Monday, October 15, 2007

Home Sweet Home

My hometown, Lynchburg, Va, is famous for many things: Jerry Falwell; being the birthplace of modern eugenics; being the second wealthiest American city in 1860; not being Lynchburg, Tennessee; and the Lynchburg Hillcats (Go Cats!). Today, however, Lynchburg is creating headlines over the slow, painful death of Randolph College (formerly Randolph-Macon Women's College).

Randolph College serves as a microcosm of the greater degradation of American education. Ironically, the destruction of American universities and colleges has begun by the desire to expand (both the campus and the economic situation of the university). However, the means by which institutions achieve the goal of expansion are, at best, questionable.

Take, for example, the Maier Museum [Full Disclosure: a former associate director of the Maier Museum, Ellen Agnew, is a very close family friend.]

Randolph College has recently been in a financial bind due to decreased applicants among other problems. In the summer of 2006, the board of directors announced, unexpectedly, they were reversing the school's 1891 all-women policy. They would be accepting male applicants in Fall 2006, along with committing to a name change.

Alumni and current students were up in arms. Students staged a sit-in while alumni constructed a website, Preserve Educational Choice, Inc. In its own defense, interim President Virginia Worden and President of Board of Trustees Jolley Bruce Christman (ostensibly quite a difficult name to argue with) wrote an editorial published in the Washington Post entitled "Why We Had No Choice but to Go Coed." A brief excerpt:

The Sept. 9 vote was not made in haste or behind closed doors. [...] The intensive three-year strategic planning process that culminated in the vote included open dialogue among our constituents about the possibility of going coed.

This statement is deceptively worded. The vote did not include any constituents other than the board. No teachers or students were allowed a voice in the actual vote to change the very foundation on which the college rests: single-sex education for women.

Along with bringing in men with money (hopefully), the board of trustees also decided to sell major works of art from their collection, known as the Maier Museum. In 1951, the Maier Museum was chosen to confidentially hold works in the National Gallery of Art in the event of an emergency (source). The collection holds world-renowned pieces by Edward Hopper, Georgia O'Keefe and George Bellows.

On Oct. 1th of this year, the college announced its decision to auction four pieces of art at Sotheby's in New York. The pieces are expected to raise $32 million for the endownment.

Critics of the decision filed a lawsuit in August claiming the endowment for the gallery was meant to create a permanent collection for the school and was not meant for "the school's general endowment." The college responded with an equally harsh response claiming, "These paintings are without restriction. Two were purchased from the college, and two were gifts. But they don't have any restrictions on sale. [...] We're helping ourselves limit the amount of artwork involved. These are four paintings out of 3,500 pieces of art." (source)

The college won the decision. As for the enforcement of their decision? Here comes the big headline:

"Maier Museum of Art bomb threat was a ruse to deflect attention from removal of paintings, Lynchburg Police Department claims"

A Lynchburg Police Department officer trying to divert attention from the removal of four paintings from the Maier Museum of Art on Monday evening told onlookers that there was a bomb threat at the museum, LPD north division Captain Todd Swisher said Tuesday.

Some who heard the comment assumed that was a plan orchestrated by Randolph College officials to keep observers away while the artwork was removed, numerous sources said Monday and Tuesday.


At about 6:30 p.m. Monday, a police officer closed access to the museum’s access road while a truck and several cars waited outside the Maier’s side parking lot. After the cars left, two more officers walked up the access road and spoke with reporters before leaving the scene.


“We understand how people feel that we had to remove the artwork so quickly,” [college spokesperson Brenda Edson] said. “However, we’re talking about artwork that’s estimated at significantly more than $30 million. You cannot take chances with that.”


Karol Lawson, who resigned from her position as director of the museum Tuesday, was inside the museum at the time and later heard from several people who were told about a bomb threat.

She wishes the situation would have been handled differently and questions what would have happened if a student had heard the comment and told others.

“How irresponsible is that in the age of Virginia Tech shootings and homeland security?” she asked.

Swisher said he had spoken with the officers involved.

“I think in retrospect, we would do things differently if presented with the same scenario,” he said.

Totally ridiculous. Rumors also abound the director at the Museum was posted with an external security detail to prevent any interference on her part. Or was it just to intimidate her?

The college is quickly losing credibility and needs to take a better look at how their actions are being perceived by the public. If the approval ratings of the Bush Administration are any clue, Terror Alertism politics invites immense criticism and public indignation rather than support. And popular support is exactly what Randolph College needs most now.

1 comment:

Ellen said...

Thanks for the coverage of the Maier and your thoughtful remarks. Your Mom talk me about your blog and it is quite impressive. If you want continuing updates on the Maier visit (which you site).

We hope that you are doing well and look forward to seeing you when you are next home.