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War of the Rose

Published: February 12, 2010
Section: Features


PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

While the board of trustees was announcing the upcoming academic cuts on Jan. 20, eight fine arts majors were posting signs around campus reminding students of the cut they say was made to their academics one year earlier.

“FYI: The Rose is still FOR SALE,” the signs read.

Last year when the university board of trustees announced the first of its attempts to close the then $80 million budget gap by selling art from The Rose Art Museum, students reacted in one of two ways; they were either outraged that the university would dare touch the “jewel of Brandeis,” or were thankful that the museum, and not academics would be sacrificed.

Now faced with imminent academic cuts, these students say the rest of campus feels what they have felt for more than a year.

“The university is cannibalizing itself,” one said. “A university acts as a storehouse of both knowledge and culture. They already decided to get rid of the culture, next comes the knowledge. After that, all you have is an empty structure.”

This particular fine arts student is sitting in the atrium of the Shapiro Campus Center with her friend. Above them hangs one of their hand-made banners quoting board of trustee member Meyer Koplow ’72 saying “some of the solution [to the budget gap] will come from realizing value ultimately from some of the art at the Rose [Art Museum].”

While their signs are hanging for all to see, the students, who say they are part of the Students Committee for the Rose Art Museum (SCRAM), speak on the condition of anonymity, afraid of backlash from the university’s administration.

“We are uneasy about being attacked for perceived subversive actions,” one explained.

University Provost Marty Krauss, who was in charge of last year’s since disbanded Committee for the Future of The Rose wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that these students’ fears are unfounded.

“Consistent with the provisions of Rights and Responsibilities, students have the right to express their opinions. They should not fear any repercussions,” she wrote.

However, these students said SCRAM was the victim of such attacks last semester when Prof. Shulamit Reinharz (SOC) became angry with the students for dispensing buttons that read “Save The Rose” at the museum’s reopening

At the reopening, Reinharz attempted to “coerce” those wearing the buttons to take them off, and when her actions were published in both The Hoot and the Justice, a secret meeting was held between Reinharz and the students to discuss what had transpired.

The two fine arts students said the “Shula incident” underscores a key problem within the university whenever budget cuts occur.

“People are too caught up in the image of the university and the pro-Brandeis propaganda,” one said.

“The situation has been framed in a way that makes it seem like asking valid, thought-provoking questions poses a threat to the university,” the other agreed. “An effort to save the Rose is an effort to preserve the integrity of our university, not to defame it.”

Part of preserving that integrity, they said, is raising awareness of the state of The Rose Art Museum.

When the two students were asked to describe that state, they responded in unison:

“F*cked.”

The sole full-time employee at The Rose is Managing Director Roy Dawes–the rest of the once six member staff quit after last January’s announcement about the sale of the artwork.

Krauss wrote in an e-mail to The Hoot that the university is currently searching for a new museum registrar, collections manager and educational director.

Several candidates for the registrar and collections manager have been interviewed. “We hope to make a decision soon,” Krauss said in her e-mail. She also wrote the search for a new educational director is “in the early stages. A search committee is being formed” to begin the process.

Additionally, the exhibit shown at the museum’s reopening in October will be the only exhibit at the museum for the rest of the academic year. The museum has also stopped lending out art.

Beyond the museum itself, the university is facing a lawsuit filed in July by three museum donors to prevent the sale of art from the museum. The suit will go to trial on Dec. 3, but if the university wins the suit, both Koplow and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Apfel have previously stated that the board of trustees intends to use the art in order to help solve the university’s budget woes.

Additionally, the Massachusetts State Attorney General’s Office started an investigation on any potential sale of artwork from the museum in October.

The attorney general’s office declined to comment on the state of the investigation.

Meryl Rose, a plaintiff in the case against the university, said she was glad to hear about the students’ efforts to raise awareness about the state of The Rose on campus.

“I’m glad they are not fooled by the university saying ‘The Rose is reopened,’” she said.

When the initial announcement about the sale of The Rose’s artwork was made last January, the museum was promptly flocked with hundreds of students wanting to support the museum which culminated in a protest, which recently received the New England Art Award for “Public Exposure.”

Now, as other, more across the board, budget cuts threaten the university, the number of students concerned about the museum has shrunk markedly.

“Society frames it that art isn’t as important as academics,” one of the students said. “So when it comes time to choose, a lot of students say ‘yeah, sell the art.’ But I’m an art student. The art at The Rose is my academics.”

For that reason, the students, though fewer in number, are still working toward “saving The Rose.”

The students hope to soon start a docent program at the museum in which members of the Waltham and Brandeis communities could give and take tours of the museum.

“My hope is that if we continue to raise awareness, other departments would be able to empathize with what we’ve been going through and not attempt to save themselves by sacrificing the art,” one said. “That’s the sort of mentality that started this problem in the first place.”