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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose controversy left lasting shadow

Published: October 28, 2011
Section: Editorials

Celebrating the reopening of The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis community members talked about a new era for the university this week. But as much as the Rose debacle resonated with the arts community, the lessons of the crisis that followed resonated with many others who were unfamiliar and uninterested in the role of the arts at Brandeis.

What the university made clear in 2009 was that the original decision to close The Rose never considered the artwork. It was about an organization trying to close a budget deficit during a global recession, an institution trying to weigh the trade-offs between laying off workers, cutting academic departments and selling art to rescue finances.

Then-President Jehuda Reinharz and management focused on the financial reasoning of the decision, not the wide-ranging impact on the community. The lesson from The Rose is clear: When leaders make decisions they need to listen to a wide range of voices and not just from their closest advisers. Had university leaders and trustees solicited feedback from the arts community before they announced their decision to sell the art, Brandeis would have been prepared for the response that followed and perhaps it would have conveyed or crafted it differently.

The Rose controversy also taught the university that communication and transparency, whether to students or alumni, is crucial for community members to feel connected. The original idea to sell the art was poorly thought out but its reasoning was not. Like all other institutions, in 2009 Brandeis was forced to make difficult decisions in order to account for unexpected and expanding losses of revenue.

Decisions must me based on what is best for the university and that includes the impact it has on all people associated with the school. While financial stability is undoubtedly tied to the success and progress of universities, so to is it tied to the pride students and alumni have in their school.

For students both in and outside of the arts community, the Rose debacle shifted the focus of Brandeis so far from what we want our vision and image to be in the world. Now, we are just grateful to close the Rose chapter, mindful of the lessons that came with it, and continue to rebuild Brandeis’ image and influence in society.