Brandeis University on the Brink
[Brandeis University is a private research university with a liberal arts focus, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, United States. It is located in the southwestern corner of Waltham, nine miles (14 km) west of Boston. The University has an enrollment of approximately 3,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. In 2008, it was ranked by the U.S. News and World Report as the number 31 national university in the United States.
Brandeis was founded in 1948 as a coeducational institution on the site of the former Middlesex University. The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, founded in 1959, is noteworthy for its graduate programs in social policy, social work, and international development.
The university is named for the first Jewish Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856–1941).Brandeis sponsors the Wien International Scholarship for international undergraduate students.]
In a Daily Beast exclusive, a top Brandeis official opens up about the university’s financial collapse—including a potential $79 million deficit. The stark choice: Fire more than half of the faculty or sell the Rose art collection.
Brandeis University, which claims Irving Howe, Thomas Friedman, Christie Hefner and Walt Mossberg among its alums—and trustees such as Michael Steinhardt, Vartan Gregorian, and John Rosenwald—has incurred the wrath of the art world for deciding to shut down its Rose Art Museum and sell off its famed collection, which was valued at $350 million in 2007.
Other museums have sold off works before but never a whole collection. And selling into a down market struck some people as irresponsible.
No one could understand why, with what was said to be a $10 million operating deficit over five years, the university’s trustees would take such a drastic step. Even the museum’s director went on attack, saying the Rose, which according to the university’s own website “houses what is widely recognized as the finest collection of modern and contemporary art in New England,” not only pays its own way but contributes to the university’s funds. The collection, largely donated over the years, includes seminal works by Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Morris Louis, Matthew Barney, Cindy Sherman, and Richard Serra, among others.
But in an exclusive interview, Peter French, Brandeis’s chief operating officer, explained that the university’s situation is far more dire than it appeared in news accounts, which extrapolated the $10 million figure from published documents. He objected to the word “bankrupt,” but what would you call an institution with a projected deficit of $79 million over the next six years, a tapped-out reserve fund, a shrunken endowment and “quite a number” of big donors hit hard by the Madoff scandal?
Brandeis has already cut expenses and staff this year and last, and raised tuition and fees. French said the alternative now was either a drastic shrinking of the university or selling the art. Faced with the prospect of closing 40 percent of the university’s buildings, reducing staff by an additional 30 percent, or firing 200 of its 360 faculty members—any of which, French said, would drastically change the university’s mission and essentially cripple it—“We’d rather use Rose.”