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“Inappropriate Relationship”: Tom Campbell Must Go; Metropolitan Museum’s Board Must Reform

Two weeks ago, I had suggested that the increasing barrage of negative assessments of Tom Campbell‘s leadership at the Metropolitan Museum might lead him to “decide jointly with the board that it could be best to end his tenure sooner than scheduled” (at the end of June), rather than to prolong “a lame-duck directorship.”

Tom Campbell at Met press breakfast last May
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Now, having read Robin Pogrebin‘s jaw-dropping NY Times exposé (which hit the web this evening), I’m guessing that tomorrow may be desk-cleaning day for the Met’s embattled director: His authority to lead the country’s preeminent art museum, even as a figurehead under President and now interim CEO Daniel Weiss, has been shattered by the Times’ disclosure of allegations that Campbell had a “close personal relationship” with a female employee that had compromised her superior’s ability to “do her job effectively.” It may also be time for a new board chairman, replacing Daniel Brodsky.

According to the Times report, the aggrieved superior, Erin Coburn, then the Met’s chief officer of digital media, had filed a formal complaint about this situation in 2012 and received an undisclosed settlement. According to her LinkedIn page, Coburn, who had previously worked for the Getty Museum as head of collection information and access, is now an “independent consultant, digital strategy for museums & the cultural heritage sector” in the San Francisco Bay area.

Erin Coburn’s LinkedIn photo

Only two of the Met’s trustees were “made aware of [Coburn’s] complaint,” Pogrebin wrote, and the Met took care of the crisis “without the approval or knowledge of the entire board.” The full board was not informed about the Coburn investigation until its chairman, Brodsky, “learned about the impending publication of this article,” Robin wrote.

William Cohan appears to have vaguely alluded to this situation in his recent piece about the Met mess for Vanity Fair:

Another problem was Campbell’s friskiness with certain women on the staff. He had been warned about it early in his tenure but still carried on. More recently a legal action was brought against him and the Met, but it was settled.

It goes without saying that not only Campbell but also the Met’s trustees need to clean up their acts: No more cover-ups; no more important decisions made by key players while the bulk of the board members are kept in the dark. I’m cautiously optimistic that Weiss will make good on his pledge (quoted in the Times) to support a “climate of candor, accountability and mutual respect.”

Robin deserves high praise and respect for her series of award-quality articles exposing the Met’s governance gaffes and helping to spur reform. That said, she essentially outed the staff member who allegedly had the “close personal relationship” to Campbell, notwithstanding Robin’s claim that the Times was “not naming [the staff member] to protect her privacy.” With the details provided in the article, it took me about five minutes to figure out who she was by perusing the staff listings in the Met’s annual reports. So much for “privacy.”

I will not disclose that name, just I never mentioned the name of the woman who figured in David Franklin‘s sudden departure in October 2013 from the Cleveland Museum (even though her identity was widely reported by others). I would not be surprised, though, if other journalists with less discretion connected Robin’s dots and published the name.

For me, what I wrote about Cleveland’s scandal applies equally to the Met: “I’m more interested in what lessons, if any, are here for museums.”

an ArtsJournal blog