Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Trouble in Lynchburg
Yesterday I noticed this post in Jeffry Cudlin's blog and today I received the massive news release below, which I've decided to post here, rather than edit it, as it tells a fairly complete story from the side doing the complaining:
Suit Filed to Prevent Randolph College from Selling Valuable Donated Art Collection
Sale Would Violate Donor Intent, Violate Code of Ethics, Sidestep the College’s Financial Problems, and Further Damage Enrollment
Lynchburg, VA – Eleven “interveners” asked a Virginia court today to stop Randolph College’s unethical and unnecessary attempt to sell off portions of its nationally recognized American art collection.
The works at issue were originally purchased by Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (R-MWC) with assets from the trust of Louise Jordan Smith, the college’s first art professor. Randolph-Macon Woman’s College became Randolph College this year when it became coed, a controversial action being challenged in court by students, donors and alumnae.
Named as interveners in the new legal challenge, outlined in a “Memorandum in Support of Motion for Leave to Intervene,” are Louise Jordan Smith’s heirs, several college donors, alumnae, and students, the former head of the college’s Museum Studies program, the former head of the Maier Museum, where the collection is housed, and several other interested parties. They are:
• Frances Pendleton Elliott and Eleanor Pendleton Monahan: Mrs. Elliott and Mrs. Monahan, her sister, are believed to be Louise Jordan Smith’s only living relatives. Miss Smith was their mother’s first cousin.
• Margaret Williams and Amanda Sandos: Ms. Williams and Ms. Sandos are both seniors and art majors at the college.
• Ellen Agnew: Ms. Agnew worked at the Maier Museum for 23 years as Curator, Associate Director and Director, and is an alumna of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. She resigned earlier this year over the college’s actions in this matter.
• Laura Katzman: Dr. Katzman served as the Director of the Museum Studies Program and Professor of Art at the college from 1995-2007. She resigned earlier this year over the college’s actions in this matter.
• Sandra and Paul Whitehead. Mr. and Mrs. Whitehead are financial supporters of and frequent visitors to the Maier Museum. In particular, Mr. Whitehead donated significant funds to the museum in 1997 to help it purchase an Andrew Wyeth painting in honor of his wife. (The Whiteheads have said they will make no additional donations to the college unless the litigation is resolved favorably.)
• Roberta Scrivener. Ms. Scrivener is a Lynchburg, Va. public school teacher who believes her ability to teach art to her children will be irreparably harmed if the Smith Art is sold and Maier Museum collection broken up.
• Roy Clinton “Bud” Johns. Mr. Johns’ and his wife have made substantial contributions to the college of both money and art. (He also has said he will make no additional contributions and will remove the college from his will if it continues its improper efforts to break up the valuable collection.)
• Anne Adams Robertson Massie. A distinguished artist in her own right, Ms. Massie is a Lynchburg native, a Randolph-Macon Woman’s College alumna, a member of the Maier Museum Advisory Board, a regular and substantial donor to the Museum, a former Museum docent, and a Fellow and Trustee of the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
The 36 paintings acquired with Smith Trust funds include some of the best-known works in the college’s Maier Museum of Art collection. The 3,400 piece collection is considered one of the finest college collections in the country, among the finest collections of American art in the country, and a top cultural attraction in South Central Virginia.
“Miss Smith – as the College admits – donated money to Randolph-Macon Woman’s College to purchase art with the explicit instruction that the art become part of a permanent collection for the College,” said Anne Yastremski, Executive Director of Preserve Educational Choice, an organization working to save Randolph-Macon Woman’s College. “Her will was very clear and the college’s efforts to sell the art are a clear-cut violation of donor intent and the terms of her gift.”
The college’s actions have also been criticized because they:
• Violate Universally Accepted Ethical Standards. Randolph College seeks to use the proceeds of the sale for the college’s general fund. The nation’s top professional art organizations strongly oppose this practice. In fact, the Code of Ethics of the Association of American Museums, to which the Maier Museum at Randolph College belongs, states explicitly that “in no event shall they [proceeds of a sale] be used for anything other than acquisition or direct care of collections.”
• Fail to Address the College’s Spending Problems. Randolph College’s claim that it needs to sell part of its art collection to remain financially viable and to comply with requirements of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) is completely off base. In 2006, the college completed a $100-million capital fundraising campaign. The college boasts the fifth largest endowment of any private college in Virginia. Rather than using improper means to increase the size of the college’s $140 million endowment, the college needs to exercise fiscal restraint and control spending. The specific issues that SACS cited the college for – astronomical tuition discounting (in the mid-60 percent range instead of the 30 percent range which is considered normal), excessive deferred maintenance, and operating deficits – are all signs of fiscal mismanagement, not a too-small endowment.
• Harm Efforts to Increase Enrollment. The Maier Museum art collection is one of the finest collections of American art in the country and, with the college’s related programs in studio art, art history, and museum studies, has helped attract many students over the years. Selling some of the most important works from the collection will likely discourage students from choosing the college and have a negative impact on its already declining enrollment, further harming the college’s ability to generate revenue from student tuition and fees, the backbone of a well-run institution.
The college’s enrollment already has declined this year as a result of the college’s questionable decision to go coed. The current enrollment of 665 students is the smallest in more than 40 years.
According to the Memorandum, “this is yet another example of poor decision making and financial mismanagement by the College Trustees.”
“The College went coed allegedly because of financial concerns. So far, alumnae participation in the College’s fundraising programs has dropped by 50 percent; the number of student transfers has surged; and the incoming coed class is smaller than any in recent history,” said Yastremski. “Going coed has been a disaster for the institution. Now the Trustees want to break Miss Smith’s Trust and sell off irreplaceable educational and cultural artworks that have been carefully accumulated through donations and bequests like Miss Smith’s for 100 years.”
“If college officials sell off these important artworks, the college’s decline will continue and even accelerate. Any sale of donated art for operating expenses will damage the College’s reputation with its donors, the art world and the Central Virginia community that has come to treasure the Maier Museum’s world-class collection.”
The Memorandum was filed in the Lynchburg, VA Circuit Court. A hearing date has not been set.