that the original Herald story “presents an unfair picture of the university’s fiscal situation”, then goes on to recite the exact same facts that the article mentioned.  The question that Sherman needs to answer is: Has the value of artwork from the Rose been calculated as part of our plan to balance our operating budget or relieve our structural deficit?  If the answer is yes, than Brandeis’s financial solvency is based on leases or sales in an uncertain market that may be illegal anyway.  Our financial future is much more shaky than the administration or Board of Trustees would have us believe, and it is really Sherman and Jehuda Reinharz who are guilty of stretching the truth, not only to the Herald but to the entire Brandeis community.  If the answer is no, then our continued attempts to seek profit from art prove that we’re just as poor caretakers as we’ve been accused of, and no rational art aficionado should have any reason to give us so much as a preschool watercolor painting ever again.

Art expert Raymond Liddell sure isn’t buying what Sherman and Gully are selling.  In his letter to the Herald from July 21st, the former museum administrator and university professor raises some tough questions:

The Rose Art Museum story gets curiouser and curiouser (“Thorny situation for Rose Museum,” July 11). It’s clear that Brandeis has not disavowed its decision to sell the Rose collection which has made it a pariah. It’s clear that Brandeis is trying to buy time and hoping the story will go away. It won’t. It’s not clear why Sotheby’s, whose primary business is selling art, is involved. It’s not clear what sort of museum Brandeis envisions for the future without a director. If it walks and talks like a duck . . .

Liddell has the credentials to know what he’s talking about (and not only because he borrows the language I used to describe Brandeis last week).  He clearly believes that Brandeis is already planning on selling artwork or even completely getting rid of the Rose, and I have to admit he makes a persuasive case.  The worst part for Brandeis is that the people who are suing us think so too:

“Lending art is something museum directors do, and Brandeis fired theirs,” said Jonathan Lee, chairman of the Rose Board of Overseers, who filed suit July 27, 2009, to block the initial sell-off plan. “So it seems a little wacky to have a sales agent do this for you. The kind of revenue expected for lending art is quite small.”

Meryl Rose, representing the Rose family in the lawsuit, said: “Well, it’s ridiculous. It’s just obfuscation so people will think they’re not selling art. But they haven’t taken that off the table.”

Maybe if we sell enough art, we’ll eventually be able to recoup our legal fees!

Last year, a report from a university committee prompted me to write the following:

“BRANDEIS IS NOT CLOSING THE ROSE AND SELLING ALL THE ARTWORK.” Words and italics from them, bold and caps from yours truly.  If you’re going to take anything from the interim report of the Future of the Rose Committee, make it that.  We’ve sat and listened as the Rose first was closed, then open for the semester, then for part of the summer, then the whole summer, then open indefinitely.  Finally, we have an absolutely definitive statement from a body that’s spent lots of time researching this very issue that the Rose is not going anywhere, and, in fact, that we’re bound by donor agreements to keep the Rose Art Museum open by that very name.

After hearing so much spin and backtracking over the course of just that one semester, I now realize I was naive to take any statement on the future of the Rose at face value.  I’d say that it’s time for the University to be completely forthright with us, with the donors, and with the public on the future of the Museum, but even if they did tell the full truth, how could we believe them?  We’ve spent such a long time with last week’s innuendo becoming next week’s policy that I’m not even sure it’s worth trying to ask for answers anymore.  My only advice those concerned about the Rose’s future is to visit the Museum and to do it as soon as possible.  You don’t know when your last chance will come.

The New Media Meme: “Brandeis Hates Israel!!!”

Last Wednesday, Jonathan Mark of The Jewish Week published an article striking back at the perception that Israel is, even among Jews, losing the respect of the American people that it has enjoyed for so long.  While I try to avoid injecting myself into Israeli political debates as much as possible, I do find it interesting who Mark chooses as one of his bad guys — Brandeis University itself:

[New York Times columnist Nicholas] Kristof also brings up Peter Beinart’s recent article in The New York Review of Books “exploring the way young Jews in America feel much less identification with Israel than their elders did. Mr. Beinart noted that even the student senate at Brandeis University, which has strong Jewish ties, rejected a resolution commemorating the 60th anniversary of Israel.” Brandeis, of course, was also where a student group unsuccessfully tried to get the university to rescind a speaking invitation to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren.

As Bogart said in “Casablanca,” “I wouldn’t bring up Paris, if I were you. It’s bad salesmanship.” But since Kristof brings up Brandeis, let it be said — as Kristof did not — that while many young Jews at Brandeis did want to distance themselves from Israel, at 51 other universities in 30 different states, reported JTA (May 21), one student president after another was inviting Israel’s ambassador to speak at their campus.

The letter to Oren, said JTA, was initiated by Brandon Carroll at Virginia Tech and Wyatt Smith at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, in response to disruptions Oren faced at the University of California-Irvine and the protests at Brandeis.

Such anti-Israel behavior “is absurd and offensive,” said the letter.  “Please be assured that these individuals do not remotely represent American college students or mainstream campus leaders.”

Basically, Mark says that although Jews at Brandeis might be moving away from support of Israel, pro-Israel sentiment is still prevalent elsewhere.

Last month, a friend of mine at Yale shocked me by saying out of the blue, “I hear your Student Union rejected a birthday resolution for Israel”.  Apparently, this relatively minor campus controversy somehow made a New York Times article three years later.  It’s very weird to hear something I was peripherally involved in used to prove a point on such a national scale, and it’s particularly disheartening to find it stripped of its context to say something that it shouldn’t.

Then again, I can’t blame Beinart, Kristof, or Mark for failing to grasp the nuances of Brandeis Union politics.  Their topics are far broader than our petty struggles; how can they be bothered to research the actual questions that were raised during the birthday resolution debate?  If I were in their place, I’d think that the resolution’s failure said much more about Brandeis’s waning support for Israel than it actually does.

It’s pretty obvious that anything related to Israel that happens at Brandeis will be viewed under a harsh microscope and analyzed as a metric of what young American Jews think about the Middle East conflict.  Therefore, should people on campus stop protesting events like the Oren speech for fear of sending the wrong message?

Of course not.  In both of the aforementioned cases, people weren’t actually protesting Israel or its policies.  They were protesting the intrusion of Israeli politics in inappropriate venues, namely the Union Senate and the commencement ceremony.  The real fault lies with those who injected Israel into these venues in the first place.  My friend Sahar is one of the most passionate Israeli citizens and supporters that I know, but he still drew the very real distinction between his patriotic sentiments and his opposition to Oren’s commencement appearance.  Unfortunately, his advocacy can now be misinterpreted as another blow against Israel from the very school that should be supporting it most fervently.  Shame on those who would force him into the false duality of choosing between his homeland and his principles.

The worst part is that those who try to make support for Israel a part of everyday campus are only hurting their own cause.  Jehuda Reinharz should be smart enough to know that appointing a divisive figure like Oren as a commencement speaker was bound to draw some level of controversy.  And he should be smart enough to know that Israel’s critics would wield that opposition as a cudgel to prove that Jews were abandoning Israel even at America’s foremost Jewish university.

There’s enough room at Brandeis for everyone to advocate and work for their own political causes, whatever they may be.  But when the line separating appropriate advocacy and invasion of campus life is crossed, everyone loses.  The media can’t be expected to get every detail of our campus life correct.  Let’s not make it easy for them to caricature us.


In an email sent 10  minutes ago, Board of Trustees chair Malcolm Sherman announced that Frederick M. Lawrence of the George Washington University School of Law will be the next President of Brandeis University effective Jan 1, 2011. Below is Lawrence’s bio from GW, as well as the text of the email:

Frederick Lawrence came to GW Law as dean in August 2005. One of the nation’s leading civil rights experts, he is the author of, Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law, which examines bias-motivated violence and how the United States deals with such crimes. He has written widely in the areas of civil rights crimes and free expression.

Dean Lawrence began his legal career in 1980 as clerk to Judge Amalya L. Kearse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Later, he was named an assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, where he became chief of the office’s civil rights unit. In 1988, he joined the faculty of Boston University School of Law where he taught courses on civil procedure, criminal law, civil rights enforcement, and civil rights crimes. He also served as the school’s associate dean for academic affairs from 1996 to 1999. In 1996 he received Boston University’s Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, the university’s highest teaching honor.

Dean Lawrence has been a senior visiting research fellow with the University College London Faculty of Law and has studied bias crimes law in the United Kingdom through a Ford Foundation grant. He has lectured nationally and internationally about bias crime law and testified before Congress in support of federal hate crimes legislation on several occasions – most recently in 2007 – and concerning Justice Department misconduct in Boston.

In 2004, he was a member of the American delegation to the meeting of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) on Enactment and Enforcement of Legislation to Combat Hate-Motivated Crimes and in 2009 he delivered the keynote address to the OSCE meeting on hate crime law enforcement. From 2003 to 2006, he served as chair of the National Legal Affairs Committee of the Anti-Defamation League. Dean Lawrence also has performed in Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts with the New York Choral Society.

July 8, 2010

Members of the Brandeis Community,

It gives me great pleasure to announce that, at its meeting today, the board of trustees unanimously and enthusiastically elected Frederick M. Lawrence, dean and Robert Kramer Research Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School, to succeed Jehuda Reinharz as the eighth president of Brandeis University starting Jan. 1, 2011.

President-elect Lawrence is widely recognized as one of our nation’s top civil rights experts. He has written eloquently about a broad range of important legal and constitutional issues and is the author of “Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law.” Fred also has co-authored a number of Supreme Court amicus curiae briefs, including the brief on behalf of civil rights groups in Virginia v. Black (2003) concerning the constitutionality of Virginia’s cross-burning statutes. He has served as chair of the National Legal Affairs Committee of the Anti-Defamation League and is a trustee of Williams College, his alma mater. From 1988 to 2005, he was a member of the faculty and academic administration at Boston University School of Law, and in 1996 he received Boston University’s Metcalf Award for Excellence in Teaching, the highest of the university’s teaching awards.

Fred impressed the members of the board with his strong record of academic scholarship and administration, as well as personal ideals and professional accomplishments that reflect the values of Justice Louis Brandeis and the university’s commitment to social justice and social action. In his meetings with trustees, faculty, students and senior officers, Fred demonstrated a strong commitment to liberal arts education and a clear understanding of and appreciation for Brandeis’ unique character, its Jewish heritage and its mission, which he aptly characterized as a “research college and a teaching university.” The board also noted his record of effective fundraising, both in this country and abroad.

Fred has a warm and winning personal style and a long record of engaging effectively with faculty, students, alumni and members of the extended communities with which he has worked. He is an outstanding successor to President Jehuda Reinharz, and I know that all members of the Brandeis community join with me in welcoming Fred Lawrence to this very special university.


Malcolm L. Sherman
Chair, Board of Trustees

To read the full announcement and a profile of Fred, watch video interviews, leave a welcome message and more, please visit

Reinharz Response to Harper’s Article

Below is the text of Jehuda Reinharz’s response to the Brandeis article in the November issue of Harper’s magazine.

Dear Colleagues,

In their November 2009 issue, Harper’s Magazine published a story entitled Voodoo Academics: Brandeis University’s hard lesson in the real economy. In addition to being factually inaccurate, the article is insulting to all members of the Brandeis community as its assumptions about Brandeis and the higher education sector involve gross mischaracterizations.  There is a story behind their story and I want to share that with you firsthand.

Continue reading “Reinharz Response to Harper’s Article”

Infamous Harper’s Article About Brandeis Finances

The latest issue of Harper’s magazine (November 2009) has a two-page article on Brandeis’s finances written by Christopher Beha, which is highly critical of the University. It’s sparked a great deal of controversy among the faculty and administrators, and Pres. Reinharz has personally responded to it. Below is the article in its entirety. I’m not that impressed with it, not because I don’t agree that the University mishandled its finances, but because it is poorly-written and views Brandeis as unique among private universities when it is not. He seems to think it is unusual for a non-Ivy League school to charge a fortune for tuition, when this is the norm nationwide. But I’ll let you form your own reactions to it.

“Voodoo Academics: Brandeis University’s hard lesson in the real economy”

by Christopher R. Beha
Harper’s Magazine
November 2009

In January, Brandeis University, in Waltham,
Massachusetts, announced plans to close its on-campus
Rose Art Museum and sell much of the $350 million
permanent collection. Brandeis’s financial situation
was grim: its $85 million reserve fund could be spent
by 2011; there were $80 million in projected operating
deficits over the next five years; and the sixty-one-
year-old institution was $250 million in debt. How
could a school with an endowment that had in June 2008
been worth $712 million be forced to liquidate such a
prized resource? Over the past decade, Brandeis, like
many of its peer institutions, adopted the American
corporate principles of fiscal shortsightedness and
growth for- growth’s sake that provoked the current
economic fiasco. This map of Brandeis’s campus-
expansion projects since 1999 demonstrates what happens
when unbridled capitalism turns the marketplace of
ideas into a higher-educational superstore.

Continue reading “Infamous Harper’s Article About Brandeis Finances”

What Bill Ayers Tells Us about Student Autonomy

Before my title deceives you, I unfortunately missed Bill Ayers’ lecture on Thursday, and I have no idea what he talked about.  He might have brought up the idea of student autonomy; chances are he didn’t.

The event itself, however, sure told us a lot about the freedom we enjoy as Brandeis students — and it showed us that our administrators are dedicated to keeping it that way.

Imagine you’re Jehuda Reinharz.  Your university has taken a series of PR hits in recent months, some of them undeserved, and is now fighting an image of financial insolvency and betrayal of key donors and the art community as a whole.  You are facing a decreased applicant pool while needing to accept more students than ever.  It is absolutely critical that you do as little as possible to alienate your recently accepted students while they decide if they want to spend the four most critical years of their lives paying your tuition.

In the middle of all this, a group of students wants to invite a controversial speaker to your campus.  Not just any controversial speaker.  This is a man who public opinion has labeled an unrepentant murderer and terrorist.  A man whose name was recently plastered over the national news in discussion of whether his acquaintance alone should disqualify someone from assuming the United States Presidency. You know that his speaking at your school will cause a minor uproar.  You’ve seen it happen at a nearby university of similar reputation, to the point where they canceled his appearance.

Predictably, the comment pages of the local newspapers soon fill with vitriol.  The worst stereotypes of your university are dragged up and rehashed over and over.  One website even publishes the names, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of you and your fellow high-level administrators, presumably causing your inbox to fill with angry, ignorant screeds.

Would you still allow the event to continue?

The administration really got in the students’ corner on this one and proved their commitment to allowing us autonomy and educational freedom.  Their public comments struck exactly the right tone — that Brandeis does not endorse Ayers’ actions, but that they believe in giving us access to a wide range of viewpoints, and, implicitly, that they will not interfere with our ability to plan our own events through established channels.  Even those who protested Ayers must realize the courage and respect for students that underlaid the administration’s singing off on the event.

It’s possible that Ayers’ appearance has already discouraged some prospective students from enrolling at Brandeis.  It’s also possible that those who take offfense to Ayers would never have considered a school like Brandeis in the first place, and that our defense of principle over petty criticism will impress the prospectives enough to work in our favor.  Either way, the administration deserves a round of applause for this one.

Why not send Jehuda an e-mail telling him how you recognize and appreciate the university’s stance towards student autonomy?  I’m sure it’ll be a nice break from the “OMG OMG HES A TERRERIST U PINKO COMMIE SCUM!!!!!!11″ spam that’s sure to be clogging his B-mail.

Reinharz and French both take a 10% pay cut!

So I just got back from a student press conference with Pres. Reinharz and the chief administrators, and am still digesting all the information. Look for more posts later today on news, analysis, and speculation.

Today, both Pres. Reinharz and COO French have announced they are taking a 10% pay cut, presumably starting this fiscal year. This was hidden away in the Boston Globe this morning – 

Reinharz will give up $50,000, French $40,000.

Such a step is something we’ve been thinking about for a while, and which I brought up with COO French at the first student forum. He originally referred me to the sticky wage theory, an economics term describing the difficulty of lowering wages even when market conditions dictate they should go down. Well, it seems the University’s new PR firm, Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, is slick enough to overcome its chief officers’ stickiness – the move came two days after the firm’s hiring by the University. Didn’t take a genius to figure out the PR benefits of that one, however.

But regardless of PR motivation, the results are what counts. Such a move is commendable and illustrates a new sensitivity of the Administration to the mood of the community. If we are letting go 10% of our faculty, it seems pretty fair to cut 10% of the half-million dollar salary of our President. Thank you, President Reinharz.

Two Important Forums Tomorrow

At last week’s open forum, President Reinharz promised that the dialogue between the administration and the students was just beginning, and tomorrow at 5 in the Levin Ballroom, he will keep his word.  The main complaint that most students had with the first forum was the inconvenient timing; 11 o’clock on a Wednesday is impossible for many students to make.  Thankfully, it looks like that was just a necessity of the schedule rather than an attempt to minimize turnout.  In fact, by holding a similar forum shortly afterwards, President Reinharz is proving that he wants to engage as many of us as possible.

The forum will be structured the same way as the last one, with the same presentation being shown for those who haven’t had a chance to see it yet.  However, the forum should still be productive for those who have, since this will be the first opportunity to ask the administration about the sustained bad press from the Rose Art Museum and about the reexamining of the study abroad decisions.  Provost Marty Krauss will probably have a lot to say about the new Committee on Academic Restructuring (CARS).

The follow-up forum, to be held at 6:30 in the Shaprio Campus Center, should prove to be just as interesting.  Jason Gray has put it together explicitly for the students, and it should help pull in students beyond those currently involved in BBCC, whose core is still weighted towards the established campus activists.  The entire student body faces the threat of deep cuts, and now is a great time to involve underrepresented members of the campus community.  In the e-mail announcing these forums, Jason made it clear that he hopes to encourage activism on the community level, saying “Our greatness lies in a Student Body that speaks up to be heard in the process of determining the future of our University… As Union President, it gives me great joy to speak for you, but even greater joy to speak with you.”  I expect many new ideas for action moving forward to come out of this meeting,

One other interesting statement from the e-mail promises that the forum “will be the predecessor to a series of academic forums that will be held for the entire Brandeis community to discuss proposed curriculum changes.”  From what I hear, these forums will actually be held by the subcommittees of CARS.  That means they will be far more than just Q&A sessions.  Instead, they represent a real opportunity to influence the decision-making bodies that will determine Brandeis’s academic future.  We have moved beyond merely asking for transparency.  Instead of just listening, we will be listened to.

Jason’s e-mail from Monday is below the fold.

Continue reading “Two Important Forums Tomorrow”