Monday, May 19, 2008

"Maybe it's the trustees and administrators who ought to be deaccessioned"

Lee Rosenbaum notes, with displeasure, that Randolph College is about to sell one of the four works it originally planned to offer last November but which were then tied up in a (now withdrawn) lawsuit seeking to block the sale.

Lee offers the following analogy in support of her no-deaccessioning policy: "If someone were to suggest that funds be raised by selling important books from the library, that (one hopes) would be a non-starter: Books go to the core of the college's educational mission."

I remain unconvinced. Would we really object if a university decided it was in the best interest of the school to sell off some books -- presumably because they thought the proceeds from the sale could be put to better use in other ways (like funding athletic programs, or preserving the anthropology department, or supporting additional need-based scholarships, and so on)? What if, by some quirk in the book market, these particular books (which, important as they undoubtedly are, were really only used and enjoyed by a fraction of the university community) were suddenly worth millions and millions of dollars? Do we really want to say that university trustees and administrators can never, under any circumstances, sell off an asset that "goes to the core" of its educational mission, even if the funds raised from the sale would be used to acquire other assets (or fund programs etc.) that also go to the core of its educational mission?

Why can't we trust the school's trustees to make these decisions?