For Sue Chen ’09, the summer scholarship grant provided much needed funding and a structured timeline within which she was able to pursue her interest in governance structure at university art museums.
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“This project started with the Brandeis controversy — when the board voted to close Brandeis University’s Rose Art Museum,” Chen says. “I wanted to look at what makes university art museums vulnerable to being raided by their universities in times of budget crunches.”
Since the legal literature seemed virtually silent on the subject, Chen began by interviewing the directors of a number of university art museums to attempt to map out their governance structures. “It would have been really hard to do this research without the grant,” she says. “I was able to go to Chicago to meet with the director of the association for college and university art museums. And I was able to meet Professor Evelyn Brody, who is working on a project called ‘Principles of the Law of Nonprofit Organizations’ for The American Law Institute. So, these were important interviews for me to be able to do.
“Also, when you are talking to a museum director, it helps to be able to look at the museum to see it in person because there are such great variations in university art museums,” she continues. “For example, when I went to DePaul, the museum was not in its own building. I don’t think I would have been able to figure that out from the website and I’m not sure it would have naturally come up in a conversation over the phone. But I was able to see it, and it allowed me to ask about how supportive the university was of its art museum. That was important.”
After conducting her field research and interviews, Chen began to synthesize the information and ask questions about the legal implications of these governance structures. Using the insight from university art museums, she decided to examine how governance can be improved in nonprofit corporations and, in particular, whether a stakeholder model might be appropriate.
Chen’s paper, which she presented at Duke Law School in November 2009, is now being revised for submission during the fall 2010 publication cycle.
“This grant is a great opportunity to pursue your own scholarship, particularly if your research requires interviews, archival research, or travel,” she says. “And to have the summer to do that is a real luxury. It’s hard to work on your own research during the school year. If you have something that you always thought you’d like to pursue but never had the time or the funds, this is it.”