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A not so artful decision

Published: February 26, 2010
Section: Editorials


When the university announced Jan. 22 that the impending academic cuts were to be decided by a Committee, this editorial board thought the powers that be had finally learned their lesson.

After all, many of the university’s public relations blunders can be attributed to a chronic lack of responsible committees.

For example, Jan. 16 of last year, a campus-wide e-mail informed students that merit-based financial aid would no longer apply towards study abroad. The thought was if merit aid was cut, it would save the university from paying outside study abroad programs; and in turn solve a then $800,000 shortfall within the Department of Academic and Financial Services.

That the university had already promised aid could be used for study abroad in acceptance letters to current students on three different scholarships apparently slipped administrators minds.

So after protests by rightfully enraged students, the university created the Study Abroad Committee which allowed current students to use their merit aid for study abroad, but enacted the new rule for future students.

Then, in February of that year, President Jehuda Reinharz announced the university would close The Rose Art Museum and sell its art to close a $80 million budget gap over the next four years.

Again, the lack of committee deliberation proved a mistake. There was public outcry, and an unprecedented media firestorm surrounded the university, plastering our economic woes on front pages nationwide. This prompted Reinharz to backtrack, saying we never wanted to close the museum, but rather sell the art. Again, a committee was formed in order to re-determine the fate of the museum.

So, naturally, when it came to academic cuts, this board thought we were making a step in the right direction—after all, the order was correct; committee first, then decisions.

But, apparently the Brandeis 2020 Committee, in proposing to indefinitely suspend the Master’s of Fine Arts in Theater Design, suffered a case of retrograde amnesia.

Regardless of the merits of or problems with the Theater Design program, it’s naive to think that a campus, and a public, which has not yet recovered from The Rose Art Museum debacle (currently awaiting resolution via a Dec. 2 court date), could see this suspension as anything other than another blatant disregard for arts at Brandeis.

If this proposal is finalized by the board of trustees, it will no doubt again attract media attention that will label it with headlines all to similar to those that followed the initial announcement about The Rose.

The Brandeis 2020 Committee has said the proposal to cut the Theater Design program is financially motivated and does not reflect an animosity towards the arts.

But, again, we refer them to history.

When the university could no longer handle the media’s inquiries following The Rose announcement, they hired a Public Relations firm, Rasky Baerlein, to which they payed $20,000.

That amount may be small change when compared to an $80 million projected deficit over the next four years, but add it to the opportunity cost of a (yet again) battered reputation.

Can we really afford to cut it?