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GSD Visiting Committee Minutes

May 27-28, 1975


During its two-day meeting the Committee met with faculty, administrators and students and held two private sessions. The report of the Executive Session will include discussion which took place at the breakfast session earlier the same day. An Addendum to this report covers the meetings with various groups from the School.

At the beginning of the Executive Session the Chairman asked the Vice-Chairman and several other New York-based members to form a subcommittee to write a formal Report of the Visiting Committee.


The consensus of the Committee was that the Graduate School of Design (GSD) requires the achievement of excellence. Members found a lack of ability to fulfill rhetorical objectives, caused by a lack of administrative and academic leadership and evidenced by mediocrity of academic output and apparent student and faculty boredom. Discussion centered on three areas of concern to the Committee:

1. The role of the GSD in America and in the University.

2. The Deanship.

3. The quality of academic achievement.

1. The Role of the GSD.

Several members of the Committee saw that the GSD must undertake a new "missionary" role in determining the relationships of human wants and values to design, just as the School had assumed under Gropius in the '30's and '40's the leadership of an heroic period in architecture. One member stressed that American civilization depends on its cities and saw that the GSD can become a major resource in solving urban problems if it can actually implement its objectives as set forth in the catalog and in the Dean's Report and increase its concern for the socio-economic-political aspects of design.

Another member of the Committee suggested that the field of design must begin to draw from other fields. He proposed that the GSD be incorporated into the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS), in a move analogous to the attachment of the Engineering School to FAS as the Division of Engineering and Applied Physics. He saw that the creation of the Division was a result of an intellectual drive in engineering. Design schools, he said, are probing toward human wants and values but are unable to comprehend them. Another member saw that arts and sciences are not necessarily the vehicle for teaching the perception and implementation of these values, but did stress the need for integration of disciplines in the University. He expressed the opinion that the tub-on-its-own-bottom concept is destructive to this integration and pointed to failures of attempted collaborative efforts between the GSD and the Business School in the area of planning. One member suggested that every department in the University, where appropriate, should institute programs in some aspects of urban studies, such as urban sociology and urban economics. The study of potential interaction between GSD and the rest of the University was seen to be dependent on the type of administrative leadership available to the School.

(Assistant's note: This view in favor of great greater interdisciplinary interaction reflected as well student and faculty desire for breadth of curriculum, particularly in Urban Design. In their discussion with the Committee, student and faculty groups seemed to be seeking a balance both between the practical and theoretical aspects of individual department curricula, and between autonomy and integration of the design disciplines represented by the different departments.)

Another member of the Committee expressed a dissenting view about the ability of the GSD to solve the problems of the human condition. He suggested a reversion to the narrower disciplines, resulting in the giving up of City Planning and Urban Design and the teaching only of Architecture and Landscape Architecture. While one member then remarked that the School cannot afford to give up its planning students, another pointed out that they all seem to spend a lot of time at MIT.

The issue of expansion versus contraction within the School was synthesized by one member who saw that the School must address both the public policy question of design and the perception of the individual building as a work of art. He suggested that students are trying to choose between the two extremes, but that the choice is not necessary.

2. The Deanship

The Visiting Committee agreed that Dean Kilbridge deserves the thanks of all for his success in pulling the School out of administrative disorder. One member remarked, however, that a struggling image of the School persists outside the University and he suggested that we cease drawing attention to this aspect of Kilbridge's Deanship. Comparing the Kilbridge administration to a receivership, members suggested that Kilbridge cannot provide continued intellectual leadership and pointed to the need for a new Dean to bring the School to excellence. One member said that the logical head "could possibly be" an architect but that an architect should be hired with the proviso that he can build. Another remarked that an administrative, non-professional Dean could be considered if more powerful department chairmen could be found. Several members saw that the academic qualifications of a Dean are secondary to the need to find someone to stimulate the sense of purpose and mission which the Committee found lacking in both faculty and students, as well as to attract a higher claibre of faculty. It was suggested that students are seeking meaning and self-respect in their profession and that commanding presence in a Dean is preferable to missionary zeal which can cool in the real world. As the architect himself is not the patron, figures from government and business who provide opportunities for the architect may constitute the pool from which to select a Dean. Finally, the Dean must have the stature to bring to the forefront the fact that the urban problem is a major problem of our civilization.

3. The quality of academic achievement at the GSD.

One Committee member expressed dismay over the mediocrity which he considered characteristic of both faculty and student output at the GSD. Other members concurred with his impression of a pervading boredom and lack of excitement resulting from a lack of a sense of purpose. Members were very concerned that 1974 GSD questionnaire results indicate only 39 per cent of GSD graduates as a whole considered their GSD training "very useful," while 49 per cent found it "somewhat useful" and 12 per cent found it of little or no use. One member suggested, however, that the current students' complaints about the quality of their training should be interpreted cautiously. Students had explained to her privately that they wanted to tell the Committee what was wrong with the School in the group meetings, but assured her they were getting a great education. Members did see a need for more faculty concern for what they considered to be the legitimate role of students in decision-making in the School. The declining rate of increase in applications made to the GSD was also cause for alarm among Committee members. Stated in the Dean's Report to the Visiting Committee, May, 1975: "Starting with 1970/71, the annual percentage increase in applications has been 20.4, 23.1, 22.5, 14.2, and this year 6.8." One member remarked that applications are rising in schools involved in environmental issues. Another expressed the opinion that schools which teach architecture only are better in terms of professional training. (The Chairman asked that comparative statistics on rates of application to other schools, such as Rice, Minnesota, Washington [Seattle], and Washington University-St. Louis, be included in the Visiting Committee's Report. He asked also that the Committee consider in its Report the opinions of leading academics and others in design-related fields about the future direction of architecture.)

One Committee member remarked that "this is the least distinguished faculty in the history of the GSD." Other members saw a lack of intellectual disagreement in the faculty and were particularly critical of the passiveness of faculty members present at the faculty session. (It was pointed out that the essence department chairmen at this session may have had an inhibiting influence on junior faculty, and it was suggested that in the future the Committee should meet with faculty alone without chairmen.) Another member suggested that low faculty salaries prevent the School from attracting top quality faculty, and cause existing faculty to work professionally outside the School, thus decreasing their contact with students. He proposed that the GSD undertake design contracts for outside interests. This, he said, might result in attracting faculty to the School, as well as encouraging faculty and students to work together on specific projects.

There was some discussion about the status of the planning department. Committee members considered the resignation of the Chairman, Professor Mann, to be indicative of a floundering, a lack of direction in the department. In addition, members sensed that the Committee was being used by both faculty and students to promote the appointment of one of the candidates for the Chairmanship. One member said that he had been forced to consider the candidate inappropriate for the position. There was a sense that the Committee was disturbed that the candidate would not bring a background that would create a new purpose or mission in the department, but also that they considered it beyond their responsibility to make any recommendations in this area.

(Assistant's note: The Committee agreed to include in its Report reference to the School's implementation of its affirmative action program. Discussion on this subject with a group of faculty and students is reported in the Addendum. In addition, the Report will include reference to the student-expressed need for a school-wide Placement Office, in particular, the funding implications of creating such a service. Discussion with planning students of the department's Professional Development Office is also reported in the Addendum.) Respectfully submitted,   Julia G. Fox   Staff Assistant to the Visiting Committee

Addendum: Discussions which preceded the Executive Session.

The Committee met with the Dean, the departmental chairmen, and other faculty members, with four groups of students representing the individual departments and with a combined group concerned specifically with affirmative action. In addition the Committee heard at luncheon on May 28 reports on the Bicentennial Design Heritage Project and on the development needs of the GSD. The Dean read his Report to the Visiting Committee and copies were distributed to those who attended luncheon.

Among the major issues of these sessions were the following:

1. The atmosphere of the School; the theme of boredom.

2. The role of students in decision-making.

3. The quality and direction of individual departmental curricula; the issue of balancing the practical and the theoretical; the degree of emphasis on social aspects of design.

4. The issue of compartmentalization: the degree of inter-disciplinary collaboration between departments; the issue of specialization vs. breadth, e.g. in Urban Design.

5. The proposal of a School-wide placement office; appraisal of the Professional Development Office of the Department of City and Regional Planning.

6. The alleged failure of the School to live up to its affirmative action commitments.

1. Atmosphere.

Architecture students in particular conveyed to the Committee their discouragement with attempts to increase the degree of communication between architecture faculty and students. They described an atmosphere of secrecy pervading departmental decision-making, resulting in rumors and frustration with last-minute information. Architecture students perceived a lack of dialogue, a lack of objectives, and a sense of boredom in the faculty. Professor Anselevicius, however, expressed the opinion that student-faculty relations in the department are close, especially in the design studios. Concerning the issue of boredom, Professor Soltan stressed that design is not now in an heroic period and that the environment is not emotionally charged as it was under Gropius and Sert. There was some complaining in all disciplines that students are not sufficiently guided through their curricula, but some students appreciated the experience of self-direction.

2. Departmental Curricula.

There was a sense on the one hand that the curricula of the different departments lack a single direction or continuity, and on the other that the curriculum of an individual department need not be characterized by either a quantitative or a physical approach to design. While architecture students complained that their department lacks theory courses, landscape architecture, planning, and urban design students called for greater emphasis on physical design. In planning, it was pointed out that by administrative agreement MIT has concentrated more on the social aspects of planning while Harvard maintains a more theoretical program. Thus, there is a greater flow of planning students down the river than there is coming up, as students are becoming more concerned for the human aspects of the design professions. Planning students noted the loss of a political scientist, a social historian, and a geographer, as indication that the department is not attempting to become involved in the social/human aspects of planning. A student in urban design, however, saw too great an emphasis on the behavioral sciences in planning and called for a physical planning approach.

As far as quality of curriculum is concerned, one planning student had particular praise for the department's core curriculum. Professor Mann pointed out that CRP has moved toward greater use of the case study method. One landscape architecture student was similarly pleased with the core in that department. Other L.A. students, however, complained that the caliber of the corefaculty is not adequate and that the program is not rigorous enough for those who have taken the preprofessional B.L.A. degree. They called for clearer catalog information about other resources available to L.A. students at the University. Architecture students remarked that their support courses lack a sense of order or relevance to the studios and should be taught at a higher level. Professor Anselevicius noted that architecture is reintroducing a structured, sequential program of options, with improved required courses and an increase in the number of electives from 16 to 34. Students in the urban design program commented that their curriculum requires a broader interdisciplinary base, but most seemed to find the quality of their training good. (Most U.D. students are studying for a second professional degree.)

4. Compartmentalization vs. interdisciplinary collaboration.

Despite apparent lack of disagreement between faculty members within departments, faculty and students hinted at the existence of interdepartmental friction. It was suggested that the plan of Gund Hall is not conductive to interaction between departments as there is no central meeting point. Professor Soltan pointed out that the Urban Design Program was founded as a bridge between the other three departments but was first an extension of architecture. He remarked that in order to implement its goals the program must be allembracing. U.D. students concurred that the program must be broadened beyond the architectural point of view and that studios must be made collaborative. There was a general consensus among students, however, that the autonomy of the program should be emphasized, because too close an alliance with another department causes too much specialization. A Committee member commented that if he were planning a city he would not seek an urban designer, because of the problem of making a discipline out of a "way of thinking." Students agreed, however, that the U.D. degrees should remain combined with one of the other disciplines (M.A.U.D., M.L.A.U.D., M.C.P.U.D.) rather than changing to the M.U.D. degree, because the combination degrees are identifiable. The interdisciplinarily trained urban designer has both broad and finite skills. One student suggested that Urban Design at GSD is in a constant state of administrative jeopardy, and that it must be made stronger and healthier to provide insulation and security from other departments and avoid dependence on other faculty and other budgets. It was also emphasized that the general admission prerequisite of evidence of design capability (with or without a first professional degree) must not be diluted.

As well as recognizing the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration within the GSD, students in other departments saw the value of utilizing the offerings of the other departments and schools in the University to supplement their own departmental curricula.

5. Placement

Planning students reported on the success of the first year of operation of the department's Professional Development Office (PDO). While it was clear that such a service would be beneficial to all GSD students, some planning students were reluctant to recommend its expansion and the resulting decrease in attention to the needs of planning students. Committee members considered the resume book potentially useful to employers. One member pointed out that if the GSD shows, by establishing a School-wide placement office, that it cares about jobs for its students, applications for admissions might increase greatly. The fact that the School has decreased the PDO's budget after the initial start-up budget may pose problems in planning what would inevitably be a very expensive expansion of services.

6. Affirmative Action.

The Committee shared the concern of the group that the present rate of decline in Black applications and admissions may result in no more Black students at GSD in two years. (There are now 17 Blacks out of a total enrollment of about 580-600.) The Chairman pointed out that the commitment to affirmative action has been made but that a combination of lack of funding and lack of recruiting effort has prevented the School from living up to its commitment. A half-time minority recruiter has been hired and a search is underway for scholarship funds specially designated for minority students. Students stressed that there must be consistency in the consideration of women and Blacks for staff positions along with the increased recruiting effort for minority applicants to the School. They encouraged observation of the spirit of the program, not just the letter.   Respectfully submitted,   Julia G. Fox   Staff Assistant to the Visiting Committee

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