Architecture Ph.D. program hits budget snag

Last fall, when Yale School of Architecture professor Kurt Forster convened the first seminar for the school’s new doctorate program, it was, as he put it, “a bit of a miracle.”

After years of indecision on the matter, the school finally went forward with the doctorate degree and started accepting applications last spring. But now, as the budding program is concluding its first year and admitting its second class, it has found itself caught up in the University’s budget cuts. Though the school aimed to expand the incoming class to four students, the number of admitted students was capped again at two this year as the Graduate School (which confers all doctorate degrees) thinned its student body. The cap stalled the School of Architecture doctorate program’s growth and development, said Forster, who is also the director of graduate studies at the school.

“What you do is you bite your tongue,” he said. “The University went through a very severe budget reduction and the repercussions of that are going to be with us for a while. Until someone comes around pressing a million dollars in our hands, there’s nothing we can do.”

None of this came as a surprise to either Forster or School of Architecture Dean Robert A.M. Stern ARC ’65, who were both aware of budget issues last year when the program was coming to fruition.

Forster said it was a “curious time, perhaps” for such a program to be starting at all, especially when other long-established departments like the Comparative Literature Department were told by the University to pare down their student bodies, since each doctoral student costs the University upwards of $65,000 a year to support. But considering that Yale was home to the “only architecture school of consequence” not to offer a doctorate, as Stern told the News last year, the school decided it was its responsibility to offer one despite the poor timing.

But while the program was designed to have roughly 20 students across its five-year curriculum, the current cap has meant that the program will not reach its full capacity for at least another five years. Though Forster said the school has been attracting the “creme de la creme” of the applicant pool, it has had to reject qualified candidates, and thereby limited its relevance in the architecture world.

“It won’t be like a little balcony stuck on somewhere,” he said, reflecting on hopes for the program’s development. “It will be a real institution in the school.”

But Stern said it is premature to make a judgment about the program’s success.

“It’s too early to say much,” Stern said. “We’re very new and I think the world is waiting to see what we produce.”

While the program is not developing along the path originally planned for it, there are still at least a handful of people satisfied with the enrollment caps. Indeed, beyond the Graduate School’s financial administrators, the two students currently enrolled in the program emphasized that its small size has provided its own advantages. Joseph Clarke GRD ’15, one of the two students in the program, said that among these boons is the ability to have a strong voice in the development and direction of the program still in its early years. Forster added that it has been easier to integrate the students into the school, from working out class enrollment across multi-disciplinary curricula to finding work spaces for the two students alongside the school’s master’s candidates in Rudolph Hall.

“It may get a bit lonely sometimes,” Clarke said. “But the administration of the school have also been eager to make us feel part of the school.”

The five-year program combines an architecture curriculum in history and theory, though it requires its students to also have a strong design background.

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