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Deaccession Regulations: NY State Regents Extend (and revise) Temporary Rules

Merryl H. Tisch, Chancellor, NY State Board of Regents

The NY State Board of Regents yesterday bought more time: It unanimously revised and extended its emergency rules on deaccessioning by museums and historical societies, postponing the adoption of final rules, which had previously been planned for this month’s meeting. This is is the latest of six emergency actions on this issue. It will be effective for 60 days, beginning Nov. 14.

In their “Statement of Facts and Circumstances Which Necessitate Emergency Action,” the Regents revealed:

Some 37 institutions in New York in 2006 [can we get an update?] reported deficits of $100,000 or more. The Department is concerned that, in the absence of an express prohibition in Regents rule section 3.27, museums and historical societies in financial distress will deaccession items or materials for purposes of paying their outstanding debt.

What’s new and problematic in the latest version is that the list of allowable reasons for deaccessioning has been sharply curtailed from the longer list in the previous version. This is important because the Regents’ rules say that institutions may dispose of objects ONLY if one or more of the listed criteria are met. In this, the Regents are being far more stringent than the Association of Art Museum Directors, which only SUGGESTS appropriate deaccession criteria, but doesn’t insist upon them.

I’m a hardliner on museum deaccessioning and I do believe that deaccession criteria should be requirements, not suggestions. But even I believe that the Regents are going too far in their decision to DELETE the following reasons why deaccessioning would be acceptable:

—The item has been established as being inauthentic.

—The institution is repatriating the item or returning the item to its rightful owner.

institution is returning the item to the donor, or the donor’s heirs or
assigns, to fulfill donor restrictions relating to the item which the
institution is no longer able to meet.

—The item presents a hazard to people or other collection items.

Perhaps all of the above are deemed by the Regents to be encompassed by the broader provision allowing deaccessions of material “not relevant to the mission of the institution.” I think that the greater specificity of the previous version is necessary.

In the emergency rules just passed, these are the only allowable reasons for deaccessioning by museums and historical societies that are governed by the Board of Regents:

—The item or material is not relevant to the mission of the institution.

—The item or material has failed to retain its identity, or has been lost or stolen and has not been recovered.

—The item or material duplicates other items or material in the collection of the institution and is not necessary for research or educational purposes.

—The institution is unable to conserve the item or material in a responsible manner.

Proceeds from deaccessions may not be used, according to the Regents’ rules, for operating expenses, capital expenses (except for certain designated historic buildings) or payment of debt.

What I AM happy about is the elimination of the previous version’s permission for deaccessions that are intended “to accomplish refinement of collections.” As I previously noted, that broad brush could whitewash a multitude of sins.

So when do we finally get some FINAL action?

The rules’ “Timetable for Implementation” tell us:

We anticipate the Board will pass a permanent rule at a Regents meeting in the near future, after publication in the State Register and expiration of the 30-day public comment period for revised rule making pursuant to the State Administrative Procedure Act.

In the meantime, deaccession legislation is still awaiting action in the state legislature.

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