Saved: The Rose?

Check your email:

Dear members of the Brandeis community,
I am very pleased to inform you that Brandeis and the four plaintiffs involved in the Rose Art Museum litigation have reached an agreement to settle the case. As a result, their claims have been dismissed. In addition, the Massachusetts Office of the Attorney General has officially terminated its review of Brandeis.
The agreement emphasizes that the Rose is and will remain a university art museum open to the public and that Brandeis has no plan to sell artwork. This position reflects the Board of Trustees’ adoption of the two key recommendations of The Future of The Rose Committee Report in March, 2010.

More on Brandeis Now.

This obviously seems like good news. If I remember correctly, the Massachusetts Attorney General was of the opinion that Brandeis doesn’t have the legal authority to sell off Rose Artwork in the first place, and the decision still stands.

Ariel Wittenberg understands these issues the best – she’s one of (if not the) best reporter Brandeis has seen in years. I’ll do some more research and report back.

Community Art Forum

The lovely Cathy Messier wrote up a review of the Community Arts Forum! Enjoy!

On Thursday, March 3, members of the three schools of creative arts met for the Community Arts Forum in the Laurie Theater – the first event of its kind at Brandeis. The purpose of this forum was to establish shared goals and needs of the arts at Brandeis with each other and share them with the the administration, including our new president, Fred Lawrence. This is community of people who often only heard of needs of their own department and the forum provided a chance for the three schools to unite and establish a sense of solidarity with each other, in light of the recent budget cuts and other financial difficulties we all have had to face.

The event started with statements from the three chairs of the departments and the head of the Rose Arts Museum. All four statements were eloquently presented, displaying a love for their department while not hiding the sadness and disappointment surrounding the recent struggles faced. Scott Edmiston then asked the audience to voice any thoughts they were having, to which both students and faculty responded. Attendees were then divided into discussion groups, led by UDR’s, to establish the strengths, goals, and needs of the arts departments. Many of these discussions expressed a need for greater cohesion between both arts and non-arts communities, and within the different arts departments themselves. Another need expressed by several groups was regarding the lack of space for classes, and the lack of diversity when it came to course options.

After these discussions took place, Lawrence arrived and was interviewed by Julie Judson ’11. The interview questions varied immensely – some were asked to get to know him as an appreciator of arts, while others were on touchier issues, such as the Rose Arts Museum controversy. After the interview, members of the community were allowed to ask the president – or each other – questions, which also varied. Students and faculty presented ideas for how to build bridges between the arts/arts and arts/non-arts communities, such as holding arts events in Science and Math buildings. A student also expressed how valuable classes were when they brought people from different departments in and found a way to integrate seemingly different non-arts material into an arts class.

I would say the Arts Forum was a success, but that it is important to acknowledge it as a first step, rather than a culmination. Many people who attended this forum said they enjoyed connecting with people they normally do not interact with, and that the conversations that took place should have been happening already outside of our own departments. These discussions should continue happening afterwords, perhaps in a more structured way (since the needs and goals were so varied and numerous that they naturally almost seemed scattered).

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.

Massachusetts Releases List of Greatest Places, and Brandeis Is Included!

After a year of accepting submissions, the Massachusetts’ legislature’s 1,000 Great Places Commission has released its report of the best locations in the state.  That’s not exactly an exclusive list considering that Massachusetts has only 351 cities and towns, but it’s still nice to see that one of these Great Places is found on our very own campus.  Condolances to all those who hoped to see Reitman Hall honored, because our winner is none other than the Rose Art Museum.

That’s right.  Brandeis’s Great Place is the very spot the Board of Trustees wanted to get rid of.  And how many frickin’ buildings does Carl Shapiro have to buy before he gets his own Great Place?

Waltham is actually very well represented on the list; in addition to the Rose, four other Waltham sites earned recognition.  They are:

  • Gore Place — The “Monticello of the North”, once home to former Massachusetts Governor Christopher Gore and currently hosting an active farm.
  • Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation — Located in what were the engine and boiler rooms of Francis Cabot Lowell’s textile factory, which was named the fourth most important development to shape America by Life magazine in 1976.
  • The Robert Treat Paine Estate — Also known as Stonehurst, a house designed by famous architects Henry Hobson Richardson and Frederick Law Olmsted that serves as one of the earliest examples of modern architecture.
  • The Lyman Estate — Built in 1793 by a Boston merchant, now includes a greenhouse complex that contains exotic plants from around the world.

I’ve often heard that the typical Brandeis student doesn’t have much connection to the Waltham community (the awesome work of the Waltham Group and Clubs in Service program notwithstanding).  I know I don’t; I’ve hardly seen any of Waltham besides the BranVan route.  So I’m going to take this as an opportunity to get acquainted with some of the local history and culture.  Over the next semester, I want to arrange trips to see each of our five honorees (including a walk-through of the Rose), and I hope anyone who’s interested will join me.  Each site is open to the public (a condition of being named on the list), and each is less than three-and-a-half miles from the Brandeis campus — we’ll make them bike trips.

If anyone has any other great ideas for exploring Waltham, share them in the comments.  If you want to help plan these trips, or just want to know when they’re scheduled, send me an e-mail at

Brandeis — Pariah of the Art World

The American Association of Museums has just entirely revamped their standards for accreditation.  Why did this national organization decide that sweeping changes were needed?

The announcement last year that Brandeis University planned to sell its noted, 6,000-piece collection of modern art stunned and angered museum officials around the world. The university said it needed money for its other operations. But to the art world, the plan represented a rejection of the idea that nonprofit institutions do not sell art from their museums except as a means to expand their collections.

As if you really had to ask…

Now, museums will need evidence of greater levels of commitment from their parent organizations to gain accreditation, particularly when it comes to withholding artwork from their pool of disposable assets.  This really puts into perspective what the Board of Trustees did: not just a major faux pas, but something so uniquely terrible in the art community that the rules have to be changed to account for it.

Departments still to be cut, Art still to be sold

That’s the news from today’s issue of the Justice, in which Miranda Neubauer reports on Board of Trustees member Meyer Koplow ’72 and Dean of Art  and Sciences Adam Jaffe’s recent address to the faculty. Koplow (a New York lawyer whose biggest gig was as lead negotiator for cigarette-maker Phillip Morris in a 1997 national $350 billion tobacco settlement) isn’t just any board member – he’s chair of the Board’s budget and finance committee, a member of the executive committee, and a big Brandeis donor who helped finance the Village dorm. Until today, he was also the chair of the presidential search committee, but stepped down after “learning that a faculty member had nominated him for president.” Koplow seems to be the prime determiner of Brandeis’ budget cut strategies, and may well be the next president of the University (having been chair of the search committee one day can’t hurt when you apply for the job on the next).

In case you had forgotten about the steps University officials are quietly making in preparation to sell art from the Rose, Continue reading “Departments still to be cut, Art still to be sold”

One Year Anniversary of Rose Announcement

One year ago today (Jan 26th), President Reinharz announced the closing of the Rose Art Museum. While the museum and its collection remain intact, that status is precarious at best. The administration and its PR team have gone to great lengths to lull the Brandeis community into a false sense of security, suppressing those that would speak out and promote awareness regarding the still-critical vulnerability of the Rose. Consequently, a great number of students, faculty and staff are unaware that a problem with the Rose still exists. Please do not count yourself among them. Remain aware by asking critical questions and holding accountable those individuals with the power to make important decisions. Don’t let this day pass silently. Most importantly, show your support of the Rose Art Museum, its spectacular collection, and its remaining staff. Thank you

Rose Re-Opening…and Why You Should Go

This Wednesday, from 6 to 8pm, the Rose will have a re-opening with a show of works from the permanent collection. There are still a lot of issues and feelings surrounding the situation with the Rose, but that is precisely why it is important to attend–we need to show that we still care, and that the Rose is still important to us. If there is not a huge turnout, the administration will think it was right, and it will be easier for them to promote a vision of Brandeis that does not include the Rose. Instead, let’s show just how many people care–making it clear that a lot of people still have a lot of feelings could make a powerful statement. So please come!

Thoughts on the Rose Committee’s Interim Report

“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.

The report, which was released to the entire Brandeis community last Thursday, is just a preliminary document detailing the progress the committee has made towards compiling its final report, which will be released in early fall.  I recommend reading the whole thing, as there’s a lot to chew over (everyone with a Brandeis e-mail address should have received it on Thursday; if you didn’t get it/already deleted it, we’ll have it uploaded as soon as I can figure out how to use our media library you can find it here in PDF form).  The following are just some quick thoughts on points I found particularly important:

  • Legally, there is absolutely no reason why we can’t continue to operate a public museum even after sales of art work.  Why was there so much misinformation about this?  Why did I hear so often that keeping the Rose open was impossible if we sold even part of the collection?  Why didn’t the University immediately correct these statements?  They must have done some research into the legal issues involved, right?  It’s a testament to utter failure of the message control over the Rose that not only was our course of action completely incorrect as initially announced, but that we couldn’t even get simple, critical facts like this correct.
  • That being said, selling art for any reason other than to purchase other art is a huge taboo in the museum and art communities.  Of course, we already knew this.  However, now that we have clarified that the Rose itself isn’t going anywhere, it’s time for the art world to meet Brandeis halfway here.  Our message now is actually refreshingly frank and fair.  The facts are simple: the University as a whole is more important than the Rose; if the University fails, the Rose goes down with it; we are doing everything we possibly can to avoid selling any artwork; but if worst comes to worst, we will do as we must to maintain the Brandeis we know and love.  If the members of art community tries to dispute any of this, they are leaving their area of expertise, which is art, and trying to outdo university administrators at university administration.  If they instead approach us as allies with a vested interest in how we survive our time of crisis, we can come together to find the least damaging and most acceptable solution, and the lessons we learn and the bonds we form will keep a situation like this from ever occurring again.  Until the dogma of “art sales are bad, period” is abandoned, we are losing our only chance to make the best of this situation.
  • The Future of the Rose Committee is remaining neutral on the core matter of selling art to raise funds, and I couldn’t applaud them any more for it.  Their stance will disappoint some people.  However, they are not avoiding this important debate; they are merely ensuring that it occurs in its proper setting, among the entire Brandeis community.  By ceding the chance to become partisans with the platform they were given, they are strengthening their position as unbiased researchers,  and the debate which will occur will be more informed for it.

Overall, the report is a great summary of what we know so far, and it will be a valuable tool to counter the negative propaganda which is still hounding us.  My personal thumbs up goes out to the Committee, and I look forward to reading the final report.

The Arts at Brandeis

It’s been two weeks since Jason Gray made this call to the Brandeis community:

[T]oday, I challenge the University administration to engage the arts community in order to find tangible ways to invest in the long-term future of the arts at Brandeis. I call for a series of meetings between administrators and members of our artistic community to discuss ways to ensure that Brandeis remains a fertile ground for artistic creativity even amidst the financial situation.

I haven’t heard about any progress being made on this issue since the State of the Union, but I hope the Union (or some other party) is following up on it.  This is a tough time for everyone at Brandeis, but the art community has been particularly hard hit.  The closing of the Rose Art Museum is the most obvious reason, but it doesn’t tell the whole story.  Just as important is the way in which the decision was made and announced, the current uncertainty about the Rose’s exact status, and the various other cuts that the art department has faced.  Jason made the historical importance of the arts to the university very clear in his speech, and I know that there are many professors and students who need reassurance from the administration that they remain a priority.

The cuts outside of the Rose have not gotten nearly as much general publicity, but they have contributed to the sense that the arts just aren’t as important anymore.  One of Brandeis’s true jewels, the Lydian String Quartet, has been reduced to part-time status for next year, a move that violinist Daniel Stepner says may force a decreased concert schedule for next year.  The Hoot has more on the importance of the group and the effect of the reduction:

The quartet, founded in 1980, is an internationally acclaimed chamber ensemble dedicated to reinvigorating works from the classical canon while exploring contemporary pieces. The group has won ensemble prizes at important festivals in France, England, Canada and the United States, given performances in prestigious American and European concert halls, and released more than twenty musical recordings. Yet despite their worldly ambitions, the quartet feels most at home at Brandeis University, where all the members are part of the teaching faculty and regularly give performances.

Before the program began, the quartet announced that the university would be cutting back its position to half time for the following year, but that the ensemble would figure out a way to continue offering concerts to the Brandeis community and broader listening public. At a time when cutting back on the arts appears to define the university’s modus operandi, the announcement came as more troubling than shocking.*

It’s sad to see another world-renowned art institution handicapped by the budget crisis.  In addition, the Music Department has lost and not replaced three full professors in the past few years, and the graduate program suffered cuts even before the budget crisis hit.

Of course, the Rose has been the focal point for controversy this semester.  The official statement released by the Fine Arts Faculty shows how deep their surprise and disappointment at the initial announcement was:

In addition to despairing at the Trustees’ action, we wish to make clear that at no point in the decision making process was the Department of Fine Arts faculty consulted. Neither was there any communication regarding the decision with the Rose Board of Overseers on which a member of the faculty sits. Nor was any reference made to the museum at the university-wide faculty meeting last Thursday (January 22) when strategies to confront the current fiscal crisis were discussed.

The department faculty wishes to express our profound sadness at the consequences of this abrupt action for the liberal arts mission, cultural life, and intellectual legacy of the university…

As to the proposed future of the museum building, at no time before or after notification of the decision, have members of the Fine Arts Department expressed a desire to change the function of the Rose or reuse the building. There is no academic advantage to be salvaged from closing the museum and selling our art. It is a sad response to the current fiscal crisis that treasures left in trust for current and future students are now being sacrificed. The department remains committed to continuing the legacy of the intellectual and artistic practice here. We are losing an irreplaceable tool to fulfill that goal.

Since then, we’ve had a series of backtracking and vague, contradictory statements about what exactly will happen to the Rose, and its future remains very uncertain.  What we do know is that the Rose contains one of the best collections of modern art in the world, and it now appears very likely that we’re going to lose at least some of its masterpieces.

I know that many of these cuts may be necessary due to the state of our budget, and I think the administration has done a much better job of handling these situations in the past few months.  However, we cannot allow the arts community to feel marginalized and irrelevant in the decision-making process or in campus life.  Jason was absolutely right to call for meetings to remove these feelings and to plan a solid future for the arts at Brandeis, and I hope we can see his goal realized soon.

*The article I quoted was written by Max Price, the Diverse City editor and a great writer and good friend of mine.  His piece “Arts resources at Brandeis: Use them or lose them” is the best statement I’ve read on the importance of the arts in general and at Brandeis.  I highly recommend you check it out.

Building a Wider Donor Base

It’s no secret that Brandeis’s fundraising is much too slow right now and that the Madoff scheme is a big reason why.  The failing economy would be a huge handicap on it’s own, but dealing with the greatest theft in history targeted mostly toward our greatest donor base has made our situation critical.  We know that the University already has an excellent fundraising department — it was only last August that we were hearing about the record amounts of money we were taking in.  Yet the obvious questions are being asked.  Is Brandeis too reliant on the wealthy Jewish community for fundraising, and if so, how can we diversify our base of support?

Jewish sponsorship has always been fundamental to Brandeis’s identity.  It is one of our four pillars, and it connects us to the Jewish community in a way that I deeply appreciate, even as someone with no Jewish background.  Thus, any steps we would take to diversification should never come at the expense of our Jewish connection.  Indeed, it is just as important to ask ourselves how we can ensure this connection stays strong.  I’ve heard that many more conservative Jewish groups have grown somewhat suspicious of Brandeis for various reasons (most notably for Jimmy Carter’s visit), and we cannot afford to lose them as supporters and donors.  Obviously, we have to balance our Jewish sponsorship with our non-sectarianism, and I’m certainly not suggesting that Carter should not have been allowed to come.  However, we must always be clear that our goal is to expand and not to replace our current base of support.

Honestly, all of these questions are far beyond my level of expertise, and I assume that any suggestions I could offer have already been thoroughly explored.  In fact, I think it’s very possible that we’re doing everything we can to expand and that the only way to grow a larger donor base is through the passage of time.  As the University matures, more families and organizations will develop personal connections with Brandeis through our alumni.  Targeted campaigns might draw donations for people or groups who want to further specific missions, but overall I imagine that it’s difficult to find communities willing to donate to a college to which they have no personal connections.

The biggest immediate concern might be the waves of negative press coming from the Rose decision.  Many alumni seem to have rallied for the Rose, and let’s hope that they still view us as worth their donations.  Still, if you subscribe to the view that any publicity is good publicity, perhaps we can use this as an opportunity in a very public forum to ask for help from donors.  We don’t want to scare off new recruits by appearing too desperate (if it’s not too late for that already), but hopefully the Rose will prove to potential donors that the stakes we are facing are very high.  I don’t think we can construct a fundraising campaign around the Rose without looking bad; people won’t like the idea of art used as cajolery any more than art used as a slush fund.  Still, it’s not every day that Brandeis draws so much national attention, and if we can use it to point out all that we have worth giving to, perhaps we can find a silver lining.

UP my MIFA: the only viable way to save the Rose?

Regardless of your feelings on the Rose (in)decision, its obvious that the ridiculous fashion by which it was made was, in Reinharz’s own words, “screwed up.” But when you start talking about the actual idea of selling art to close our budget deficit, things get a bit murkier. We need to find $79 million fast, and no matter how you spin it, that ain’t too easy.

Some say this shortfall was unavoidable. But even given the current recession and the Madoff scandal, the University should not be in as tough a spot as it now is. Our assets were overextended before the crash – we took out long-term debt in the middle of a fundraising campaign, over-relied on gifts, and added operating expenses to our budget faster than we could devise sustainable ways to pay for them. Like many institutions, our endowment investments were in funds that gave good returns but were overly risky in retrospect; our swift losses are a testament to that.

In short, the Administration’s financial strategy was ambitious at the expense of prudence, and now the shit’s hit the fan. They need to own up to that, and hopefully learn from it in the future. But enough pointing fingers – what do we do now, if not sell the Rose?

Most alternatives are completely infeasible. We aren’t going to cut need-based aid. We aren’t going to drastically hike tuition. We aren’t going to cut 200 hundred more staff, or 275 additional faculty. We aren’t going to close half the buildings on campus. Our student services have been cut to the bone.

In my mind, the only feasible alternative would be to draw from the principle of the University endowment. If we were to so choose, we could make up our budget deficit this way, completely. However, such a decision would not be without consequence. The effects of the current shortfall would linger for longer. It would take several more years for our endowment to grow back to its previous levels. Its unlikely that we’d be able to begin hiring faculty again for some time. The primary financial vision of the current Brandeis Administration – to expand and improve the University by growing the endowment as quickly as possible – would suffer a major setback.

But, we could avoid selling any of the Rose’s collection – a decision many find immoral, unprincipled, and in flagrant disregard of the ethical agreements the University entered into with donors and the American Association of Museums.

However, right now, such a path is impossible. Massachussets law follows the provisions of UMIFA, the Universal Management of Institutional Funds Act. This law prohibits charitable institutions from dipping into the endowment below “the historic dollar value of the [endowment] fund.” Since Brandeis’ endowment has been recently built, most of it is composed of original gifts, not interest on those gifts reinvested into the endowment (this is often the case at older, richer universities). Because of the sudden depreciation in our investments, we have already fallen below the level where we are legally allowed to draw from the endowment.

But, an updated version of the act, UPMIFA (the P stands for prudent), was drafted after the dot com bubble burst tied the hands of charities whose investments had suddenly dropped. UPMIFA allows charitable institutions greater flexibility in their expenditures, and permits them to draw below the principal of their endowment. Since its introduction 2 years ago, UPMIFA has been ratified in 26 states, and has been recently introduced in the Massachussets legislature by a coalition spearheaded by the Massachussets Audobon Society, which lost 26% of its endowment last year. (see the Wall Street Journal article for more details). COO French, in a letter to the Justice quoted in their recent editorial, stated,

UPMIFA … establishes a sounder and more unified basis for management of charitable funds.

But so far, Brandeis has not joined the coalition pushing for the new law. Reinharz and French have also failed to pursue other means of accessing the endowment principle. Charity Governance Consulting provides a primer on these alternative avenues. Essentially, the University could petition the Attorney General’s office to use the doctrine of cy pres to grant the University an exemption from spending restrictions. In fact, this path is explicitly endorsed as a possiblity in current Massachussets law –

If the [Attorney General] finds that the restriction is obsolete, inappropriate, or impracticable, it may by order release the restriction in whole or in part.

Which leads to an intriguing question: If the Administration supposedly endorses the premise of UPMIFA, why has it neither joined the coalition lobbying for its passage nor petitioned the Attorney General’s office to allow us to draw additional funds from our endowment?

Through either path, we’d be released from a financial bind. We’d have more options. But through inaction, the Administration is able to force our hand. Without being able to draw from the endowment, there are no other available options but to sell the Rose’s art, as soon as possible. Since this is the path settled on by the higher-ups in the Administration, it is against their strategic interest to open up viable alternatives.

Now, some would have us believe that drawing from the endowment would threaten the future stability of Brandeis. In the recent student press conference, President Reinharz said something to this effect, via goofy metaphor:

“You can eat your corn seed today. But somebody’s going to suffer in the future. You and I will not be here.”

But in the event that we are suffering an undue amount in the future due to any hypothetical increased endowment draw, the same possibility of selling art still exists. Actually, the pieces will even be worth more, as art markets continue to recover. The only difference is that our crisis mentality will have settled down. It will be even more difficult to sell the idea to the Brandeis community when we aren’t freaking out quite as much. But if we are to make such a permanent and momentous decision, we shouldn’t be shock-doctrined into doing it hastily in crisis mode.

In short – Drawing from the endowment gives us a good alternative and still allows the possibility of selling art (at a probable higher price) if the University is still in desperate need of money. So if you want a solid argument to keep the Rose, start lobbying the Massachussets legislature to review and pass the UPMIFA legislation. Pressure the University Administration to go to the Attorney General and ask if cy pres can be implemented. There is little incentive for the University to act on this without significant pressure. Very soon, I expect a coordinated campaign on campus and among concerned alumni to this effect. Its the obvious next step.

Faculty ask Reinharz to hold off on Rose decision

Some 70 faculty members have signed and sent a letter to President Reinharz, asking him to “consider suspending any final decision about the fate of the Rose Art Museum, pending a full airing of possible alternatives by the Brandeis community.”

The letter comes as a welcom show of support from the faculty for more community involvement in decisions, and serves as a rebuke to the Administration for acting in such a secretive matter. 

Perhaps one thing that could be considered is the possibility of drawing from the endowment principle, which seems to me to be the best feasible fiscal alternative that would leave the University intact. I plan on talking more about this in a future post.

The full letter is below…


An open letter from the Faculty to Pres. Reinharz

February 4, 2009 

Dear President Reinharz,  

Continue reading “Faculty ask Reinharz to hold off on Rose decision”

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”

Did Too Much Debt Cause Brandeis’ Financial Woes?

The following was sent to the editors of Innermost Parts by a recent alumnus of Brandeis, who has been following the news and decided to do some of his own research on Brandeis’ finances. Most of his conclusions come after examining data from this document, the University’s publicly available FY 2007 990 tax form required of all non-profits. We thought his questions were compelling, and hope this post fosters further investigation and research. These are questions that need to be answered.

~ Loki & Sahar


During public conversations about the current state of Brandeis’ financial crisis, much has been discussed about the state of the University’s endowment and its current financial situation. However, none of the articles I have read in the Brandeis press or national press discuss the University’s substantial debt.

Numbers can tell a story. Hard data is necessary to look more deeply into the fiscal health of an organization. Numbers can also raise questions.

Every year all non-profits – including universities – must file 990 forms detailing their financial activities with the IRS. Brandeis last filed its 990 following FY 2007. At that time we were led to believe, from pronouncements in fundraising appeals and in the twice yearly Presidential letters, that the university was the paragon of financial health. Brandeis was in the midst of a successful capital campaign, which was bringing hundreds of millions of dollars into the University.  The financial crisis was not even on the horizon.

Yet that very year, Brandeis was saddled with debt. The University increased its liabilities (by issuing Tax Exempt Bonds and taking on Mortgage Debt) by $67 million, to more than $200 million — a 51% increase in debt in one year.

Continue reading “Did Too Much Debt Cause Brandeis’ Financial Woes?”