The threat has now become reality.
Three trustees of the Rose Art Museum—Jonathan Lee, the board’s chairman; Meryl Rose of the eponymous Rose family, and Lois Foster, for whom a wing of the museum is named—yesterday filed suit against Brandeis University in Massachusetts’ Supreme Judicial Court for Suffolk County.
Here’s what the plaintiffs want the judge to do:
—Issue a preliminary injunction preventing Brandeis University from closing the Rose, selling any artwork in its possession, or using any of the Rose’s endowment funds, without further order of the Court.
—Enter an order declaring that Brandeis may not close the Rose Art Museum.
—Enter an order declaring that Brandeis may not sell any artwork of the Rose Art Museum except…for the purpose of purchasing new artwork.
—Enter an order that the artwork, endowment and other funds donated for use…of the Rose Art Museum…may not be claimed, taken or used by Brandeis for any purpose other than the continued benefit of the Rose Art Museum.
—In the alternative…, order Brandeis to turn over the artwork and endowment funds to the Rose Preservation Fund, Inc. [a nonprofit corporation created by the plaintiffs], or another appropriate organization, in order to further, as nearly as possible, the intent of Edward and Bertha Rose and of those many donors who followed their lead.
Foster also seeks the return of funds with which she endowed the museum’s directorship (there no longer is a director), and she wishes to rescind her pledge of $1.8 million that was intended to further endow that position. The plaintiffs say that cash-strapped Brandeis “is seeking to enforce” Foster’s pledge.
Also named as a defendant in the suit is Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, “solely in her official capacity….The Attorney General’s understanding of the issues and willingness to hear out both sides are greatly appreciated, but efforts to settle the dispute failed.”
The plaintiffs contend:
In late June 2009, Brandeis’ real plan became obvious, namely, to change the make-up of the overseers [museum's trustees], packing it with new members friendly to Brandeis’ administration, to convince those members of the overseers with whom the [university's] president [Jehuda Reinharz] had strong personal relationships to give up their opposition, to threaten to sell off some donors’ artwork while protecting the donations of others, and to arm-twist in order to try to remove any oppposition to Brandeis’ plan to sell off valuable artwork.
Despite all this turmoil, the museum on Wednesday opened an exhibition devoted to Alfred Jensen and related artists (to Sept. 20), curated by Roy Dawes, director of museum operations. Brandeis eliminated the position of the museum’s director, Michael Rush, effective June 30.
You can find the entire brief filed by the plaintiffs (12 pages, plus voluminous exhibits) here.