A number of School of Architecture students said they are pleased with Dean Robert Stern’s reversal of a decision that would have required nine second-year Master’s students to take a leave of absence in the fall, but some students said questions about the decision-making process remain unanswered.
The decision, rendered by the Design Committee on Jan. 5 upon review of all the second-year students’ portfolios, required nine students deemed to have varying weaknesses to enroll in an alternative studio course during the spring term and to take time off in the fall to work in an architecture office. The decision also indicated that they would have to remain at Yale for an additional semester in order to graduate on time.
But after most members of the second-year class rallied around the nine affected students — all but one of their 45 second-year classmates signed a petition protesting the decision — Stern told the students on Sunday that they would no longer be required to take time off in the fall and would be allowed to take the standard urbanism studio this semester. Most of the nine students will still be required to take a remedial seminar designed to address their identified weaknesses in the fall.
Stern declined to comment on the revised decision Tuesday afternoon, but Assistant Architecture School Dean Peggy Deamer said she believes the revised decision remedied student concerns.
“The original decision was awkward, and I felt that we addressed that in a manner sympathetic to students so as not to make them take a leave in the fall,” Deamer said.
But some students said that although they were pleased with the outcome, they think the situation has revealed a lack of transparency within the school’s administration, even between administrators.
“It shows a sort of lack of organization on the administration’s part,” said an unaffected architecture student who asked to remain anonymous. “First of all, they came out of the design committee meeting and took extreme measures which they hadn’t taken before, and then through the next week and a half, they made a series of reversals, so I don’t think anyone could believe that they were well-organized.”
Still, Deamer — who would have taught the remedial studio for the nine students this semester — said that while she understands student concerns, she also recognizes the importance of the second-year portfolio review.
“This is an opportunity for them to learn more about their weaknesses and how they can be addressed, more so than if they were just passed down without anyone reviewing what was up,” she said.
But the unaffected student said that although he still has great respect for the nine students involved, other graduate students who do not know their work as well might be inclined to stigmatize them. He also said the decision has put first-year students on alert.
“It’s terrified the whole school, especially the class behind us,” he said. “They’re up in arms because they’re going to be going through this next year, and now they’re all trying to figure out what kind of work they should be producing for their portfolios.”
The unaffected student said this year’s decision was unprecedented because it singled out nine students, a number close to the ideal figure for a seminar. The student questioned whether several of the affected students had been failed in part so that the remedial seminar could be filled. But Deamer said the seminar and the other remedial measures were long term projects, not knee-jerk decisions.
“I think that the decision to set up a studio like this has been in the long time coming, and it was arrived at probably quickly in view of the students, but not quickly in view of how much the faculty has been previewing that decision,” Deamer said.
The decision has also ignited a gender question that some students said is on the mind of many architecture students, both at Yale and throughout the country. Six of the nine students who had failed their evaluations were women, while there are nearly twice as many men as women in the second-year Master’s program, according to signs that were posted in the Art and Architecture Building yesterday.
“I definitely think that there is some issue of gender at play that needs to be addressed, both the issues of women in architecture outside of Yale and here,” one affected student said. “I don’t think it was necessarily conscious, but my personal opinion is that it is somewhere along the lines of an unconscious bias that likely played a part.”
Deamer said the issue of gender at the Architecture School should be addressed, but she said gender played no role in the committee’s decision.
“None were stigmatized because they were women,” she said.
Deemer said that while students may have been understandably troubled by the decisions of the past week, she believes the Architecture School has worked with the students and never against them.
“It’s a difficult decision,” she said. “I can [say] how much time and energy is going to working for the students. I can [say] that it does not serve them to pass them on and ignore weaknesses — that would not be serving their education. It would be much easier for us to ignore this, much easier.”