- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Officials of Lynchburg’s Randolph College are accustomed to thumbing their noses at alumnae, donors and public opinion. Now they’re thumbing their noses at the Virginia Supreme Court.

On May 28, just days before the court’s expected ruling on two lawsuits facing the school, one of the college’s prized paintings, “Troubador” by Mexican master Rufino Tamayo, will be auctioned by Christie’s New York.

An earlier Randolph effort to raid the college’s famed Maier Museum art collection for some ready cash was dropped several months ago, pending the Supreme Court’s findings.

A decision against the college could undermine its legal authority to sell anything belonging to the former Randolph-Macon Woman's College (R-MWC). Rather than risk being thwarted, college officials apparently have decided to rush ahead with the Tamayo sale.

The critical case before the court involves charitable trust law — and challenges the college’s decision to drop its all women’s educational mission and transfer the college’s endowment and other assets (valued at more tan $250 million) to the new coed institution.

If the court rules against Randolph, the college may have no claim to R-MWC’s assets, including its art, unless it can prove it cannot remain a woman’s college.

Randolph’s administration and Trustees clearly have only one thing on their mind: money.

Ironically, the college already has money. From the very beginning, when college officials first announced their intention to sell the Maier art in October 2007, they said they “had to” do so because the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the college’s accrediting agency, had placed the school on financial warning. That’s history. SACS upgraded the college’s status in December without a sale of art and ended the financial warning.

Recently, Randolph College officials have boasted of their successful fund-raising. In late February, they announced with much fanfare that fund-raising in the last fiscal year increased 123 percent over the year earlier to a total of $7.6 million.

If fund-raising is going so well, why the urgent need to sell art? While boasting about their fund-raising “successes” Randolph College officials have launched several costly, new noneducational projects.

For instance, in his Feb. 18 “President’s Report,” Randolph President John Klein announced construction of a costly new artificial turf track and field facility. (Note: Randolph College has no track and field team).

In the same report, Mr. Klein announced a “presidential inauguration” event being planned for October 2008. Reportedly, he hired a full-time person to help organize the gala.

With new athletic facilities breaking ground and gala inaugurations in the works, surely the college must have plenty of money in its coffers? What real difference will the approximately $2 million from the Tamayo sale make to the college’s bottom line?

Of course, some may argue that college officials are choosing to fund running tracks and parties over education — as they abolished the American Studies, Anthropology, German, Japanese, and Russian departments this year. Clearly, they aren’t afraid to sell the college’s educational art collection, one of the cornerstones of R-MWC for more than 100 years, to achieve their extracurricular goals.

One thing is certain: They have decided to sell the art, regardless of need, propriety or questions of ownership, and will let nothing stand in the way.

They don’t seem to care that such shortsighted action could trigger a backlash, making it more difficult to raise funds and attract high-caliber students. They don’t seem to care that the ethical violations associated with the art sale would harm the school’s reputation and degrade one of Lynchburg’s leading cultural attractions.

Worst of all, they seem to have no respect for Virginia’s justice system, pushing ahead with the sale of “Troubador” just before the June Supreme Court ruling.

Hopefully, the Virginia Supreme Court’s decision will permanently halt the college’s increasingly outlandish behavior. If not, what was once one of the most highly respected women’s colleges in the country and an important part of Virginia history will be nothing more than a shell of its former self. It will be known for the arrogance and extravagance of its administration and trustees, rather than its contribution to women’s education.

Anne Yastremski is executive director of Preserve Educational Choice (http://www.preserveeducationalchoice.org) an organization working to save Randolph-Macon Woman's College. Readers can contact her by e-mailing anne@preserveeducationalchoice.org or writing to P.O. Box 29612, Richmond, Va 23242.

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