Of course, when the entire economy is crumbling, there are no easy solutions. Some will argue that the sacrifice of the Rose is the only way to save Brandeis's legacy. But that just underlines the point that in the current climate, everything is subject to fire sale — including the very legacy by which an institution identifies itself.
“JOHN ARMLEDER: TOO MUCH IS NOT ENOUGH” Will programming like this 2007 show become a relic of Brandeis’s past?
On January 26, Brandeis issued a press release headed: "With vote to close art museum, Brandeis renews 'unwavering' commitment to students, research and academic mission." Brandeis trustees had "voted unanimously to close the Rose Art Museum" and "publicly sell the art collection. . . . Plans call for the museum to close in late summer 2009, and transition into a fine-arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery." The decision was a fait accompli, made without input from the Rose or the broader Brandeis community. Rose staff received word only that afternoon.
Lee says, "On January 26, Jehuda Reinharz, the school president, said to me: 'Jon, I can sell the art or I have to fire 200 out of the 360 faculty. What would you do?' He said to another overseer, 'I can save the art museum, but I will have to close the university.' "
Reinharz, Brandeis executive vice-president and chief operating officer Peter French, provost Marty Wyngaarden Krauss, and board of trustees chairman Malcolm Sherman declined to answer questions for this article. But French has told news outlets and various Brandeis committees that the school faces an $80 million deficit over the next five to six years. In 2007, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, the school's total expenses were $304 million. So that's a $13 million shortfall per year, about a five percent annual deficit. Even if Brandeis had to cut its budget by $20 million a year, it would be able to spend about what it did in 2006 — some $286 million, according to tax records.
The school does rely heavily on proceeds from endowments (down because of the economy) and annual fundraising (ditto, plus the Bernard Madoff scam, which decimated Jewish philanthropy). French has said that as of February the endowment had fallen from $712 million pre-crash to $550 million. Which is a little more than what it was — $495 million, according to tax filings — at the start of 2005. Brandeis's rainy-day fund — said to total $85 million — is believed to be sufficient to cover two years' shortfall.
"We're not facing a life-or-death situation," says Jerry Samet, a Brandeis philosophy professor for nearly 25 years. He chairs the 11-member Future of the Rose Committee, which is exploring options for the museum.
Other cost-saving proposals include cutting 10 percent of the faculty over the next five years, consolidating departments, shrinking PhD programs, increasing enrollment, and closing a swimming pool. The Rose faces the biggest cuts not because it's a financial drain — the museum seems to have been almost entirely self-sufficient — but because it has the assets that are most easily converted into cash.