Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Further on Fisk (UPDATED)

Following up on my post last night, a couple of additional points re Fisk:

1. For those rooting against the Crystal Bridges deal (which would bring Fisk $30 million in exchange for a half-interest in the collection), here's what the Court found regarding Fisk's financial condition:

"[T]wo degree programs [--] dramatic speech and dance, and philosophy and religion [--] have been eliminated. In the last two years, every faculty member has taken a 5% salary reduction, and Administration salary cuts range from 7 to 15%. Fisk has suspended its contributions to pension plans and vacation accrual. All of the buildings are mortgaged. Unrestricted endowment is zero dollars. Endowment has declined from $4.27 million to $3.7 million. Accounts payable total $2 million. Fisk ... regularly runs a two million dollar deficit annually."

In short, the university is "on the brink of closing."

But who cares, right? The important thing is that the intent behind O'Keeffe's 60-year old gift -- or, more precisely, what we think her intent was; we actually have no idea what she would have wanted had she known Fisk would end up in the condition it's in -- is preserved. Obviously she would have preferred a year-round "condominium" arrangement at the Frist Center to a collection-sharing agreement with Crystal Bridges that would allow the works to remain at Fisk for six months out of every year. Who could doubt it? We're so certain that was her intention that we're prepared to let Fisk go under as a consequence.

2. The headlines reporting the decision tend to say the Court "rejected" the Crystal Bridges deal. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) It's worth noting that that isn't entirely true. It rejected it for now, but if the Tennessee Attorney General doesn't present a better proposal (in just 20 days), then "the only available alternative is for [the] Court to attempt to rework the Crystal Bridges Agreement to more closely approximate Ms. O'Keeffe's intent." As I said last night, I fully expect the AG to come up with a plan that works (it's a pretty low bar), but, if there's one thing this case has taught us, it's that you never know.

UPDATE: Related thoughts from Lee Rosenbaum.