August 29, 2003

AAP Starts New Program

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Cornell’s Department of Architecture will admit fewer freshmen next year, using the extra places to start up a new master’s professional degree program, the M.Arch.-I.

The M.Arch.-I will be a three and a half year professional program aimed at anyone with a four-year bachelor’s degree. The admissions committee will be looking for students from diverse backgrounds, with “an interest or aptitude in terms of visual things” and a “spark of creativity,” said Jonathan Ochshorn B.Arch.’75, the department’s director of graduate studies .

Once the M.Arch.-I program is accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board, it will be professionally equivalent to the five year B.Arch., meaning that graduates of both programs will be licensed to practice architecture. The department retains its post-professional master’s program, the M.Arch.-II.

“If you look at the [course] offerings, it looks like five years crammed into three and a half, but an M.Arch.-I student will have already had the basics and principles of an [undergraduate] education,” Seraji said.

Cornell is the only Ivy League school offering a B.Arch. degree, but Princeton, Columbia, Harvard and Yale have well-established programs equivalent to the M.Arch I. Starting up the new program enables Cornell to admit a larger, more diverse pool of potential architects.

“Now we’ll really have to compete with our peer institutions,” said Prof. Nasrine Seraji, chair of the Department of Architecture.

Another advantage to the new program is the influx of students from non-architectural backgrounds, creating the “cross-pollination [that] gives architecture a greater chance [to thrive] as a form of culture” Seraji said.

The new degree has been a long time coming. In 1996 the department faculty instructed the “appropriate standing committees” to “move with all deliberate speed” to develop the M.Arch.-I, according to the department’s preliminary proposal for the program in 1998.

Ochshorn outlined some of the reasons for the delay, citing the need to seek approval from the faculty senate, the graduate school, the provost and the president. Since the department is creating a new professional degree, it had to seek approval from the New York State Department of Education in Albany.

“Most of the blame is right here,” Ochshorn said, citing Day Hall’s slow handling of the application and turnover within the University’s administration.

Because of the new master’s degree, fewer B.Arch. students will be accepted. “It’s not a exactly a one to one exchange. For every ten M.Arch-I students, we would expect to reduce the number of undergrads by about seven,” Ochshorn said.

Among the original rationale for starting the new program was a decline, from the 1980s to 1998, in admissions selectivity for the B.Arch. program, according to the 1998 program proposal.

The decline in selectivity has since reversed itself. In 1997, 31 percent of applicants were admitted, with 65 percent of those admitted accepting a place in the B.Arch. program, according to Beth Cutter, director of admissions for the College of Art, Architecture and Planning. Admissions for this year’s entering class received 10 percent more applicants compared to last year’s 21 percent acceptance rate and a yield of 70 percent. “Those numbers are comparable to those of the early 1990s,” Cutter said, adding that if these trends continue, “it’s going to make the undergrad program incredibly selective.”

Cutter also noted that the department has yet to decide on the exact number of spots available to M.Arch.-I students in the program. The size of the incoming M.Arch.-I class will detemine how many fewer November early decision undergraduates can be admitted to the B.Arch. program.

Frank Hu, M.Arch-II ’03, who also received his B.Arch. from Cornell, agreed with Seraji about the benefits of seeking students from outside of architecture, and also hoped the new program would improve the quality of the department’s graduate programs.

“Very often [Cornell architecture] has the habit of creating a bubble around us,” Hu said. “Maybe it has to do with Ithaca’s location or because of our history, that Cornell architects are presented as elitist and aloof members of the profession. But we don’t have to be like this, and we shouldn’t be. There are many wonderful things that are happening in the world today — sustainable development, liberation in religion, gender, race and ideas and new technology. And that is what new M.Arch.-I students can bring [because] of their different undergraduate training.”

Archived article by Dan Galindo