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Fighting Words: Randolph College Responds to AAMD’s Censure

Randolph College President John Klein

The Association of Art Museum Directors has now posted online the link to its June 22 letter to Randolph College President John Klein, reaffirming AAMD’s previous censure of deaccessions (past and possibly future) by the Maier Museum of Art, Lynchburg, VA, to raise funds for the college’s general financial needs.

Now Klein has responded to AAMD’s missive.

In a message sent this morning to faculty and staff, Klein noted that “the letter from the AAMD will be reported in the media.” (Actually, it was already reported yesterday, in my last CultureGrrl post. Liz Barry of the Lynchburg News & Advance picked up on the story today.)

“We would like our community to understand that the AAMD does not have
jurisdiction over the College and did not ask its members to stop
participating in exhibits with the College,” Klein observed. It seems that, from his standpoint, AAMD’s stern admonishment is very easy to ignore.

I have a query in to AAMD’s president, Dan Monroe, which I sent him yesterday, asking: “Since you’re not imposing sanctions, what leverage do you have
over Randolph College? What future action might AAMD take to follow
up on the letter and encourage the college to take it seriously?”

If I hear back, I’ll update here.

In keeping with Randolph’s astonishing statement (as reported by AAMD representatives who visited campus) that the Maier Museum, notwithstanding its name, is not a museum, Klein’s letter to faculty and staff refers only to “the College’s collection,” never using the M-word. Maybe they should now rename their art repository the Maier Mausoleum, since its artworld reputation is dead.

Randolph College’s Maier Museum

Although AAMD has not gone so far as to instruct its constituents to entirely shun the Maier (as it had done with the National Academy), I suspect the association’s members will be less than eager to cooperate with an institution that flouts professional standards.

We can only hope that the Association of Academic Museums and Galleries (of which the Maier is not a member, according to the listing on AAMG’s website) will also reaffirm its 2008 condemnation of the Randolph disposals, and that other organizations and educational leaders whose opinions may hold more sway over Randolph’s president will forcefully weigh in.

Most important will be the force of public opinion, particularly that of the college’s own constituents and its surrounding community. They should not remain silent in the face of Klein’s intransigence. In April, a group of Randolph students staged a protest against possible future sales of artworks, to show “we haven’t forgotten,” in the words of a sophomore.

Here’s Klein’s letter:

Dear Colleagues,

The College received a letter late last week from the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) informing us of its decision to censure the actions taken nearly four years ago to sell four paintings from the College’s collection for the purpose of increasing the College’s endowment. It is important to note that the College is not a member of the AAMD, nor is the College eligible to become a member.

Randolph College has been engaged in a dialogue with the AAMD since mid-2010 in an effort to open conversation about this issue and explain the College’s position. While we are disappointed in the AAMD’s decision to voice its disapproval of the College’s decision to sell art, we respectfully disagree with the organization’s reasoning [my links, not his]. We understand that the AAMD is dedicated to protecting its interests, but Randolph College’s Board of Trustees is also charged with protecting the interests of this College and our future.

Our board members have a fiduciary responsibility to make the best decisions for the future of Randolph College as an educational institution. The decisions they made four years ago—however painful—were the best decisions for the College then, and they remain the best decisions for the College today. Members of the Board of Trustees and I have met with representatives of the AAMD and have shared information about the progress the College has made, as well as the importance of the College’s art collection.

Randolph has a remarkable collection of artwork that provides unique opportunities for our students. The artwork owned by the College continues to be a part of the educational experience here and is an important part of our future.

The letter from the AAMD will be reported in the media, and we would like our community to understand that the AAMD does not have jurisdiction over the College and did not ask its members to stop participating in exhibits with the College.

Randolph College has made great progress in every aspect of college life during the past four years. The College is on a real upswing and seeing growth and other positive results, including the current $6 million Student Center renovation, which has been funded completely by alumnae donors. However, it will take several years for the College to grow to its enrollment goal of 1,100. The sale of artwork is one part of a long-term financial plan that will allow the College to preserve its future and enhance the educational opportunities it offers to students. The end result of the hard decisions we have made will be a better college with a brighter future.

We will continue to keep the community informed.

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