September 25, 2002

Disagreement Continues Over AA&P Question

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The University administration and members of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning are continuing to weigh the options regarding President Hunter R. Rawlings III and Provost Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin’s proposal to dissolve the college.

Rawlings and Martin reinforced their positions in a meeting last Friday with the college’s advisory council, which includes Dean Porus Olpadwala and the department chairs. Additionally, a group of alumni met in New York City on Monday to discuss their opposition to the proposal.

Olpadwala is currently considering his future as dean; his term ends this academic year.

“I don’t know what will happen, and I’m certainly not going to walk away,” he said.

The Friday meeting ended with an hour long conference call open to interested alumni. According to notes on the call obtained by The Sun, Rawlings outlined the four matters which led to the initial proposal over the summer. First, he said, there is a “lack of curricular cohesion, both de jure and de facto.” He said this includes a lack of cross-departmental graduation requirements, students not taking many classes in the other two departments and the lack of a functioning curriculum committee in the college.

The other main issues, Rawlings said, are the leadership turnover of the college and “the difficulty in being dean.” He also cited space issues “due to the lack of cohesion” and budget issues.

The budget issues stem from a subsidy granted to the college from the Provost’s office. This subsidy began under former provost Don Randel, current president of the University of Chicago. Martin said in the meeting that she refuses to continue subsidizing the college on the basis that “the three departments have too much independent infrastructure and too much administrative overhead.”

Olpadwala, in a separate interview, responded to several of these points. He said that the college does have a curriculum committee, which is contrary to Rawlings’ suggestion.

Responding to the fact that students take few clases not in their own departments, Olpadwala said, “This has been discussed in the past, and now it’s been accelerated.”

He added, “We will try and appoint professors who are more likely to collaborate with each other [cross-departmentally].” In the Department of City and Regional Planning, Olpadwala said, four to six of the past appointments have been hired with this in mind.

“There’s always more to be done,” he said.

Olpadwala also countered Rawlings’ view of leadership turnover in the college.

“It’s not accurate to say there is a high turnover,” he said.

Before Olpadwala, Anthony Vidler served as college dean for two years. Before him, William McMinn served for 13 years.

“The faculty in the three departments don’t work together as they should in a college,” Martin also said in the meeting.

“There is no curricular cohesion and rightly so since these departments have very different programs,” stated Prof. Nasrine Seraji, chair of the Department of Architecture, in an e-mail. “Architecture is a professional undergraduate degree whereas art and planning are not.”

Regarding the budgetary problems, Seraji stated that “the appropriated budget is hardly enough to run a department of architecture in any part of the world except in state-run schools in Europe where there are between 70 to 100 students per studio — an unthinkable teaching method for architecture — but as is the case with every constraint in life the department has every year successfully and creatively worked with the budget.”

One option being considered is converting the architecture department into a School of Architecture. Rawlings said in the meeting that this option is “very hypothetical” and has not been officially proposed. Seraji called it “an interesting idea.”

Rawlings maintained that “the college will change. Into what is still uncertain. There are no hard and fast or even soft thoughts on this. Everything is on the table.”

“I am committed and I am interested in seeing the results of the exploration of the other options,” Olpadwala said. “I’ve come out early and clearly in keeping the college together.”

Finally, Olpadwala addressed the space issues cited by Rawlings: “By disbanding the college, we are not going to gain any space except the dean’s office. Even with my palacial quarters that’s not going to be very large.”

Howard McCalebb MFA ’72 attended the New York City meeting on Monday with about 30 other alumni who graduated from 1969 to 1998. He said that four different generations were represented.

“We don’t want to see the college dissolved,” he said. “I’ve taught at seven universities, and I know that those models [of breaking up the college] are not the best.”

He added that with Rawlings’ resignation, “this is a matter that should be defeated or taken up by the new administration in the fall.”

Archived article by Andy Guess