La Salle University in Philadelphia is planning to sell forty-six artworks from its collection in order to fund new educational initiatives. Susan Snyder and Stephen Salisbury of The Philadelphia Inquirer report that the school has been working to stem a major deficit. In 2015, the school had a $12 million shortfall and its enrollment dropped 18 percent. However, after lowering its tuition, cutting programs, and launching a marketing campaign, the university managed to finish its fiscal year in the black last year.
The deaccessioning of the works is part of the college’s new five-year strategic plan, which was already approved by the board of trustees. It hopes to raise between $4.8 million and $7.3 million from the sale. According to Christie’s, the five pieces expected to net the highest sums are Dame Elisabeth Frink’s sculpture Walking Madonna, 1981; Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s Virgil Reading the Aeneid Before Augustus, 1865; Dorothea Tanning’s Temptation of St. Anthony, 1945; Georges Rouault’s Le Dernier Romantique (The Last Romantic), 1937; and Albert Gleizes’s Man in the City (L’Homme Dans la Ville), 1920. Commenting on the decision, the university president Colleen M. Hanycz said that it “is a strategic and good use of our assets.” University spokesperson Janie Lucas added, “We are doing what we feel is in the best interest of our students.”
La Salle isn’t the first school to sell artworks in order to settle debts, in 2009 Brandeis University in Massachusetts announced it would sell works from its Rose Art Museum but later backtracked and Randolph College in Virginia came under fire for selling a prized George Bellows painting worth more than $25 million in 2014. The university is also facing criticism for not planning to reinvest the funds from the sale into the art museum. Lisa Tremper Hanover, the former president of the Alliance of Academic Museums and Galleries and ex-director of the Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College, said she was “shocked,” after she learned of the plan. She also called the art collection “a distinctive aspect of La Salle University.”