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Valpo President/Board Decide to Sell Art Masterpieces to Pay for Dorm Renovation

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A controversy has arisen on Valpo's campus due to the recent presidential/board decision to sell valuable art from Valpo's Brauer Museum to pay for dorm renovation. The art in question are masterpieces by O'Keefe, Church, and Hassan. The NYT will soon be publishing a story on the matter. The Chicago Tribune has already run a front-page story about it, as have our local newspapers.

The letter that I wrote against this decision has been signed by more than 90 other Valpo faculty, including 17 emeriti and retired faculty. The letter attempts to show why the decision by the president and Valpo's board is unethical and runs contrary to the Lutheran intellectual tradition, which has generally supported the liberal arts, including the visual arts. An additional faculty memo, which I helped to write, provides bullet points for why this decision is unethical and unwise.

Here's my blog post from yesterday, which provides links to the pertinent documents and news reports:

Matt Becker
Professor of Theology
Valparaiso University

This has been a hot topic of conversation around Valpo. It seems to me universities in general are having a rough go of it financially and this is a sice that the situation at Valpo is more dire than people are being led to believe. While I oppose the sale in principle and have a hard time understanding it apart from the possibility that Valpo is closer to insolvent than anyone likes to think, I do think there are pros and cons to the idea that merit consideration.

1. Valpo's dorms are a joke for what they're charging. My daughter lived in one her freshman year and I considered it one of the biggest rip-offs we ever fell for. Small, old-school cinderblock room with a roommate, no A/C or climate control, communal bathroom down the hall, walk to the union for dining services, very 1950's. Except they wanted around $1500/month for the privilege of living there, and that was six years ago before rents skyrocketed. I lived in the dorms at Valpo my freshman year, but the dining hall was in the dorm at least, and it wasn't nearly as expensive. Comparable universities charging comparable amounts for housing have dorms that are drastically more attractive to incoming freshmen.

2. Art, as the currency du jour of the jet set, is at an all-time high and could be facing a bubble situation as governments crack down on using art for the purposes of money laundering. It is possible that someone has made the museum an outlandishly high offer that it would be bad stewardship to refuse, but that the president cannot disclose it yet. Let's face it, every piece of art has a price. If someone offered a billion dollars for an O'Keefe, I think it would be foolish to refuse. If they offered a thousand dollars, it would be ridiculous to sell it. But where is the line, and what is the offer on the table? It is untenable to say that art must never be sold.

3. It could simply be a matter of sounding an alarm. The board might have anticipated the outcry, and this gives them a chance to say, fine, we'll keep the art but the people making the outcry need to point out where we're going to get the money.

Selma, Portland, and Bronxville all went belly-up very suddenly and unexpectedly to everyone except those on the inside who knew the real situation. From what I understand, Valpo had an overall growth plan in the last twenty years or so to build up the campus and make improvement to accommodate a much larger student body, but that student body never materialized. And now every demographic trend is a stiff headwind. I don't know anyone involved personally, but I'm assuming the board is comprised of people who would not flippantly toss around the idea of liquidating the art museum to raise money for dorms if it weren't close to panic time. This could be an effort to liquidate assets responsibly before they get liquidated anyway.

That having been said, universities have to have a clear purpose apart from churching out employable people. Trade schools do that much less expensively. Art, Music, Literature, Philosophy (not in the trendy "re-imagined" sense, but in the classic sense) will almost never be profitable but will always be close to the core of any university's reason to exist. Even if there aren't many art majors and few of the students ever go to the museum, selling off the art collection would be symbolically brutal.

Dave Likeness:
The harsh reality is that Valparaiso University is facing a financial  crisis.
 For the past 20 years the Presidents of private colleges and universities
have by necessity needed to become fund raisers.  What type of endowment
fund does Valpo have?  Has there been any financial fundraising done in
recent years?

The current situation at Valpo calls for genuine leadership and financial
honesty by the Valpo President  and Board of Regents.  Selling off your assets
from your art museum is a desperate measure but it is better than declaring
bankruptcy.  Hopefully, Valpo can remain viable  as a Lutheran university for
the future.

George Rahn:
I wonder what masterpieces are being sold?

Dave Likeness:
There are 3 paintings slated for sale:

"Rust Red Hills" by Georgia O'Keeffe
"Mountain Landscape" by Frederick E. Church
"The Silver Vale and the Golden  Gate" by Childe Hassam


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