Post Script: Men of the Docks

I learned this evening that Randolph College has sold George Bellows’ Men of the Docks to the National Gallery in London. You can read more about the sale here.

Though the sale should not come as a surprise, I cannot help but feel a sense of profound loss, partly for the painting but more for what this transaction means for the legacy of Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, which will always be my alma mater. I also cannot resist taking this opportunity to note that the sale of the painting comes on the heels of a study showing that Randolph College has the sixth highest per-student endowment of all colleges in Virginia, DC, and Maryland.

I wanted to sign off with a link to the college song, but I found this instead, and somehow, it feels right. Hopefully you’ll agree.

2 thoughts on “Post Script: Men of the Docks”

  1. As a fellow alum, I too am saddened by the sale of our beloved Bellows. Our Alma mater does have a very healthy per-capita endowment — unfortunately that isn’t necessarily a good indicator of the financial health of an institution. The issue revolves around the endowment spending/draw rate, not the per-capita endowment. The accrediting board (SACS) gave the College an ultimatum: either (a) slash the endowment draw rate or (b) lose accreditation (effectively a death sentence). What was the alternative to selling the art? Cut costs? Over the past six years, spending has been cut in every place imaginable. Increase enrollment? Randolph has enjoyed four-years of positive enrollment growth (unlike most small liberal arts colleges), but it still isn’t quite enough. Squeeze alumnae for more donations? Based on calculations, it was mathematically impossible for our alumnae base to donate at the levels necessary to offset the revenue raised by the sale of the art. All other options were exhausted and it still wasn’t enough for the survival of the institution. If the College had failed, then all the art (not just four pieces) would transfer ownership anyways (to places like the National Gallery). It isn’t a pleasant scenario, but life rarely is black and white.

    1. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am in the process of putting together a longer response piece to this whole issue, but I do feel I should point out that the College would have had a much better chance of getting support from the alumnae had they approached the question of admitting men differently. SACS was only brought into the situation after the decision to turn co-ed was made; indeed it was outraged alumnae who contacted SACS in the first place, a decision I understand but did not and do not agree with.

      A number of women’s colleges have faced financial crises in the not-too-distant past, and many of these colleges have successfully reached out to their alumnae base and gained the support they needed to turn things around. For those of us who graduated from Randolph-Macon Woman’s College, the insult and injury of a unilateral decision to admit men and change the name of the institution followed by the sale of meaningful pieces of cultural heritage has been insupportable.

      The problem with the sale of the art is not that it left, it is that it left and the proceeds from the sale were not used to further expand the collection. This is the violation of museum ethics that has generated outrage from the art history/museums community. The violation of trust with the community and the alumnae is much deeper. From where I’m standing, the college I attended has ceased to exist, and the sale of the art represents a desecration of the memory of that institution.

      It’s been difficult for me to write a response piece partly because I feel so strongly about the subject, but mostly because it’s difficult to talk about the art without going into the entire situation in great detail, something your comment has really made clear for me, and I appreciate that. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts, and I hope you’ll check in again when I make my longer post on the topic.

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