In that case, Brandeis would likely be ostracized by the industry groups that police museum behavior — the American Association of Museums, the Association of Art Museum Directors. The Rose might have difficulty borrowing works for exhibitions, and that could be the death of its programming. Then again, these institutions are like the UN: everyone's quick to criticize, no one wants to level sanctions. Expect the fallout to last maybe five years. But already the decisions are driving away staff. (Rose education director Emily Mello is leaving on her own.) What curator would go there now?

And donors will have longer memories. When you're giving your own money or your own heirlooms, you're personally invested. You're not likely to make a donation that might get pawned. Future gifts to Brandeis — and other institutions — will surely come with restrictions.

Lee hopes the Rose board members will stick together and persuade administrators to save the collection. But the only way to achieve a different outcome might be with different Brandeis leadership. The present administrators are in a precarious position. If they ignore the Future of the Rose Committee's recommendations, they could face a no-confidence vote from faculty. If the Rose decision drives away donations to the school, that could be their undoing.

It may be a year before it's clear whether art will be sold. "I hope in my heart of hearts that it doesn't happen at all," says Dawes. "If it does happen, it's going to be a very, very small number of pieces. And it will only happen if this economy continues to decline and the endowments continue to decline."

If no art winds up getting sold, why we were put through this trauma in the first place? And either way, will Brandeis be forgiven? Much will depend on the degree to which we're all hurt by the global recession. But if an institution, in order to survive, has to sell what it was given in trust — in other, words, to say, "We can't afford integrity" — what does that say about where we all are?

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Related: Brandeis shutters art museum, It's a shandeh!, Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz steps down, More more >
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