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Visiting Committee Attacks 'Drift' at Design School

By Charles E. Shepard

An Overseers' visiting committee has reported that the Graduate School of Design suffers from a "drift away from professional competence" and is "out of touch with the best people, and the best work" currently done in the design disciplines.

The panel's highly critical confidential report, a copy of which The Crimson obtained yesterday, argues that the long-troubled GSD must make major policy changes "if it is to be the pre-eminent institution that we [the committee] feel that it could, and should, become."

The committee assails the current focus of the Department of City and Regional Planning, arguing that it places "far too much emphasis" on policy analysis and social sciences, unwisely downplaying planning as a professional discipline.

Unsound

"A medical school set up in an analogous way, with a curriculum consisting mainly of biology and biochemistry, and little emphasis on diagnosis and clinical practice, would not offer a very sound medical education," the report adds.

The committee also argues that the GSD's urban design program "seems to have lost the position of innovative leadership that it once enjoyed." Now, the report says, the program is regarded as "something of a 'step child' whose existence as a separate entity is in question.

The visiting committee's report also criticizes the Architecture Department, noting its "underlying malaise" in 1975 and calling for an infusion of "talented new faculty." However, members of the committee indicated yesterday that they have a great deal of faith in the department's new chairman, Gerald M. McCue, who is also the GSD's associate dean.

The report also criticizes the GSD for failing to recognize that the "'leading edge' of knowledge" in the four design professions--planning, urban design, architecture and landscape architecture--is in their implementation. "The theory comes from the practice, and not the other way around," the report states.

In apparent reference to an on-going debate about what type of faculty the GSD should seek, the panel urged that "restrictions on professional activities not be permitted to cut Harvard off from the faculty it needs to maintain a vital curriculum."

Conspicuously absent from the document is an extended discussion of the controversial dean of the GSD, Maurice D. Kilbridge, an ex-Business School professor who took over the then-divided and financially lagging GSD in the late 1960s.

In the visiting committee's May 1975 meetings--according to confidential minutes published by The Crimson last spring and voided by the panel--Kilbridge's administration was compared to a receivership.

Before discussing the qualifications of a new dean, according to the minutes, "members suggested that Kilbridge cannot provide continued intellectual leadership and pointed to the need for a new Dean to bring the School to excellence."

Although the chairman of the visiting committee, Dan Paul, voided the notes because, he said, they "by no means represented the total opinion" of the panel, traces of the 1975 minutes are clearly evident in the more diplomatic report, which was presented to a meeting of the Overseers last fall.

R. Joyce Whitley, an architectural planner in Shaker Heights, Ohio, who served on the GSD visiting committee until this year, said yesterday that the report mentions Kilbridge only briefly--thanking him for helping the school through hard times--because President Bok told the panel during its annual visit last spring that, "in effect, Kilbridge was his man."

Whitley said she and several other committee members concluded that Bok was saying "you'd be wasting your time to even consider asking the school to come up with a new team." Had Bok not offered this support, she added, there probably would have been some discussion of Kilbridge at the meeting.

No Comment

Dean Kilbridge and other GSD officials, including John F. Kain, chairman of the City and Regional Planning Department, refused yesterday to comment on the report. Several said they would not speak because the Board of Overseers had asked them not to discuss reports of the visiting committee.

Kain has been the source of controversy since he moved into the Planning Department chairman's seat from the Economics Department, where he still holds a full professorship. The department has grown markedly in the last two years, and it now holds over 200 students as does the Architecture Department. There are about 600 students in the entire school.

In November 1975 first-year students in the department protested several of Kain's policies, including what they called an overemphasis on quantitative methods and slighting of fields such as physical design.

They also questioned Kain's preference for hiring less experienced younger faculty and giving them extensive sabbaticals to gain experience, rather than hiring practicing, experienced professionals.

A number of GSD sources said yesterday this debate is now going on between members of the faculty and administration as part of a review of the criteria used to select faculty.

Several of these criticisms surfaced in the visiting committee report, which includes a lengthy quote from a May 1976 letter written by Dorn C. McGrath Jr., the chairman of the George Washington University Department of Urban and Regional Planning and at that time member of the panel.

Among the points made in the letter, a copy of which The Crimson also obtained yesterday from local sources, were the following:

Chairman Kain, "although well-known as an economist and analyst of selected urban systems, is neither a city planner nor a regional planner";

Of eight new or proposed faculty appointments in the department last spring, only one held a degree in planning or had direct experience in the professional field;

Policy analysis is not urban planning and, unlike the other design disciplines, does not share "a basic reliance upon creativity and the ability of the practitioner to synthesize content from several fields and to formulate and apply physical, as well as social, economic and political principles to affect the natural and man-made environment."

In a telephone interview yesterday, McGrath said he has seen "no evidence that anyone has paid much attention to the visiting committee report."

A number of University officials yesterday condemned the unauthorized release of the report, arguing that it--along with publication of the minutes last year--has weakened the system of visiting committee oversight.

This system includes 60 visiting committees that report to the Board of Overseers, 30 alumni and alumnae who constitute one of the two central Governing Boards of the University. The committees are intended to raise money and report on the effectiveness of the department or school they oversee.

In addition, according to a University pamphlet; they are intended "to bring new ideas and fresh viewpoints to the University, to prevent provincialism, inbreeding and self-satisfaction and to serve as a liaison with the disciplines as represented outside Harvard.

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