The Rose Report: The Big Sidestep

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Okay, I’m back. While I was on the road there was a new development in the ongoing struggle over the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University. To recap: earlier this year, in the depths of the Wall Street meltdown, Brandeis announced that to help cover a huge shortfall in the school’s budget it planned to shut down its art museum and sell the collection. After that announcement set off an uproar the goal was redefined as transforming the museum and possibly selling some work from the collection — a step that would still violate museum association guidelines meant to discourage members from selling art for any purpose other than to buy more art.

Discontent on campus with how Brandeis administrators had handled the decision led to formation of a committee of faculty, administrators and other concerned parties to examine options and make recommendations. The committee is expected to that today. Meanwhile, a preliminary version of their report was recently obtained by the Boston Globe. The Globe‘s Tracy Jan says the committee will recommend that Brandeis keep the museum open to the public, but takes no stand on whether the school should sell art from the permanent collection, which is to say, it ignores the core controversy.

It matters that Brandeis administrators have been saying that they aren’t committed to the sale of any art at all. If that’s true, you have to wonder whether the recent upswing in the stock market — if it continues — may make the whole problem go away. Brandeis first announced the museum closing in late January, when the Dow was bobbling around in the 7000s, about half of where it was at its peak in July 2007, and was headed even lower. This month it’s nudging 10,000 again. Unless Brandeis pulled its endowment entirely out of the market, it should be enjoying a substantial recovery, even if not a complete one. Meanwhile the art market is still not exactly robust, so it remains a poor time to sell. Maybe everybody should just take a deep breath and wait to see whether and by how much the market continues to improve. Maybe it’s time to appoint a blue ribbon commission to study the whole problem. Those are always a good way to stall.

You can find the Boston Globe story here.