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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Rose benefactors sue university

Published: July 28, 2009
Section: Front Page

UPDATE: The Supreme Judicial Court of Massechusetts decided yesterday (August 5th, 2009), it will not hear the law suit filed by three Rose Art Museum benefactors against the university. The highest court in Massachusetts transfered the case to the Suffolk probate court.

-You can find an official copy of the complaint here

Three benefactors of the Rose Art Museum filed a law suit yesterday to prevent Brandeis University from closing the museum, selling any part of its 7,183 piece collection or using any part of its endowment for other purposes.

The suit, filed by benefactors Jonathan Lee, Lois Foster and Meryl Rose, has been called “frivolous and without merit” in a statement by Thomas Reilly, outside council for the university.

The suit comes almost six months after university President Reinharz’s Jan. 26 announcement that the Board of Trustees had voted to close the museum and sell its artwork in order to help offset the university’s projected $80 million budget gap over the next five years.

Reinharz later retracted that statement, saying the university planned to simply convert the museum into an educational arts center for students and faculty, and later, university Provost Marty Krauss announced the formation of a Future of the Rose Committee to decide the museum’s fate.

President of the museum’s board of overseers Jonathan Lee and plaintiff in the case summarized the suit’s intended message in just five words: “It’s not theirs to sell.”

The plaintiffs have asked the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the university from closing the museum or selling its work while the suit is argued in court.

If the court finds in favor of the plaintiffs, it would issue a court order making the preliminary injunction permanent.

The complaint also hopes the court will “order Brandeis to turn over the artwork and endowment funds to [an] appropriate organization” that would manage the museum and act in the Rose’s interest as opposed to that of the university.

The complaint argues that such an order should be issued on the grounds that any and all donations to the museum since its inception in 1961 were made with the reasonable assumption that they would forever be a part of “a public art museum.”

One key factual discrepancy between the complaint and the statement issued by Reilly, the university’s council, is who funds the Rose.

Reilly wrote in his statement that “The Rose Art Museum is a part of Brandeis University and represents four tenths of one percent of the University budget. Their endowment is part of the Brandeis endowment.” The plaintiffs argue that the Rose is entirely self-sufficient.

Lee said in a phone interview that he fears Reilly’s statements mean the university “has been pulling from the Rose endowment and using it towards other purposes.”

The outcome of the case could hinge on the court’s understanding of the relationship between the Rose and the university. If the court finds that the museum is indeed part of Brandeis, and that the university is responsible for managing the Rose, the plaintiff’s case that the art is not Brandeis’ to sell could be severely damaged.

The suit comes just one week after the university reopened the Rose building of the museum with the exhibit “Numbers, colors and texts: Works from the collection.”

However, Meryl Rose, member of the museum’s board of overseers and plaintiff in the suit, said that this exhibit is “a sham,” citing the museum’s halved staff (it now operates with only three staff members).

“People say that everything’s going to be okay, that everything’s going to be fine because the university backed off and has an exhibit up,” Rose said in a phone interview. “But they really haven’t. This exhibit is irrelevant. They have so destroyed this museum. We are all so heart broken and devastated.”

Reilly, who is former Massachusetts Attorney general and who will be representing the university in lieu of its in house general council Judith Sizer, wrote in his statement that the university’s primary responsibility when it comes to funding is toward providing its students with a quality education.

“Apparently,” he wrote, “These three overseers are oblivious to the Brandeis mission.”

Reilly concluded his statement saying that the university “look[s] forward to aggressively defending our position in court.”

This lawsuit is the second suit of the summer against the university.

On May 7, Sumner Kalman, nephew of Brandies donor Julius Kalman, filed for a court injunction against the university that would prevent the demolition of the Julius Kalman Science Center.

Initially, the Kalman Science Center was scheduled to be demolished this June in order to make way for a new science building, which in conjunction with the newly built Carl Shapiro Science Center would complete plans for a new science facility. No donor has been secured for that project.

In May, Kalman told The Hoot that he did not believe his suit was related to any potential suit involving the Rose Art Museum; however, he did say “there just seems to be a general disconnect between the university and its donors.”