Brandishing an Apology

Ashley Thorne

"The decision to close the art museum and sell its holdings was not taken to the faculty or faculty committees for a vote or recommendation,” noted Scott Jaschik last week, reporting on Brandeis’s announcement that the university would sell all of its Rose Art Museum collection.

Today, a new story is out: over 60 Brandeis professors wrote a letter confronting the administration’s failure to consult the faculty in the matter. The Boston Globe reprinted an excerpt from the letter:

When transparent and accountable governance is circumvented — anywhere in the university, we all suffer. When that breach of process results in adverse publicity for the university as a whole, as well as serious damage to the intellectual work undertaken by our colleagues in fine arts and their students, we all feel threatened. The university’s deserved reputation as a beacon for both social justice and intellectual integrity is at stake here.

NAS stands for intellectual integrity, not only in the classroom and the curriculum, but also across the campus. We are heartened to read statements like these, to see faculty assert its rights and challenge the administration to be transparent in its proceedings. We applaud the Brandeis faculty’s boldness, and we hope that professors at other institutions will be encouraged by their example.

The day after he received the letter from the faculty, Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz sent an email in which he apologized for “causing pain and embarrassment.” He invoked the ethos of our new national leader: “To quote President Obama, ‘I screwed up.’” Also in the email, Reinharz promised to “meet with all affected university constituencies to explore together how this can best be done.”

We are glad to see such frankness on the part of President Reinharz. It would be nice if the administration would extend similar cordiality to Brandeis professor Donald Hindley.

Meanwhile, all inquiries regarding the Rose Art Museum are now being directed to Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications, a public relations company.

Teresa Mangum, professor of Victorian literature and culture at the University of Iowa, commented on today’s Inside Higher Ed article about universities’ tendency to turn to PR professionals to handle sticky situations:

When universities make judgments that provoke protests, administrations are increasingly turning to professional, external firms to craft “communication strategies.” This choice creates even greater distance between the top levels of administration and faculty, staff, and students. As a faculty member, I long to see presidents, provosts, and deans communicate and consult more directly with their colleagues—through faculty and staff governance groups—and to engage them actively in decision-making.

Interestingly, the controversy about the university’s art museum unfolded concurrently with the first annual “Just Arts” faculty and staff art exhibit, which was held on campus in late January. More than 30 faculty and staff members displayed their own photography, sculpture, and paintings in the exhibit.

P.S. We still haven't heard from you on how you view the sale of Brandeis University's art collection. You can vote (A, B, or C) by leaving a comment on this article or our previous one.

A) Brandeis should sell those Warhol soup cans or whatever. They call that art? 

B) It’s too bad, but when you weigh the financial needs of Brandeis against the educational and cultural value of the collection, it’s the right choice.

C) For shame Brandeis! The loss will leave a gaping hole in Brandeis’s reputation.

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