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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Selling the Rose about more than just money

Published: February 6, 2009
Section: Opinions

Most of the complaints about the probable demise of the Rose Art Museum so far have been regarding the ethical or financial blunders of the Board of Trustees and other senior administrators, or the possible illegality of this rash decision. While those are valid and perhaps controversial points, mine is a different one all together. I view the sale of the Rose collection not just as a shocking and disheartening event, but as a symptom of an unsettling problem not only at Brandeis, but with the entire educational system.

Many of the arguments for selling off the collection in an effort to save Brandeis from severe financial hardship regard the museum as a cultural asset, but not something otherwise valuable to academia. There has been much ado about preserving what this university is really about – the academics. While I agree that academics are Brandeis’s greatest strength, and should be, why is it that art is not considered to be part of that arena? Chemistry majors study the equations and discoveries of past scientists, and Art majors study the history and techniques of past artists. Why is it that one would be considered higher learning while the other is often scoffed at as only a hobby?

It is because the university system (not just at Brandeis) values certain disciplines over others. It is not difficult to figure out which are suffering. We (at least, fellow alumni and faculty) all remember how close we were to eliminating the Classics department four years ago. I am not sure why this favoritism occurs, as at one time, in order to be considered educated, one would be required to know Greek, Latin, French, and basically all the literature that existed at the time. These were not just subjects; they were necessities. Now everything we do is about money: trading money, earning more money with money we already have, risking other people’s money. And whatever can get us more of it, well, that is what will be studied. And that is where the universities and donors will put all of their money as well. It’s all about profit in the hand, not in the mind.

I’m not trying to put down any of those math, science, and economics majors who truly enjoy learning those subjects; I’m merely pointing out that there is a certain stigma assigned to those of us who choose to study in fields that are often not financially rewarding. I am certain that at least twenty people have asked me what I will do in life with my degree in English and Creative Writing. You know, besides teaching, which is demeaned as a vocation that is reserved only for those who fail at everything else in life. The same goes for my boyfriend, who earned his degree in Classics, and my sister, who has hers in Studio Art. We are constantly told that we only chose our majors because we weren’t capable of doing math, which is about as valid as saying that physics majors chose their fields because they couldn’t read or write.

We get it. We are going to be living in cardboard boxes on street corners. Even Facebook tells us so. Our society values business and technological skills much more highly than it does creative ones. We care more about Bill Gates than William Shakespeare, more about our Macs than Magritte. And while I have grown to expect such dichotomies within our society, I hold Brandeis, and the educational system, to a higher standard.

Yet while in search of MFA programs my senior year, Brandeis provided me with very little guidance. There were workshops for medical school applications and sessions for law school information, but very little for anything else. Internship options, especially paid ones, were scarce, and the competition was stiff. Career fairs for the arts and humanities were a joke. Even those fairs implied that we should give up hope and head to law school. I attended a session for graduate school hopefuls, only to receive vague information about things that really did not apply to me and to pick up a pamphlet on how to look for programs on the internet. The only real help I got was by meeting with the English/Creative Writing faculty, who took pity on me and my struggles.

Selling the art donated, which had been for educational purposes collection and closing down the Rose are just two more steps to drowning out the humanities and arts altogether. I’m disappointed not only in the sleight-of-hand manner in which this decision was made, but also in the implications it has for the university’s priorities. In a nation that is driven by greed, I had hoped Brandeis would stick to its values, and remain a true school for liberal arts.