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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Column:Don’t let the economic crisis change the art programs

A monumental tragedy in both the histories of American art and higher education took place a few months ago in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Massachusetts. There, the administration at Brandeis University announced their intention to sell off the entire collection of their renowned Rose Art Museum—easily one of the most distinguished academic museums in the nation. Not unexpectedly, the administration has garnered criticism from academia as well as artists and now must face interventions from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office.

In this economy, it’s essential to prioritize. But I’m scared our president and our trustees will adhere to the thoughtlessness of the recent past and leave the students the short end of the stick. The signs aren’t good. Russell Osgood’s January letter to the student body addressed the economic climate but insisted on the usual tuition increases. Contrary to what he’d like us to believe, these incremental increases do not constitute universal precedent. Last September, University of Vermont president David Fogel bragged to the New York Times about the fact that their tuition has actually decreased since 2002. Similarly, Northwestern University made it a point to cap the increase at a mere 3.6 percent.

It’s unreasonable to ask students and their families to shoulder more fees while our president and administrators continue to take home exorbitant salaries and bonuses. A few weeks ago the Chronicle for Higher Education published a study identifying Grinnell’s treasurer, David S. Clay, as the tenth highest paid college C.F.O. in the country. Clay pockets a whopping $540,649, roughly equivalent to
the full tuition of 15 students. Osgood earns a similarly bloated salary.

As they amass a corporate-level pay, the endowment is taking a nosedive, having lost around $800 million in the last four months. Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley put it best: “In these hard economic times, apparently belt-tightening is for families and students, not university presidents.”

Now more than ever, the administration should pay attention to student concerns. It’s about time we fund wind turbines, one of the finest ideas I’ve seen in my four years here. There’s little equivocation here—the wind energy would be economically beneficial in the long term and would adhere to our increasingly battered Mission Statement. But the students in Free the Planet have had to engage in Papageno-style pleading to get any administrators to budge. Still lacking adequate funding or concern, the project remains incomplete.

To their credit, the administration does seem to have promoted the arts. I spoke with Dan Strong, assistant curator at the Faulconer gallery, who informed me that though the budget for Faulconer has decreased since 1999, administrators have been supportive. Lesley Wright, the curator, also vigorously defended the administration in a long e-mail. I learned that Russell Osgood is apparently some sort of Iowan version of Cosimo de’ Medici, as he too has been an unwavering patron of Faulconer. Acknowledging this, it’s important to maintain the trend by continuing to invest funds in Faulconer and our community of artists.

To do all these things, we’ll have to cut the unnecessary goodies—plasma TVs, extravagant construction (Nollen House, Macy House, 8th Ave) and administrator pay. We can also learn from the misadventures of the admission office, now a model for irresponsibility. Back when the endowment soared, the admission folks could have invested in more aid for needy students. Instead, they indulged in a costly publicity campaign, resulting in their risibly delusional new slogan, “No Limits.” The product of hired consultants, “No Limits” is about as dishonest as President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” spectacle was in 2003. The brochures themselves serve as nothing more than a glorified acid trip, replete with vapid, hallucinatory images like the now infamous painting within a painting.

There’s a painfully larger significance here, and that’s the fact that these elusive “limits” are actually very real—the administration has just chosen to ignore them. The fact of the matter is that the endowment exists to cushion the College in tough times, something they know. They could change with the times by using President Obama’s economic agenda as a macrocosmic model for our school. Obama’s plan seeks to alleviate those citizens in the most pain with a large stimulus package while simultaneously balancing the budget in the long term by cutting wasteful spending. Likewise, the administration should invest a huge chunk or our endowment in tuition relief and aid, creative student-led projects like wind turbines, and the preservation of our cultural institutions, while eliminating the nonsense.

Most important of all, we have to chuck farcical, self-aggrandizing mottos like “No Limits” and its revised successor, “A Road to Endless Possibilities,” because it’s crucial that the administration soon comes to terms with their limits and starts dealing with reality.

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