Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Warning: this post is probably not interesting to anyone who didn't go to Brandeis University. Don't read if not interested in hearing a rant about where I went to school.

I had another post planned until a Gmail away message caught my eye:

Brandeis to sell school's art collection

Brandeis is my alma mater and all Brandeisians (is that what we're called?) know that the Rose Art Museum is an internationally acknowledged modern art museum. However, modern art is not really my thing and I was only there once with kids from Waltham (the town where Brandeis is located, right outside of Boston) who came to Brandeis for after school tutoring (I was a tutor, so I got to go too). But having the Rose around always seemed kind of "cool," this abstract idea that we had this neat museum on campus that people wanted to visit.

Or did they? I don't know that the Rose actually gets all that many off campus visitors, and in the article President Reinharz calls it "a hidden jewel." Guess modern art in Waltham isn't much of a draw (although Boston in general tends to have a dearth of modern art, I suppose enthousiasts content themselves with the MoMA and the Tate).

Brandeis is in a huuuuuge financial pinch right now. Already they made the decision to not fix our pool and cut the swimming and diving team, and they are looking at cutting faculty by 10%, making changes to the structure of majors and minors, the curriculum, study abroad options, number of students on campus, amount of toilet paper in the bathrooms... basically, we are desperate for money. And why so desperate you may ask? Clearly the current economic crisis has a lot to do with the pinch. And then there's a certain Bernie Madoff who wiped out the fortunes of many of our big donors, including Carl and Ruth Shapiro, who have donated the money for literally half of the buildings on campus, including the new student and science centers.

Personally, I would rather the university get rid of some art than our professors. You can't have an internationally renowned university without a teaching staff. Our current student to faculty ratio is 1:8, which I think is fantastic and I know I certainly took advantage of and benefitted from that while I was there. Academics must remain the core of the university. Essentially Brandeis has to choose between cutting back and finding ways to raise capital. It's a tragic decision to have to make, and unfortunately because of the economic crisis the paintings won't fetch as much money as they otherwise would.

I'm pretty shocked that this is going to happen. This isn't like hearing your old school is building a new dorm or that they tore down the mildewing old lecture hall. This is an icon of Brandeis that will no longer be there, the complete liquidation of a 6,000 piece art collection. Totally gone.

BUT I am severely unhappy about the lack of transparency in the current discussions about cuts at Brandeis and especially the fact that students have not been included at all in these decisions, decisions that affect current, former, and future students who pay a pretty penny to go to school there. The administrators were already on this path while I was still at Brandeis; at one point they discussed shutting down the Classics Major in favor of more popular business-type programs and in general reducing the influence and prominence of the liberal arts at Brandeis. I really doubt sometimes that they understand the importance of a broad based education, a broad based university that exhibits excellence in all subjects, not just majors that happen to be trendy this decade. Long before there was any talk of American predominance, long before the other half of the world knew America existed, there were the empires of Rome, Greece, and Persia who lit up the world with art and philosophy and literature, the things that stay forever, the things that continue to influence our society after thousands of years. I think certain administrators need to stop taking a page out of the Bush Administrative Ethics Book and take a look at Obama for some inspiration. Secrets are out, openness is in. If there's anything we should have learned from the Madoff scandal it's that it is not all about the money. There are higher considerations.

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