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Should Brandeis President Reinharz Be Deaccessioned?

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The strongest commentary yet on the proposed Rose Art Museum dissolution comes from David Bonetti, Brandeis ’69 and veteran art critic of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. His one-word description of his reaction—“fury.”

There’s much more:

The Rose Art Museum, then [when Bonetti attended Brandeis] one of the few museums in the country devoted to contemporary art, was instumental in the development of my interest in art and my subsequent career as an art critic. The highlight of my four difficult years at Brandeis—being a college grad in 1969 on an activist campus was no lark—was the seminar on the New York School I took with the Rose’s director, William Seitz, who had been a legendary curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. To think that other students might not have the opportunity to discover the visual culture of their times at the campus museum makes me very very sad.

And angry. I believe that Jehuda Reinharz should be fired by the board for his gross mismanagement of the university’s endowment.

I don’t know enough about the Brandeis situation to comment on Reinharz’s financial stewardship or lack thereof. But there’s no question in my mind that “gross mismanagement” are the right words to characterize how he’s handled the Rose Museum situation—failure to inform, let alone consult with, the stakeholders before the decision was announced; and injudicious, conflicting pronouncements about the plans, which demonstrated his astonishing lack of understanding or willful disregard of the complexities and consequences of the disposals.

By auctioning its art, Brandeis would be selling off its reputational and educational capital. This wrongheaded plan has opened the door to an investigation by the Attorney General’s office, which will seek to determine which artworks are subject to donor restrictions that could preclude disposal. (This is probably why Reinharz, who must not have fully appreciated this major technicality, is now saying that not all the works will be sold.) Once in the door, the AG could conceivably decide to broaden her investigation to determine whether, as Bonetti alleges, the university’s finances were mismanaged.

But more importantly, the decision to eviscerate one of the university’s great strengths has roiled the artworld and Brandeis’ own donors, who are rightly concerned that hocking some of the institution’s most precious assets would greatly diminish the educational and cultural life of its students.

Interestingly, Brandeis has allowed the Rose’s director, Michael Rush, to post a strong statement on the museum’s website (which is part of the university’s website), expressing his “shock and horror” at the administrators’ decision. Academic freedom rules! Or perhaps Reinharz has yet to notice Rush’s diatribe, on the same website that lauds the disposals as an “important step in the ongoing resource management and allocation process.”

It’s time for the broader Brandeis community to denounce this deplorable decision and the administrator and trustees who made it. What they need is some tough-love donors who will step up with the big bucks, on the condition that the Rose blooms and financial management reforms are instituted.

Not EVERYONE invested with Bernie Madoff!

an ArtsJournal blog