February 26, 2009

AAP Administrators Respond to Protest

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After students protested earlier this week over the lack of transparency within the College of Architecture, Art and Planning, students, faculty and administrators gathered yesterday in Sibley Hall to discuss concerns regarding the future path of the college.
Issues raised included the selection process of a new architecture department chair, the lack of tenured faculty, the relationship between permanent and visiting faculty, the transparency of the administration and the morale of the college.
The meeting came just several days after architecture students plastered signs inside and outside Sibley Hall criticizing the College for insufficient communication.

[img_assist|nid=35588|title=Taking it out|desc=Prof. Vince Mulcahy and Prof. John Zissovici meet with students in Sibley Hall yesterday.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Mark Cruvellier, interim architecture department chair, said he wished that those concerns had been raised within the college rather than displayed to the entire University.
“As much as possible, we should work within the structure that’s established [within the College],” he said. “Let’s not resort to going through public media about it. There are ample opportunities and willingness to engage in a discussion like this.”
He continued his opening remarks, touching on the administration’s genuine concern for the quality of education, the student representative groups formed as liaisons between the administration and the student body and the concerns over the lack of tenured professors.
In terms of the average age of the faculty, Cruvellier explained that the department is not unusual in its composition. He also added that the experienced faculty brings exceptional world experience to their teaching.
“I challenge you to find a department that is as diverse and balanced in terms of age, experience and background,” Cruvellier said. “I challenge you to find a group of faculty that matches this group.”
Before opening the floor up to student questions, Cruvellier also discussed the current financial crisis, stating that the department cannot expect to continue as if nothing has changed and that they will simply have to try to do more with less.
Andy Linn ’11 started the question and answer period, focusing on the involvement of the student body with the choice of the new department chair.
“I don’t think anyone is questioning the commitment or uniqueness of the faculty but you acknowledge that a big change will happen,” he said. “I think that we as a body would like to have a role in shaping the future rather than just dealing with whatever we are given.”
Linn criticized the University for not adding a student representative to the architecture chair search committee until later in the process, failing to publicize the candidates and not giving students the opportunity to directly interact with the candidates.
Prof. John Zissovici, architecture, who is head of the Chair Search Committee, responded to the comments, saying that two out of the five candidates were directly recommended or encouraged to apply by students. Moreover, every individual was free to propose names to be considered for the position before the search started.
Prof. Vince Mulcahy, architecture, who is a member of the Chair Search Committee, also added that the goal is not to sell the candidates to the students or the faculty, but rather to critically evaluate the candidates and to remind them that Cornell is a great place.
Another main concern surrounding the selection of a new department chair involves the structure of the position. Students in the audience voiced their concerns that a candidate who would commute to the University instead of living in Ithaca might not be the best fit for the job.
Cruvellier responded to the comments, sharing the concern of the students. Mulcahy also added that other schools have structured their department chairs differently, in terms of how many days are actually spent at the university and various degrees of involvement.
“We shouldn’t be victims of our own atavistic preoccupations … We don’t want to gamble because it is a critical time but we really should be open minded in that regard,” Mulcahy said.
Kent Hubbell ’67, dean of students and former architecture department chair, also spoke about the responsibilities of being department chair and what he would like to see done.
“I would like to think that the new chair would partner with the faculty but also with [AAP Dean] Kent Kleinman and take the department and the college to another level,” Hubbell said.
The ongoing search for a new architecture department chair was supposed to come to a close next Monday, with the committees making recommendations to the dean.
However, Michael Bell, one of the five candidates, recently pulled out of the candidacy, citing the growth of his personal practice as the reason behind his decision. The other candidates include Mehrdad Hadighi from the University of Buffalo, Ashley Shafer from Ohio State University, Dagmar Richter from UCLA and Adam Yarinsky from the Architecture Research Office.
In addition to the search for a new department chair, the department’s faculty was a source of discussion. Mulcahy responded to concerns over the lack of tenured professors and the uncertainty some students are feeling regarding how long professors may be staying at Cornell.
“It’s been a long time since we’ve replenished the well in terms of tenure track design faculty. The reality is that we want that to happen and for one reason or another that hasn’t happened. We’re looking forward to a chair that can make that argument for us,” Mulcahy said.
Another issue highlighted in the discussion was visiting faculty. Cruvellier explained that there will be fewer visiting faculty next year as a direct result of budget cuts, but the quality of education will not be compromised.
“I am absolutely committed to this place and to providing a world class program … We’ll cut back on many other things before we cut back on who’s teaching here and the education offered,” Cruvellier said.
On the topic of visiting faculty, Mulcahy also commented on concerns over a separation between permanent and visiting faculty.
“Visiting faculty and permanent faculty haven’t been that synergistic. I don’t think its good for you or us. There needs to be more interaction and exchange between the people coming through and the people that are here. I’m hoping that with this new leadership and initiatives can change that,” Mulcahy said.
The department will continue to work with the administration and the students to address the issues discussed today and move forward.
“For once it would be really nice for us to get past searching for our leader in some way shape or form. It would be nice to get past searching for a building in some way shape or form and to have all the pieces in place to develop the curriculum and develop the programs in a way we know we can,” Cruvellier said.