As the Sep. 30 deadline for internal reviews of departments and colleges quickly approaches, the University — including administrators and faculty — must respect the interest of students and remember the positive impact students’ ideas can muster. Day Hall needs only to look at the Department of Architecture to find an example of the positive impact students can have on the future of a college.
This past February, we praised architecture students involved in raising awareness about their college’s recent hiring practices. Student enthusiasm and activism, in many ways, forced the administration to more closely consider student opinion about the ongoing chair search, and Dean Kent Kleinman soon thereafter announced the selection of Dagmar Richter, a candidate who received wide spread support from student representatives, to the position.
The ripples of Richter’s appointment can already be felt positively throughout the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Since this transition came at a time when change was already a necessity, the new architecture administration has been able to overcome some of the department’s long-standing struggles with efficiency, as well as listen to the student voice.
For starters, the department’s new administration has been quick to address many preexisting student concerns, such as the need to integrate more leading real-world architects into the curriculum. Now, two highly-regarded contemporary practitioners are jointly leading studios with existing Cornell faculty. Additionally, the restructuring of existing facilities has begun, as exhibited by the improvements being made to Sibley Hall, which is viewed by many as an out-of-date facility. Finally, many concerns that arose with the closing of The Knight Visual Resource Facility have been alleviated: after students and faculty voiced their concern last year about access to Knight’s equipment and priceless slide collection, the administration developed means for easy access to both.
These are just a few examples of how student opinion has been welcome and the value of participation within the school has been widely raised. Student participation will flourish further as a direct result of the formation of new teams of student representatives who will help to form the school’s identity, the creation of elected architecture student ambassador positions to host visiting lecturers and critics and a resurgence of student architectural publications, which were once extremely influential on a national scale.
In the coming years, the construction of Milstein Hall, which is finally underway after over a decade of hurdles, will symbolize the school’s progress. Milstein Hall will give the independent accreditation board the assurance that they need to approve the Department of Architecture’s bachelor and master of architecture programs. The department’s new administration, with Richter at the helm, has already scheduled two visits by the board within the next year.
But more fundamental to the issue of student involvement is that the newly created Milstein Advisory Committee, formed to discuss issues and pursue potentials related to Milstein Hall, has three students as members who will ensure that the new space is designed and used with the students’ best interests in mind.
Over the past few tumultuous months, the Department of Architecture has transformed quickly and positively, improving for the benefit of its students. It should serve as an example of how concerned students can be heard and how activism can pay off. Students had a vision for their college and worked with the administration to make that vision a reality. There is no reason why the same can’t happen across the University.