Former Professors File Suit Against Indiana University Over Planned Art Sale

Former professors at the Valparaiso University in Indiana filed suit against the school and its president, Jose Padilla, in a move to halt the sale of artwork from the university’s Brauer Museum of Art.

According to documents filed on Monday at the Porter County Superior Court in Indiana, the retired professors argue that the planned sale violates the museum’s agreement with Percy H. Sloan, who donated them to the school. The two plaintiffs in the case are Richard Brauer, the museum’s first director and its namesake, and Philipp Brockington, a former professor at Valparaiso’s law school who has an endowment in his name at the museum. The Chicago Tribune had first reported that the lawsuit would be filed last week.

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The motion for the restraining order was withdrawn in a hearing on Wednesday, Patrick B. McEuen, an Indiana-based attorney representing the claimants, told ARTnews over email. McEuen said he received “assurances the proposed auction was ‘months away’ and likely would not occur before September. “(McEuen said that the defendants would file motions to dismiss the suit.)

Brauer and Brockington’s suit claims that the sale presents “immediate danger of suffering a direct injury to the reputation of the art museum” and that “any harm” to the museum “will frustrate the purposes and intents of the Brockington Reeve Endowment Fund.”

The dispute revolves around the controversial sale of three valuable works of art from the university’s museum’s permanent collection. The paintings—Georgia O’Keeffe’s Rust Red Hills (1930) and two others by Frederic E. Church and Childe Hassam—are estimated to be worth a collective $20 million.

The announcement drew pushback from professors at the school and museum advocates. The Association of American Museum Directors (AAMD), a prominent museum group that oversees rules related to deaccessioning, condemned the move in a letter addressed to the museum’s current director, Jonathan Canning, shortly after the plans were made public in February.

That month, Jose D. Padilla, the university’s president, announced that the funds generated from the sale would be allocated to refurbishing freshmen dormitories. The deaccession plan, Padilla has said, is part of a larger move by the administration to attract and retain full-time students to the Lutheran university. The move comes after a report from Moody’s earlier this year called into question the school’s financial position.

The lawsuit names Padilla, Valparaiso University, and Todd Rokita, Indiana’s attorney general, as defendants, and states that the sale “contravenes the donor’s intent.” Rokita oversees standards related to organizations with charitable status and the legal standards guiding the management of their financial assets.

“Mr. Brauer, who lent his name to the museum, and Mr. Brockington, who has endowed a fund to maintain and preserve the museum, are heartsick at the thought that Percy Sloan’s intent to build a permanent memorial to his parents in the form of an art museum would be ignored by Valparaiso University,” McEuen said.

Valparaiso University is among a group of other schools throughout the country that have made controversial attempts to sell works in order to fund campus operations. Fisk University in Tennessee and Rockford College in Illinois, alongside Randolph College in Virginia and Brandeis University in Massachusetts, have all been the subjects of similar debates around plans to deaccession gifted artwork.

“The University apparently believes that they accepted Percy Sloan’s donation to pay for capital improvements, not art education,” McEuen added.

Darron Farha, the unviversity’s general counsel, did not immediately respond to ARTnews’s request for comment.

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