Advertise - Print Edition

Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Outside attorney takes harsher tone on Rose Art

Published: August 28, 2009
Section: Front Page

The university’s approach towards opponents of its reconfiguration of the Rose Art Museum has taken a turn from conciliatory to combative, most recently marked by the hiring of former Massachusetts State Attorney General Tom Reilly to serve as outside legal council in a lawsuit filled by three Rose Art Museum benefactors against the university.

After announcing on Jan. 26 that the Board of Trustees had decided to close the museum and sell off its art, university President Jehuda Reinharz insisted in a student press conference held on Feb. 6 that “the Board resolution never talked about selling the [Rose’s] collection.”

At the time, Reinharz’s comments marked the beginning of a change in the university’s public relations strategy, and the press conference came only one day after Reinharz issued a statement taking full responsibility for what he called a “misunderstanding” in the mainstream media about the fate of the Rose Art Museum.

“To quote President Obama,” the press release concluded, “ ‘I screwed up.’”

It seemed the university was taking a conciliatory route to mend ties broken by the media storm that followed Reinharz’s initial announcement.

But when, after four months of trying to work with the university to save the museum three Rose benefactors sued the university to stop the sale of artwork, the administration hired Reilly. In doing so, they once again changed their tactics.

In a July 28 statement released to the press, the newly hired Reilly called the lawsuit “frivolous and without merit,” a position he said the university “look[s] forward to aggressively defending…in court” —a far cry from the “regret” Reinharz expressed five months prior.

Reilly did not respond to requests to comment about his change in tone; however the administration’s decision to hire Reilly as outside council sheds light on the suit at hand.

Spokesperson for the university Dennis Nealon refused to comment on the university’s decision to hire outside council to handle the case in place of Judith Sizer, its in-house general council. Nealon did say, “Tom Reilly is an experienced trial lawyer. It is not uncommon for a university to seek outside staff when it is being sued.”

This feeling was echoed in an e-mail message from Sizer to The Hoot in which she wrote, “in-house university lawyers generally do not handle litigation in the trial courts.”

Sizer also added that she would be aiding Reilly in his work defending the university.

The university did not, however, hire outside council when Sumner Kalman, great-nephew of Brandeis benefactor Julius Kalman, sued in May.

That suit was settled just last week outside of court, with Sizer’s assistance.

The university’s decision to hire Reilly, therefore, could indicate a fear that the Rose plaintiffs are less likely to settle than Sumner Kalman, who told The Hoot he was not interested in a long legal battle.

It could also indicate that the university believes any negotiation with the Rose plaintiffs would be more complicated, and would require a lawyer who knows the ins and outs of Massachusetts State laws, such as a former attorney general.

Nealon would not answer questions about whether Reilly’s role as a former attorney general or as mentor to current Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakly, who is also named in the lawsuit, had anything to do with the decision to hire Reilly.

The university could also feel pressured by the national media attention to the fate of the Rose Art Museum and want more experienced hands to handle the suit, regardless of whether it sees the inside of a court room.

Whatever reason Reilly was hired, his employment has shifted the conversation about the museum.

While in April Provost Marty Krauss formed a Committee for the Future of the Rose—a seemingly conciliatory step that would allow for community input in decisions about the Rose—Reilly’s July 28 statement takes a more combative tone.

“The debate here does highlight a difference between Brandeis and these three Rose overseers,” he wrote. “That is, that the University has a responsibility to provide the very best education and faculty to fulfill its higher educational agenda. Apparently, these three overseers are oblivious to the Brandeis mission.”

Reinharz’s comments at the student press conference in February coincided with the administration’s hiring of the Boston-based public relations firm Rasky Baerlein to help with the handling of the press in the aftermath of Reinharz’ initial announcement that the museum would close.

The university’s contract with Rasky Baerlein ended in May, but Nealon would not say whether this change in tone could be attributed to the end of that contract.

When asked about this change in approach, however, he responded, “of course, we didn’t have the suit back then.”

In her e-mail to The Hoot, Sizer wrote that the “apparent change in ‘tone’ in statements from the University” can be attributed to the fact that “the Rose plaintiffs have chosen to file a lawsuit against Brandeis, which makes some very serious allegations.”

“The University’s counsel is engaged to defend the institution, and can be expected to respond to these allegations actively,” she wrote.

Nealon refused to provide The Hoot with information about Reilly’s compensation from the university. University President Reinharz refused to comment on any of the issues raised in this article.

EDIT: Brandeis did, in fact, employ former Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in its work defending the Kalman suit.