Former director’s resignation ignites controversy

School of Architecture and Faculty of Engineering debate over School’s future

On June 23, associate professor at the School of Architecture Michael Jemtrud, resigned from his post as the director of the school. Jemtrud served as director from 2007 until June 2011, and his resignation came after a series of disagreements over the School’s financial expenditures with the Dean of Engineering, Christophe Pierre. Jemtrud is now on leave.

The School of Architecture at McGill is a faculty school within the McGill Faculty of Engineering. Four of Canada’s other eleven architecture schools operate with a structure like McGill.

During his tenure, Jemtrud made major changes to the architecture program, including developing a 60-credit professional Masters program and reformatting the School’s year-and-a-half Master of Architecture program.

Alberto Pérez-Gómez, a professor in the School of Architecture, explained criticisms of Jemtrud.

“[Jemtrud] was asked to change this school and move it forward. His new Masters program cost a bit more money and the dean just claimed that he did not administer it properly. That was the reason he gave for getting rid of him,” Pérez-Gómez said.

He added that some professors had also been uncomfortable with how the School was administered under Jemtrud’s direction.

“A few of my colleagues felt disenfranchised because the school was heading in a direction they could not understand,” Pérez-Gómez said. “This school was very conservative. Michael was brought in with the express desire to make this school open up.”

When asked for details of Jemtrud’s resignation, the current director of the School of Architecture, Annmarie Adams, stated that Jemtrud had stepped down in order to continue his research and other professional activities.

Students have also expressed concern over the direction the School will take without Jemtrud.

A current student, who spoke on condition of anonymity, voiced his concerns.

“We’re really worried about what is going to happen,” he said. “Barely six months ago, McGill was the place to be in Architecture. But, now, I’m worried about the people coming in. The studio projects that they are working on now are just not on the same level that they used to be.”

For many students, the problem stems from the School’s lack of autonomy within the Faculty of Engineering, especially as some members of the Faculty have called into question the necessity of studios and expensive travel abroad programs.

“We are fighting for being able to be internationally recognized, rather than to be in the department of engineering and under the thumb of someone who doesn’t understand what we are about,” Pérez-Gómez said.

The Dean of Engineering was on leave until September 27, and unavailable for comment before The Daily went to press.

School Under Review

The 2011 Cyclical Academic Unit Review of the McGill School of Architecture was obtained in full by The Daily, along with several other documents pertaining to it. The review outlines a proposal for the new McGill University School of Architecture, Landscape, and Urbanism (SALU). The aim of SALU was to “re-imagine” pedagogy and research. “The cornerstones of the proposal are design, environment, and technology,” it states.

The proposal also contains plans for a new building, to be located beside the MacDonald-Harrington building, as well as new degree programs, a revised administrative structure, and an endowment and business case for the School.

The proposal for SALU is written with a letterhead dated February 2011 from the office of the director of the School of Architecture, though no names were otherwise attached to the document.
The 2011 Cyclical Review, which recommended autonomy from the School, has yet to be reviewed by the McGill Senate.

In addition to the internal review, the School underwent a review by external examiners last March. The examiners were Leslie Van Duzer, director of the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture at the University of British Columbia, and Bruce Lindsey, dean of the College of Architecture and Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University. Van Duzer and Lindsey submitted their recommendations on April 4, 2011.

The review praised both the School and Jemtrud, and recommended additional autonomy for the School from the Faculty of Engineering.

“From our discussions with three directors of the School of Architecture representing a long historical perspective and our discussions with the current Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, it is clear that the placement of the School of Architecture within the Faculty of Engineering is problematic for all,” the review documents state.

In a May 30 memorandum from Pierre to Provost Anthony Masi regarding the 2011 Cyclical Review, the Faculty of Engineering rejected some of the findings of the review and called into question the need for autonomy within the School.

“Based on feedback received directly from the School’s professorate, the Faculty is less convinced than the reviewers that all is well within the School,” the memorandum states. “This feedback indicates that there is a divergence of opinion regarding the current leadership and direction of the School. The Faculty disagrees that it is inflexible or undervalues the School in any way.”

Jemtrud’s response to the 2011 Cyclical Review reveals that he was committed to achieving autonomy for the School. Due to perceived pressure from the dean to cut costs, Jemtrud believed that the position of the School within the Faculty was “no longer desirable.”

Funding is a major issue for the School. Despite the large number of students, the School has run a deficit since 2001 with the exception of 2008, when the Faculty of Engineering absorbed the School’s costs.