A Madoff Sell Off?

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In light of the gruesome news that Brandeis intends to shut down its Rose Art Museum and sell off the entire collection to raise cash, I’m wondering how much of their fire sale mentality is due to the huge hit suffered recently by the Carl & Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation, the Boston-area philanthropy that was a major victim of Bernie Madoff’s giant ponzi scheme.

The Shapiros reportedly lost more than $400 million of their personal fortune. Their foundation, a heavy supporter of Boston-area arts groups and hospitals — and of Brandeis University — is reported to have lost $145 million, about half its assets.

The Foundation issued a statement last month saying that it “plans to fulfill all our current obligations” and stressing its commitment to building back its resources. But for the near term future they probably won’t be in a position to come up with gifts like the $25 million they provided towards the Shapiro Science Center on the Brandeis campus or the $22 million for the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Campus Center.

None of this excuses Brandeis trustees for what they’re planning to do to their own museum, but it might shed some light on their motives.

Meanwhile, here’s a statement I’ll bet Rose Art Museum Director Michael Rush wishes he hadn’t made to the Brandeis alumni magazine two years ago. After telling an interviewer that he planned to have a formal appraisal done to put a dollar value on the museum’s collection, Rush added:

“I’m confident that, after its real estate, art is the university’s largest financial asset, and I want everyone to know it.”

Obviously the trustees got the news.

(Thanks to Scott Jaschik at InsideHigherEd.com for finding that quote and to John Stoehr at Flyover for flagging Jaschik’s find.)

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