Update on the closure of the Rose Art Museum and Brandeis U.

In late January, Danya shared a post with us about Brandeis deciding to sell off holdings in the Rose Art Museum and close it down.  I was recently having a discussion with a classmate who is a Brandeis alum and he said that the situation was not as severe as the NYT made it sound and a little more complicated.  Here’s a letter to alumni from the Brandeis University President which he sent along to me explaining the situation in a little more detail.

Dear Brandeis Alumnus/a,
It has been more than a month since our initial announcement concerning the Rose Art Museum. With that in mind, I write today hoping to provide you with further insight into the University’s decisions regarding the Rose and the financial challenges confronting our alma mater. I expect this FAQ briefing (see below) will clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding these issues.
As we move forward, I plan to keep you informed about the steps the University is taking to respond to the worldwide economic turmoil. I need each of you as alumni, donors, and ambassadors to step forward to help Brandeis through this difficult period.
The last month has not been easy for our Brandeis family, but I am convinced that we will emerge as a stronger university poised for continued greatness in the years ahead.
Jehuda Reinharz, PhD ’72, President

click below to view the full letter

Brandeis FAQ: Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
Q. What is the situation involving the Rose Art Museum?
A. Unfortunately, there has been a great deal of misinformation circulating in the media regarding the Rose. The facts are:

1. The Rose is NOT going to close. The Board of Trustees voted to keep the Rose open as a teaching and exhibition gallery that is even more fully integrated into University life and the academic enterprise. A faculty-student-trustee committee is looking into ways to accomplish this goal. We envision a day when the Rose will host additional events, welcome more visitors from both on and off campus, and exhibit student and faculty art alongside some of the collection’s notable works. We are pleased to share the news that a donor recently stepped forward to help fund the continued operations of the museum.
2. The Board of Trustees voted to authorize Brandeis to sell a limited number of pieces in the collection — if the need arises in the future. Nothing will be sold into the currently depressed art market.

Q. How has the worldwide economic turmoil affected Brandeis?

A. Like all colleges and universities across the country, Brandeis is feeling the effects of the global financial downturn. The value of our endowment has fallen, the forecast for fundraising is unclear, and student financial-aid needs have grown (more than 70 percent of Brandeis students currently receive financial aid, and the number is expected to increase).
All institutions — from the wealthiest to the most modest — have seen their endowments decrease in value, some reportedly by as much as 40 percent or more. Because we generally invest more conservatively than our peers, the Brandeis endowment is down about 25 percent from its peak of more than $700 million.
Since no one is sure when the worldwide economic situation will turn around, the University administration is taking a conservative approach and projecting that Brandeis will be facing operating budget shortfalls for as many as five years.

Q. Why is Brandeis particularly vulnerable to this economic downturn?

A. Because we are such a young institution (some of our peers had a head start of a century or more), the endowment funds Brandeis has raised in recent years have not had the time and sustained favorable market conditions in which to appreciate gains. In fact, the University has only recently been able to build a modest “rainy day” fund.
Like most of our peers, Brandeis has historically drawn about five percent of the endowment for current operations (more than $35 million in recent years). However, many of the recently established endowment funds are now “underwater” — worth less now than the day they were created — so there are no gains. Massachusetts state law prohibits us from dipping into the endowment’s principal.
The endowment proceeds that have traditionally supported students, faculty, academic programs, and other needs now must come from other sources.

Q. What is the University doing to address the budget situation?

A. While some colleges and universities are only now confronting the new economic realities, we began to take decisive steps to reduce costs in the middle of last year. All decisions are being made to ensure that the academic enterprise is not compromised and that Brandeis remains accessible and affordable to all students. Among the moves we made to reduce costs:

1. We indefinitely delayed the second phase of the Science Complex Renewal Project and halted all capital projects that were not fully funded.
2. Brandeis cut operating budgets, implemented a hiring freeze for faculty and staff, froze faculty and staff salaries for fiscal year 2010, and eliminated 74 staff positions (six percent of staff).

Additionally, the new Curriculum and Academic Restructuring Steering Committee, which is comprised of faculty and chaired by the dean of Arts and Sciences, is looking at a wide range of possible changes in academic programs and departmental structures to achieve maximum efficiency while ensuring that Brandeis retains its reputation for undergraduate educational excellence, remains competitive and distinctive, and holds a special appeal for talented students.

Q. Will these measures be enough to solve the University’s financial problems?

A. Even with available reserves to support operations for the next 18 months and the latest round of budget reductions, Brandeis may need to identify additional ways to reduce expenses or raise money. One of the revenue-raising options being considered is selling a limited number of works from the Rose’s collection, if necessary.

Q. Will the University’s future be as bright as its past?

A. Brandeis is taking the necessary steps to ensure that the University preserves the educational and research reputation that has been so painstakingly created over the past sixty years. Brandeis has accomplished a great deal in its history, including being ranked in the top tier of the nation’s colleges and universities. The University has experienced difficult times in the past and emerged even better than before. With the guidance of our dedicated faculty, skilled Board of Trustees, committed senior administration, and devoted alumni and friends, the University will come out of this challenging period as a stronger institution.

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