Several School of Architecture students are upset over what they said was an abrupt and unprecedented decision made last week by the school’s design committee that will require nine second-year Master’s students to take an academic leave of absence in the fall.
In a letter obtained by the News dated Jan. 6, Design Committee chair Steven Harris informed affected students that the committee was “concerned about [their] overall progress” after reviewing their portfolios — a comprehensive compilation of all their studio work at Yale. As a result, the students will be required to resubmit their portfolios in May, at which time the committee will reconsider their cases. If the students pass this assessment, they will be required to take time off from Yale in order to work in a professional architecture office. The letter did not specify the outcome of an unsuccessful re-evaluation.
Harris could not be reached for comment. Architecture School Dean Robert Stern declined to comment, citing the sensitive nature of the issue.
According to the School of Architecture student handbook, the school has the right to require students to take a leave of absence, due to “insufficient progress in the design sequence, even if a student has not failed a course or studio, as determined by the Portfolio Review.”
But several of the affected students, who wished to remain anonymous, said the decision was made hastily — mailed less than 48 hours after they submitted their portfolios — and without sufficient reasoning. Students also said that, unlike in past years, there is no longer any opportunity for resubmitting portfolios.
“There was an e-mail sent out the night of [Jan. 6] telling the nine students that they would be enrolled in a special studio for next spring, not allowed to follow the typical sequence of classes, and following a league of absence, graduate in the winter of 2008, finishing half a year behind the rest of the class,” said an affected student, who asked to remain anonymous. “There was never any criteria set forth on why these nine students had been chosen. At least to the students, the process itself is not made very clear.”
Once students returned from winter break, one-third of the second-year class met Sunday night to discuss the matter, a second affected student said.
“We found out then that it involved nine people and that the consequences were quite severe,” the second student said. “From the onset, there was a desire to not act too aggressively or to put undue pressure on the administration. Unanimously, people felt that the action taken was unfair and that something needed to be done.”
On Monday morning, as the majority of the class learned of the situation, the nine students who had received the letter attended a meeting headed by Stern, Harris and Assistant Dean Keith Krumwiede to discuss the matter. But they were unable to determine the criteria used to make the decisions, said the second affected student, who attended the meeting.
“There was a lot of secrecy as to who was involved in the Design Committee and as to how they obtained the results,” the second student said. “They had a general lack of background on us. Solutions were not tailored to the needs of the specific students.”
Some students said they were also surprised since many students asked to take time off had received accolades and high marks for their work since their enrollment at Yale.
A student could do “smashingly” in all of his or her studios, but still not pass the portfolio assessment, an unaffected student said.
Laura Snowdon, an assistant dean of student services at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, said her architecture students are not subject to a portfolio review. Academic policy suggests that students can only be dismissed after repeated poor performances in studio work and a comprehensive review by faculty of the individual cases.
The unaffected student said he hopes the administration will provide greater “transparency” of their decision-making process and reconsider the never-before-instituted path mandated for the nine affected students.
“We hope that a blanket solution isn’t applied, because obviously each student has different needs and abilities,” he said.
The second affected student said that, above all, he is confused.
“There’s an incredible amount of uncertainty, and because the decisions were made in haste, there are still questions that have to be answered that the faculty hasn’t even considered, such as how you might explain this to an employer,” he said. “Every sort of expectation we had coming into this term has been turned on its head.”
The first affected student said there is a “general sense of dismay” among many students — including those who did not receive the letter — and that some affected students have even considered leaving Yale altogether.
“It makes for a very confusing first week of the semester,” he said.
The student said the administration has agreed to meet with the class in a meeting scheduled for today.