If you haven't been following the whole mess with the trustees of Lynchburg’s Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, then read this first. Below is the latest news release:
In an effort to prevent the trustees of Lynchburg’s Randolph-Macon Woman’s College (R-MWC) — known as Randolph College since July — from auctioning four irreplaceable paintings to increase an already generous $153 million endowment, a motion for temporary injunction and a complaint requesting a temporary and permanent injunction has been filed before the Lynchburg Circuit Court, Preserve Educational Choice announced today.
“Judging by how hastily and secretively Randolph College officials took away the art, it is clear that the college fears a ruling from the Supreme Court against their actions and is moving to sell the pieces of art as quickly as possible,” said Anne Yastremski, Executive Director of Preserve Educational Choice, the alumnae group supporting the lawsuits.
“This motion for injunction seeks to stop the College from irreparably harming their reputation and their world-class American art collection until these lawsuits against Randolph College have been cleared by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s court system. We’ve been waiting for Attorney General Bob McDonnell to take action to stop the College, but since we know of no action thus far, the plaintiffs in this injunction suit and thousands of other alumnae, donors to the College and the Maier, and citizens of Lynchburg felt they needed to take action themselves.”
The plaintiffs that have filed the request for an injunction include all of the students, alumnae and donors of R-MWC involved in the charitable trust and breach of contract lawsuits that currently are being considered on appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia, as well as the eleven potential "intervenors" who have asked the Lynchburg Circuit Court to stop Randolph College's attempt to sell off the art purchased with funds from the Trust of Louise Jordan Smith.
Just last month, the Supreme Court of Virginia decided to hear appeals of two lawsuits challenging the College’s fall 2006 decision to become co-educational. The first suit, which involves “donor intent,” challenges the college on charitable trust grounds, arguing that the college should have to prove it cannot continue as a woman’s college before it can use the assets accumulated under the original charitable purpose – to “educate women in the liberal arts” – for the benefit of a coed college. The second suit, filed by a group of students, alleges breach of contract, saying that they had been promised four years of single-sex education. Both suits pending before the Supreme Court of Virginia include allegations that the protection of the art collection is vital to providing the relief sought by the student and donor plaintiffs.
In the Circuit Court case filed by the College, the College asked the courts for permission to break the Trust of Louise Jordan Smith. Relatives of Louise Jordan Smith, students, alumnae, former faculty and Maier Museum directors, donors, and Lynchburg citizens filed a Motion for Leave to Intervene in the suit, alleging that the money from Smith’s trust was used to purchase a large number of the most valuable paintings in Randolph’s Maier Museum collection. The intervenors contend that the entire art collection must be protected in order to honor the intentions of Smith, both through her trust and her efforts during her lifetime. A hearing on that motion to intervene is scheduled for November 15.
“The Court’s decisions in these cases could affect whether or not the College can or needs to sell the paintings now at Christie’s,” says Yastremski. “If the College is allowed to go forward with the Christie’s auction before our cases are finalized, the art—pieces like George Wesley Bellow’s 1912 “Men of the Docks” which constitute the cornerstone of the Maier—will be lost forever.”
Yastremski, pointing to the college’s $153 million endowment (one of the largest in Virginia), believes the College’s efforts to sell these paintings are “due to greed, not need.”
While the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) has put the College on financial warning, it was not due to the size of the endowment. The specific issues that SACS cited the college for – astronomical tuition discounting (nearly twice the national average), excessive deferred maintenance, and operating deficits – are all signs of fiscal mismanagement, not a too-small endowment.
“Randolph College officials will do anything to mask the real problems: out-of-control spending and poor management, neither of which will be fixed by selling portions of the school’s treasured art collection,” said Yastremski. “This collection was not assembled as a financial investment for future ‘hard times,’ but rather from public donations and funds allocated to benefit the college’s educational mission and to create a cultural resource for the community. Two of the four paintings in question were donations from private individuals to the permanent collection, one was purchased with fees paid by students (at their request) specifically for the purpose of buying art and supporting artistic events on campus, and the most valuable one – “Men of the Docks” – was purchased by a Lynchburg-based community group with the express purpose of forming a permanent collection for the benefit of the students and the citizens of Lynchburg.”
Even if an infusion of capital was necessary, which thousands of alumnae and donors don’t believe, the national art community has strict standards against the sale of art for general fund purposes. Nearly every major Virginia and national art association has condemned the College’s plans to sell the four paintings, including the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Association of Art Museum Curators, the College Art Association, the Association of College and University Museums and Galleries and the Virginia Association of Museums.
“It is obvious that the current Randolph officials and Trustees care nothing for ethics or their donor’s wishes. Hopefully the Attorney General and the Commonwealth’s Courts will realize this, and act accordingly,” said Yastremski. “If not, donors may need to think twice about investing their hard earned resources with the state’s many nonprofits.”