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Seminary, universities forced into painful cuts

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NEW YORK (THE JEWISH WEEK) — In further signs that the deepening recession is having a major impact on Jewish institutions of higher education, two major schools announced tuition freezes and budget cuts, and Brandeis University is taking  the highly unusual step of selling off its prized contemporary art collection.

“This is one of the more challenging moments in recent history,” said Arnold Eisen, the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

The seminary has cut its current budget by $2 million and, Eisen said, “we are making further cuts in the budget for this year and will continue to do so in 2009-2010.”

Yeshiva University will undertake a series of “belt-tightening” measures in a bid to reduce expenses by about 15 percent in the next academic year, said Hillel Davis, vice president of university life, on Monday.

Most of the cuts are expected to be in the administrative area. Meanwhile, tuition for undergraduate students will be frozen next year at this year’s level. Students at Yeshiva College, Stern College for Women and the Sy Syms School of Business are affected.

Both JTS and Yeshiva said that although they were freezing undergraduate tuition, no decision has been made about tuition at their graduate schools.

Officials at Brandeis in Waltham, Mass., said that budget woes had compelled the university to close its Rose Art Museum and sell the “large amount of modern and contemporary art” it houses. The museum opened in 1961.

“We’re reaching out to the donors [of the artwork] to inform them of our plans,” said Dennis Nealon, a university spokesman.

Although the university has not placed a value on the art, one art expert said it was worth as much as $300 million. The art is to be sold at auction, with the proceeds reinvested in the university to combat the economic crisis. The collection, which numbers more than 8,000 objects, includes the work of Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Helen Frankenthaler.

“These are extraordinary times,” Judah Reinharz, Brandeis’ president, said in a statement. “We cannot control or fix the nation’s economic problems. We can only do what we have been entrusted to do — act responsibly, with the best interests of our students and their futures foremost in mind.”

Plans call for closing the museum by late this summer and turning the space into a fine arts teaching center with studio space and an exhibition gallery. (The New York Times reported Wednesday that the Massachusetts attorney general’s office is investigating Brandeis’ decision to sell off the collection.)

These steps are just the latest in a series of actions universities and Jewish institutions are taking to deal with the growing recession that saw at least eight companies cut more than 75,000 jobs worldwide this week — on top of the 2.6 million jobs lost last year in the United States alone. Earlier this month, Hadassah announced that it was laying off 80 employees, approximately a quarter of its national staff, in a restructuring effort.

A spokeswoman for Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion said no decisions have been made regarding next year’s budget.

Tuition for Yeshiva University’s 2,300 undergraduate students is $31,594 each year. Davis said that although the university will be cutting expenses by 15 percent in the next academic year, it also would be attempting to raise another $5 million in scholarship money for students, increasing the amount of scholarships to $35 million. About 70 percent of the students receive financial aid.

“This is in response to the current economic crisis that our parents are facing,” Davis said. “We’re particularly sensitive to the unique needs of our undergraduate students, the vast majority of whom are paying day school tuition for their other children.”

Davis said Yeshiva would like to increase its undergraduate enrollment because tuition makes up 35 percent of its operating budget. But since the university’s “appeal is to the graduates of yeshivas and day schools,” it cannot hope to attract the number of applications other private schools receive.

“We attract students who are interested in a double curriculum — secular and religious studies,” he said.

Although some universities are considering cutting a number of adjunct professors next year, Davis said Yeshiva was “doing the best we can to protect the integrity of the academic offerings.”

He said the university might not know until mid-February how it would reduce expenses by about 15 percent, but he said Yeshiva was looking to cut the money from administrative expenses “to protect the number of class offerings, the quality of offerings and the number of professors.”

The budget-tightening measures come just three weeks after Yeshiva announced that the university lost its $14.5 million investment with Bernard Madoff, who has admitted to running a Ponzi scheme that cost investors more than $50 billion.

Yeshiva’s investment was said to have grown to $110 million at the time of Madoff’s arrest. The university’s endowment, taking into account the Madoff loss, was estimated earlier this year at $1.2 billion, down from $1.7 billion on Jan. 1, 2008. The loss of 28 percent compares with a Dow Jones loss of 32 percent.

Of the situation at JTS, Eisen said in a statement, “The current economic climate has of course impacted The Jewish Theological Seminary, as it has all other institutions of higher education, nonprofits in general, and many for-profit companies. JTS has been acting vigorously since last spring to cut expenses while minimizing the impact of the economic downturn on the core mission and long-term health of the institution.

“We remain committed to our core mission and core values even as we using these challenging times as an opportunity to transfigure and innovate,” he added. “JTS entered this period of uncertainty in sound financial condition, and we are determined to exit it even stronger.”

(Stewart Ain is a staff writer for The New York Jewish Week.)

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