Friday, January 30, 2009

Question: Will Brandeis close?

Could Brandeis be on the brink of closing?

I don’t mean to be alarmist here. But why is Brandeis being so weird about releasing info about its financial situation? And why do the numbers leaking out not add up to the drastic moves the school claims are needed?

Brandeis leaders could be overplaying their financial difficulties to make a better case for the trustees’ decision to shutter the Rose and pawn off its irreplaceable collection. But what if they’re underplaying the numbers to hide how bad they’ve let things get?

A doomsday scenario might explain why they’ve put a liquidation specialist in charge of the board of trustees.

“I would characterize it as serious, but not dire,” Brandeis spokesman Dennis Nealon insisted to me on Tuesday. “We face serious challenges, but we believe they are surmountable. … There isn’t a panic here.”

Tuesday, Nealon refused to be pinned down on even rudimentary financial information, like how big a deficit Brandeis estimates that it is facing. At first he disputed the $10 million number that has been reported by various news outlets. Then he said, “that would be one end of the spectrum. And the other end could be much higher over the next five years. … But we don’t know that. It all depends on what the economy is going to do, how is it going to rebound and when.”

When I continued to press him for a number he said, “I don’t know.” He added that he’d have to look into it. He hasn’t gotten back to me.

The Daily Beast reported Wednesday that Brandeis faces a “projected deficit of $79 million over the next six years.” In 2007, the most recent year for which tax filings are available, the school’s total expenses were $304.2 million.

So if the Beast is correct, that’s a $13.2 million shortfall per year. But put it into context: That’s only a 4.3 percent deficit per year.

Is that really what has Brandeis chief operating officer Peter French floating doomsday scenarios to the Beast: “Faced with the prospect of closing 40 percent of the university’s buildings, reducing staff by an additional 30 percent, or firing 200 of its 360 faculty members—any of which, French said, would drastically change the university’s mission and essentially cripple it—‘We’d rather use Rose.’”

Really? A 4.3 percent budget deficit means cuts of 30 to 55 percent across Brandeis departments? The numbers don’t add up.

Thus I’m back to the underplaying-the-numbers-to-hide-how-bad-they’ve-let-things-get theory.

What if Brandeis leaders pawn off the Rose collection and wind up closing the school anyway?

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Dear readers, please contact me here if you've got info to share about the Rose or Brandeis.

Our Brandeis and Rose reports:
Brandeis’s liquidator-in-chief.
The first painting Brandeis should pawn.
Question: Brandeis financial management?
Brandeis president’s e-mail on Rose.
AG on Brandeis's plans.
Brandeis’s money.
Update: Brandeis to close Rose, sell art.
Brandeis to close Rose.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, I'm glad to see somebody is thinking what I'm thinking! I have to say the local reporting on this has been bizarre - it's all been about how rilly, rilly upset the students like totally are about this art they never go to see, instead of trying to get to the bottom of exactly what prompted these decisions at Brandeis. The financial story as floated, as you point out, makes no sense - yet. I think it's worth drawing a bit more attention to this supposed capital campaign/building program going on concurrently with the apparent financial meltdown - that seems like the wild card. As for your Brandeis contact's comment that the school's situation depends on "how the economy is going to rebound, and when" means the situation is, in fact, quite dire. Because let's face it: the economy is spiraling downward, and it won't be "rebounding" for a while.

January 31, 2009 at 10:53 PM  

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