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A Crack In the Structure


By Gay Seidman

Ordinarily, as the College book of Rules and Regulations would put it, the Board of Overseers accepts the recommendations of its visiting committees without question, which--given that the Overseers appoint the committees and presumably have complete confidence in their expertise on the school under consideration--is hardly surprising.

But this week the overseers surprised everyone. The board cancelled an April meeting between the visiting committee on the Graduate School of Design (GSD) and members of the school's administration on the grounds that the meeting, and any other such meetings this year, would be "unproductive" and unhelpful.

The stated reason for the cancellation--which effectively means there will be no further reviews of the GSD until next year, when the overseers can appoint a new committee, is that someone leaked a copy of the visiting committee's report to The Crimson last week, "undermining the mutual confidence and trust that must run between the School and the Visiting Committee."

The widely publicized report was highly critical of the GSD, charging that the school suffers from a "drift away from professional competence" and is "out of touch with the best people, and the best work," in the field of design.

At the root of the report's controversy is a philosophical debate over the role of the GSD. While the visiting committee argues that the school should emphasize professional architectural skills over public policy and planning, the school's administrators apparently feel architects should be more aware of general social problems than they have been in the past.

President Bok seems to agree with the administrators' position, stating in his annual report, released this week, that "schools of architecture do not seem to have shaped their curricula to include a sufficient emphasis on the emerging forces of land financing, government regulation, production and technology, and community politics.... Most students will have to understand the social and economic forces that increasingly press upon them if they are to avoid having their role reduced to carrying out highly circumscribed, ministerial functions."

Members of the Board of Overseers and the visiting committee declined to comment on the apparently unprecedented cancellation of the visiting committee's meeting. Bok said this week he had nothing to do with the overseers' decision.

While no one is talking about why the overseers went so far this time, a hint may lie in a former GSD visiting committee member's comment two weeks ago suggesting that Bok had effectively told the committee that it would be wasting its time even to consider asking the school to come up with a new team.

And since that is exactly what the visiting committee's report asks, the overseers' move may just prove Bok's prediction extraordinarily accurate.

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