During the thirteen years he spent at the University, Walter Gropius became almost a spiritual leader of the Graduate School of Design. To the outside world he was the school; to much of the faculty, he, not Dean Joseph Hudnut, set the policy; and to the students, he was the ideal architect, the master mold into which they poured their talents.
When Gropius resigned this fall, many felt the school had lost its heart. But behind the facade of Gropius there existed and still exists a vigorous school with some excellent teachers; perhaps none approximated the master, but most of them do not need his presence to function. Gropius, himself, did not consciously attempt to engulf the school with his beliefs; he encouraged his students to disagree with him, but many kept trying to emulate and become carbon copies of him. It was only a matter of time until the dean would begin to resent Gropius' presence, to envy his popularity, and attempt to pry him from his perch of preeminence.
The faculty watched the Hudnut-Gropius disagreements seethe and finally erupt into a bitter personal feud. After the lucrative post-war years, when the G.I. bill swelled the school's enrollment, inflation began to slice the endowment. Hudnut rearranged his program, dropping some courses and firing some instructors, mostly Gropius' friends. Finally, he turned to Gropius' own pet course, Fundamentals of Design, which had been running on a special Corporation grant. As soon as the money ran out Hudnut discontinued the course. With this gone and the general prospect of forced economy, Gropius left the school, leaving behind the dregs of his battle and a discouraged group of people.
Gropius' resignation was not the only blow to the school's morale. Hudnut retired officially last spring, and President Conant has delayed choosing a successor. Today students and faculty wait uneasily, unsure of who the new head will be and how he will reorganize the curriculum. Besides this, there is a deficit of about $10,000 a year for the school to erase. It has necessitated many one-year appointments, and a corresponding number of insecure instructors. Some on tenure spend little time teaching, concentrating on private practice, while the rest bear heavy teaching loads with inadequate salaries.
Rumors now circulate through the school, as to how the University will cut expenses. Each professor suspects that his program may vanish, and may students wonder which departments of the school will continue functioning. While the University delays taking any action, a good part of the school lies dormant. No one can start research projects. The libraries must limp along on inadequate budgets, and worn out equipment is not replaced. It is a poor atmosphere for academic development.
Those architects and designers who have glanced in from the outside are struck by a peculiar tragedy. Design has, perhaps, the best students in the country, and it has fine teachers; O'Neil Ford, a leading Taxes architect and a visiting professor, points out that the school's biggest lack "is not necessarily a matter of some great and important man. The students," he says, "should realize the great opportunities here, regardless of who is running the place."
It is difficult now to perceive an objective picture of Gropius by talking to the faculty. Since most of his supporters have left, the ones that remain will usually portray Hudnut as the misunderstood man, and Gropins as the unyielding genius. To the outside observer, there can be no real facts. Everything said by a professor or instructor is tainted with the bitter feelings of the quarrel.
Some of the faculty now say that Gropius had little direct contact with most of the school's students during the years he served as chairman of the Architecture Department. While the enrollment fluctuated around 200, they state, Gropius spend most of his time with only 16 students, all enrolled in his unique architect's course.
The Master course, which is now taught by for visiting professors, was Gropius' innovation. Created primarily for exceptional students, preferably with some experience, the course took men with architectural degrees and placed them under Gropius' wing. Some members of the faculty complained, out of jealousy, perhaps, about "Gropius' little geniuses, isolated by themselves downstairs." Gropius gave them specific problems to do by themselves, but they seldom mixed with the students studying for the Bachelors degree.
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Ford, who is now teaching this course, admits he has not been at the University long enough to have the complete picture, but he thinks the Master students could become more of an active part in the school.
He and Hugh A. Stubbins, Jr., associate professor of Architecture and acting head of the department, point out that some of the students in the Master course have less ability than the Bachelor candidates.
And it was in the Master course, some complain, that Gropius had the most damaging effect on his students. Few of them turned out original thinkers, one professor commented. They were like Gropius in every respect except the most important one.
But Gropius, along with many leading architects, would dispute this. In a nationwide architectural contest two years ago 14 of his students won 50 per cent of the total prizes. As Gropius comments: "If they were all completely alike, one would think the judges might become a bit bored."