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Brandeis has rehired two of the Rose Art Museum’s five staffers and scheduled a show from the permanent collection, which will open this summer. The Future of the Rose Committee, formed in March, released a six-page report today. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)

The committee charged with examining Brandeis University’s controversial decision to change the Rose Art Museum’s mission and sell some of its art issued a vote of confidence for the beleaguered administration and made no push to save director Michael Rush’s job, according to an interim report released today.

The Future of the Rose Committee, formed in March in response to widespread criticism of the university’s plan to turn the museum into a student-based arts center and sell art to make up for budget deficits, praised the administration in the six-page report and expressed hope that Brandeis has “stepped back from the precipice.”

But Rose supporters have disparaged the committee, which is led by philosophy professor Jerry Samet. They say the administration refused to install as members people recommended by Rush and Jonathan Lee, chairman of the museum’s board of overseers.

“It reminds me of something like a Stalinesque show committee,” said Lee, chairman of the Rose’s board of directors. “These are all hand-picked people by the administration. We didn’t get to pick who represents us.”

The university announced in January its intention to transform the museum into an educational art center and sell some of the artwork. The announcement spurred an international uproar and vehement protests. Rush’s contract is up at the end of June and it will not be renewed.

Last week at least 30 professors signed a letter of protest, saying that Rush should be kept in the position.

Lee said he wasn’t surprised by the interim report, issued late yesterday, which largely sets the stage for a continued examination of the Rose and a final report to be issued in the fall. He also questioned the administration and committee’s contention that the Rose remains a viable museum when director Rush’s tenure is set to end in two months.

There isn’t going to be a director or curator,” said Lee. “Nobody is going to lend us a picture for a show and we are not going to in any way be able to put a show together.”

In the report, the committee said the university’s Board of Trustees will decide whether to sell the art. “We assume that whatever decisions the board makes regarding such sales, there will remain a substantial collection of art to be preserved and made available for research, study, and cultivation,” the report states.

Over the next few months, the committee will get input from faculty, students, Rose supporters, Brandeis trustees, and outside specialists before issuing a final report in the fall.

Since announcing it would close the Rose in January, Brandeis has been trying to restore its reputation as a school that values the arts. It hired a local public relations firm and restated its intentions for the Rose. The university still reserves the right to sell artworks, but is examining how to keep the Rose open. While Rush’s contract runs out June 30, Brandeis has rehired two of the Rose’s five staffers and scheduled a show from the museum’s permanent collection to open this summer.

The issue of selling art remains controversial, and Brandeis has been criticized by faculty, students, and museum leaders throughout the country.

Samet could not be reached for comment yesterday. But in a recent interview, he acknowledged that some people doubt the legitimacy of the committee.

“I’ve been told I’m a hamster in a wheel, that the administration knows full well what the future of the Rose is going to be,” he said in a phone interview last month.

But he doesn’t believe that. He said he thinks the administration hasn’t decided what to do with the Rose. He said he also wants to better understand the implications of selling artworks.

“Is it something like what the NCAA does when there’s a recruiting violation – a limited punishment for a period of time? Or is it like being on some blacklist forever and off the grid and shunned? I don’t know which it is.”

Geoff Edgers
Boston Globe

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