Fallout from Bernie Madoff's titanic scheme is still unfolding, as was made clear on this week's 60 Minutes report about the search for billions bilked by the New York Ponzi king. Now, it appears that scandal has claimed its highest-profile New England academic casualty with long-time Brandeis University President Jehuda Reinharz unexpectedly announcing his resignation this past week.
Reinharz, who was just one year into his current half-decade contract, does not appear to have been forced to step down after having served 15 years at the prominent Jewish university. His formal correspondence with Brandeis trustees — whom the president informed of his possible retirement this past August, and who are publicly disappointed by the development — makes no specific mentions of financial woes. Nor is there reference to the school's Rose Art Museum, which garnered national attention in late January when trustees unanimously voted to liquidate its treasures to offset a five-year projected deficit of $80 million. Still, Reinharz's decision to step down was almost certainly spurred on by the economic earthquake, which saw Brandeis's endowment reportedly hemorrhage $162 million since last year, and his at times faltering attempts to right the school's grim financial situation.
The shocking announcement to close the Rose, for example, generated widespread criticism and put at risk more than 6000 works, including modern marvels from the likes of Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Though all board members acted to shutter the museum, Reinharz shouldered much of the burden. On February 5, the president issued a half-apology, claiming that the Rose would not be subjected to an immediate fire sale, and part of the $20,000 paid to Boston public-relations firm Rasky Baerlein to tame the ensuing media circus came out of Reinharz's salary.
Even after Reinharz adjusted his story, many voices (including several from this paper) blasted the Rose decision as ill-conceived, charging that such drastic actions should be taken only if absolutely needed to keep the school operating. On campus, students, alumnae, administrators, and faculty members protested and formed the Future of the Rose Committee, which on September 18 issued a report concluding that the Rose "should remain what it is and what it has been since its beginnings: a university art museum open to the public" (the committee did not address whether all or any of the estimated $350 million collection will be sold; that decision rests solely with trustees).
Exactly one week later, Reinharz's resignation was made public; he will remain in office through the 2009—2010 academic year, after which he will pursue philanthropic work with a yet-to-be-named Jewish organization.
Despite controversy that has ensued since the tandem Madoff and global-financial meltdowns compromised Brandeis bank accounts, the campus consensus seems to be that Reinharz's celebrated tenure far outweighs his Rose-related blunder.