Reinharz to Brandeis: “I Screwed Up”

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Another day, another version of just what it is Brandeis plans to do with its Rose Art Museum. Yesterday I was utterly puzzled by a statement that Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz made to the Boston Globe that the university did not plan to close the museum, merely to “transition” it into an education center with an exhibition space. This despite the plain language of the university’s initial press release that it would “close the museum”. Today it emerges that Reinharz sent an e-mail yesterday to Brandeis faculty and students saying, in part, this:

In retrospect, I wish I had handled the initial statements I made in a far more direct way. Unfortunately, those statements did not accurately reflect the Board’s decision authorizing the administration to conduct “an orderly sale or other disposition of works from the university’s collection.” The statements gave the misleading impression that we were selling the entire collection immediately, which is not true. The University may have the option, subject to applicable legal requirements and procedures, to sell some artworks if necessary, but I assure you that other options will also be considered. The Museum will remain open, but in accordance with the Board’s vote, it will be more fully integrated into the University’s central educational mission. We will meet with all affected University constituencies to explore together how this can best be done.

He adds this:

I take full responsibility for causing pain and embarrassment in both of these matters. To quote President Obama, “I screwed up.”

That reference to “affected University constituencies” follows a letter sent to Reinharz Wednesday by Brandeis faculty. The Globe is reporting that the letter, a “sharply worded rebuke”, told him him that the Rose episode had created a “crisis of confidence” among the faculty and urged him to suspend any final decisions on the museum.

All the same, the questions remain — will the Rose continue to be a “museum” as understood by the various museum professional associations, meaning an institution that they expect to adhere to their code of ethics on art sales? And will anybody ever want to donate another work of art to the place if they can’t be sure what it is or will be going into the future?

If I were a cynic, I might even wonder whether the University deliberately issued a misleading press announcement last week saying it would “close” the museum and “sell the collection” so that it could then step back to the position that it would merely sell a few works — a proposal that would then appear to be a trifling matter compared to closing the place and carting everything away.

Good thing I’m not a cynical guy.