Our university has an excellent architecture program.
Architecture students have ACT scores that are over two points higher than the university average. We are oversubscribed and turn away applicants. Bringing in more students than can be properly intellectually challenged is anathema to quality and will never, under any circumstance or scenario, help the program or our university.
Amazingly, in ten years, the architecture program went from a two-year degree, to a four-year degree, and now offers a new professional masters degree that, when accredited, will meet requirements for licensure in all 50 states.
At breakfast, I reflected on our desires for better space, equipment, computing hardware and software, and a number of other pressing needs and thought, “How can this modest program be as good as it is in such a resource constrained environment?”
Could it be excellent leadership? Yes, that was part of it, but that all happened years ago and over an extended period of time. People looked ahead, thought about how to make something better and set out, step by step, to do that. Now the leadership is changed but the same process is at work.
Could it be our excellent students? They are good, very good, and the best of them compete at other graduate programs and in the workplace with students from anywhere, under any circumstance, without explanation, equivocation or qualification. But they alone won’t make the program excellent; although without them it would never succeed.
Could it be the resources that have been available to us? I don’t think so. Although the university has made a great effort to support the school we are about as frugal as this type of program can be. I have had experience at some of the best architectural programs in the nation and ours is a good one at considerably less cost.
With this reflection, in a sober moment, I was again reminded about what it is that makes an excellent academic program.
No matter how much money is available for facilities, equipment and support, even scholarships and assistantships, and other means of attracting the best students, without excellent faculty no real substance is possible. Barriers of space and equipment, studios and laboratories, computers and travel budgets notwithstanding, if the students are not challenged intellectually, nothing else matters.
Our faculty is diverse, with many backgrounds but with uncommon passion for serving students, the region, the profession and our university.
We have some faculty who wear themselves out finding summer employment opportunity for our students, who in turn tell their friends, their parents and high school teachers about the program and the caring faculty, and the result is more interest.
Others are committed scholars who study and write and share insights around the world, and bring all that to bear every day in the classroom or studio.
A few can make computers sing and dance with images and ideas, and communicate complex concepts.
Yet others drag students all over the world to show them what the past teaches and the future holds; bring youngsters in during the summer for a firsthand look at what architects do; and still others toil as artists and craftspeople demonstrating a love and appreciation of form and material.
On an early tour of Columbia, the former Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States, and now merely President of Columbia University, Dwight Eisenhower commented on how pleased he was to meet so many employees of the university. Professor I. I. Rabi, a distinguished professor and soon to be Nobel prizewinner said, “Sir, the faculty are not the employees of Columbia University, the faculty is Columbia University.”
When faculty work to change the world with their students, as those in the School of Architecture do, Professor Rabi had it just right.
Without that passion, there is no “Our University.”
Thankfully, while I consider the Architecture program uncommonly strong, it is not unique at our university.