May 5, 2004

Dean Voted Out of Old Post

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When Mohsen Mostafavi comes to Cornell as the new dean of the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, he will be leaving his post as chair at one of the most highly regarded architectural institutions in the world. After nine years, almost two full terms, at London’s Architectural Association School of Architecture (AA), Mostafavi will replace in July Dean Porus Olpadwala, who will return to his previous post as a professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning.

Mostafavi accepted Cornell’s offer during the first few days of April, according to Provost Biddy Martin. He was the top choice of the search committee, headed by Martin.

Mostafavi had advised the AA that he would like to be evaluated for reappointment in February. He then approached the school community and “announced what his intentions were beyond the expiration of his 5-year contract,” which would have expired in July 2005, explained Edouard Le Maistre, secretary of the AA council. A referendum was taken in March that asked all 700 members of the AA community, including students, faculty and administrators whether they would like to re-elect Mostafavi automatically.

“The opinion is sought as to whether the chair is doing a good job,” Le Maistre said.

According to Le Maistre, 29 percent of the community wanted Mostafavi to be re-appointed automatically. Just over 30 percent, he said, suggested the position be opened up to a search, with the possibility of Mostafavi being re-elected. Approximately 40 percent of the AA did not vote.

The fact that such a large portion of the population abstained, Le Maistre said, was “an expression of malaise by a section of the school that 10 years is long enough for a chair.”

Martin agreed, saying, “10 years … is a long time to be dean of any school. We rarely have deans who serve 10 or more years.”

Although Cornell’s administration and members of the AA cited length of term as the reason for Mostafavi’s departure, an article in the Architects Newspaper stated different causes for what they called the fact that he was “voted out.”

The article, written by Kester Rattenbury, stated that the AA under Mostafavi had been criticized as “homogenized” and “all a bit polite.” In an e-mail to The Sun, Rattenbury said she could not reveal her sources for the article.

Le Maistre said about the article in the Architects Newspaper that “the school, because of the sort of cutting edge position it takes, will always find detractors and people who criticize it.”

As the article compared the past 10 years of the AA to the school in the 1970s and 1980s, Le Maistre said “the past always becomes romanticized … The school continues to forge ahead and really seeks to be relevant to the present time and continues to be emulated.”

At a ceremony on April 14 announcing Mostafavi’s appointment, President Jeffrey S. Lehman ’77 called the architect “a person of not only great intellectual distinction, creative distinction, accomplishment, presence in the word, but also a person of great human quality.”

Before becoming chair of the AA in 1995, Mostafavi directed the Master of Architecture program at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the Frankfurt Academy of Fine Arts.

“I think this is a very good development in a way, for both the AA and Cornell, and Mohsen Mostafavi personally,” Le Maistre said. “It’s the way of the school [the AA] getting fresh blood,” he added. The AA has not appointed a new chair yet; they will meet later this week to form a search committee.

The sequence of events involving the referendum, Mostafavi’s decision to step down and his acceptance of the Cornell deanship remain unclear.

Martin said, “We didn’t know anything about there being a referendum of a vote on the leadership at the AA … they were completely separate events.”

Martin also said she is confident Cornell is getting a talented administrator and architect.

“I don’t feel fazed in the least by what happened at the AA,” she said. “I think he’s amazing, and I think we’re very lucky.”

Olpadwala and Mostafavi could not be reached by The Sun for comment.

Archived article by Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Writer