A Facelift for GSD

Reworking the System

Gerald M. McCue is no laggard. One year ago, when President Bok appointed him as the new dean of the Graduate School of Design (GSD), the School was being torn apart by an internecine struggle over a troubled department. However, today, a little less than 30 days before he officially takes over his new post, McCue has healed the wounds in the glass house on Cambridge St. and has already demonstrated a flair for the dramatic and innovative gesture.

In fact, while McCue was still dean-designate last year, he helped resolve the School's most prominent problem--the years-long struggle over the direction of the department of City and Regional Planning (CRP) at the GSD--with one swift and dramatic stroke. McCue's boldness surprised many observers, but most believed it to be a logical response to the strife that has surrounded CRP for the past five years. Since John F. Kain, professor of Economics, took over as chairman of CRP in 1975, the department has taken an unabashedly nontraditional approach to urban planning. He shook up the basic curriculum required of all first-year planning students who entered Gund Hall. Heavily steeped in economic and political analysis, the courses included two semesters of quantitative methods as well as offerings such as "Economic Analysis for Planning," "Urban Growth and Spatial Structure," and "Public Finance and Budgeting."

However, some criticized Kain's shift away from the traditional planning curriculum. Francois C.D. Viglier, professor of City and Regional Planning and department chairman from 1969 to 1971, explains, "Planning is not a bunch of numbers. It deals basically with human beings and how they deal with space."

Kain dismisses the criticisms of CRP. "Our graduates find very few employers who criticize us for being too quantitiative," he says, adding that "it's pretty hard to find a CRP department which doesn't do a lot of economics."

Despite Kain's assertions, the American Planning Association (APA) last spring delayed renewal of its recognition of CRP because its reviewing committee thought the department did not have enough professional planners on its faculty and its core curriculum was not sufficiently "planning-oriented."

The controversy with the APA ended after Kain supplied the organization with additional information about the department's program. "If they wanted to look at the content of the curriculum, they should have looked at the whole thing and not just the core," Kain says, adding, "But we gave them more information about the coverage of different topics within the core curriculum itself and now they agree that we meet the criteria." Kain argues that the APA believed the department did not meet the teaching staff criteria because it counted a faculty member as a planner only if he held a planning degree while CRP considers some of its members as planners because they have substantial experience in the field. Last fall, the APA came around to Kain's position and renewed its recognition of the department.

With the re-recognition of the department secured last October. the fireworks in Gund Hall seemed to subside a bit. But in the end of November, President Bok recommended the transfer of CRP to the Kennedy School of Government after consulting with Kain, McCue, and Graham T. Allison '62, dean of the K-School, Harry Lirtzman, a first-year student at the GSD, expressed a reaction shared by most, saying "With the appointment of McCue as the new dean, we thought there might be substantial changes in City and Regional Planning but we never thought it would have come to this."

Most of the CRP faculty think the move, which will wed the department to the public policy program at the Kennedy School, makes sense. Michael Shapiro, assistant professor of City and Regional Planning, says, "As a department, we've been heading in the same direction as the Kennedy School for many years," noting that with growing interest in state and local government issues at the K-School, "it was clear that the two groups were moving closer together." Laurence E. Lynn, professor of Public Policy and chairman of the Kennedy School public policy program, says the two programs already overlap substantially, and a significant number of GSD and public policy students already cross-register.

However, some faculty members have expressed anxiety about the merger. Kain, who will remain as chairman of CRP under the Kennedy School, says, "It's not the easiest thing to work with a group of people for so many years in the Design School and develop close working relationships and then have to leave them." Many junior faculty members fear the Kennedy School will swallow up the department. Shapiro says, "Over the long term, I think it's a reasonable expectation that CRP will lose its identity and become part of the mass of Kennedy School programs."

Also, some CRP students fear their shift to the Kennedy School will close them off from training in physical design. Philip Wall, a first-year student in CRP, says the transfer "takes too much of the physical planning element out of the curriculum for those who don't have a previous design degree." However, Wall, who received a bachelors degree in design from the University of California at Berkeley, says he views the move positively because the Kennedy School has "more resources and a better name." Another CRP student says. "We have the feeling that we're getting kicked out. CRP had a much high faculty-to-student component that any other department, and the school needed them to pay for the building. But now they need more space. A lot of students are a bit pissed off." McCue replies, "The decision to move the program was based entirely upon the career interests of the students and the research interests of the faculty."

Even though CRP is moving over to the Kennedy School, this year's first-year students in the department will have the option of receiving their diplomas from the GSD or the Kennedy School. But students admitted to CRP starting next fall will receive Kennedy School degrees. McCue says it's too soon to know whether the absence of an urban planning program at the Design School for the next couple of years will reduce the number of applicants the the GSD. He adds, "My sense is that there will be no problem."

Over the next couple of years, the Design School will develop a new urban planning program, which will include physical planning, regional and natural resources studies and the current Urban Design program, to replace CRP. However, McCue says the GSD will probably not be ready to admit students to the new urban planning program until the fall of 1982. Thus far, the school has had three general faculty meetings to discuss the thrust of the new department. "The object was to get the issues out before us so the faculty could think about them over the summer," McCue says, adding that he will form a committee next fall to start working out the details of the new program. Carl F. Steinitz, professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design, concurs: "Neither the structure or the content (of the program) will be settled until next fall."

As quick as his efforts to cure the CRP problem were, McCue says that the development of a faculty for the new department will probably begin in 1981-82, the year after the establishment of a curriculum. He adds that, logistically, the Design School will not be able to start the new urban planning program until CRP moves out of Gund Hall to facilities at the Kennedy School. And McCue does not expect CRP to be able to move out until 1982, when the Kennedy School finds room for them in their headquarters.

Besides gaining a new dean, the Design School is also acquiring a new chairman of the Architecture Department, the post the McCue is vacating. Henry N. Cobb '46, a founding partner in the New York firm of I.M. Pei & Partners and chief architect of Boston's John Hancock Tower, will assume the post in July with the intention of establishing new courses in the GSD in revitalizing buildings. "Older buildings embody certain cultural values; they are a statement about our past that should enrich our lives," Cobb says, adding, "We don't have to destroy our past to prepare for the future." Cobb will be a studio professor in Architecture and Urban Design, a special GSD post that will permit him to teach at the University while continuing to work at his firm part-time.

While McCue moved swiftly to excise CRP, he is encouraging a slow and cautious development of the new program. He says, "I've been trying to get the faculty not to arrive at decisions too quickly. Right now, I'm trying to see how many interesting ideas and alternatives we can bring out." The Design School's new dean has already shown himself to be very willing to make the bold decisions. And what about the future? McCue only says, "I have a few embryonic ideas. Call me back this summer.