An Open Letter to Dean Amale Andraos
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Dear Dean Andraos,
We, the undersigned alumni of the MSAUD Program at Columbia University, write to you to contribute our perspective on your recently announced decision to appoint a new Director for the Urban Design Program. It is our understanding that you informed Richard Plunz, the current Director, of your decision two days before your public announcement, and that you made this decision without ever having met with the UD faculty or students. It is our understanding that your first meeting with the UD faculty and students occurred three days after your announcement, nearly six months after the beginning of your tenure as Dean. Finally, as you had acknowledged in that first meeting, it is our understanding that your selection was not based on a formal process, and that you had not considered other candidates.
We do not dispute your authority to make this decision, and we offer neither protest nor support of any one person. We also do not support memorializing the Program's status quo. Though change itself is merely inevitable, we believe that change as an outcome of clear critique, dialogue, and vision is essential to the ongoing integrity of the UD Program.
However, the change to the UD Directorship does not appear to be borne out of any articulated critique or vision. We are astonished that a decision of this magnitude would be made without first meeting the members of the Program, or coming to fully understand its work and methodology. This signals to us a distressing disregard for meaningful engagement with the community you have been tasked to lead.
This, ultimately, is the foundation of our concern. The value of the UD Program is not only in the content of its pedagogy—which, as you learned, emphasizes multi-scalar systems thinking, interdisciplinary insights, and the incorporation of emerging technologies. Even more fundamental to the Program is its insistence on an honest and open dialogue; in team-teaching and group-working; in often unwieldy but always enlightening critiques; in speaking to the stakeholders of a community before exercising the power to change their environments; in trusting that one’s proposed interventions can be bettered by first learning about and respecting the people they propose to affect. These are the values that inform our decision making processes. These are the values that give rigor and complexity to experimentation—which we support—and curtail caprice and recklessness—which we do not.
In the end, we do not believe that your choice for the new Director necessarily undermines these values. Rather, it is the lack of a rigorous process in coming to this choice, which we believe is an assault to the core values of the UD Program. We are alarmed that either this change was believed to be too important to open it to a formal process,or indeed too unimportant to warrant one.
We the alumni are the UD Program’s ambassadors to the world. We recommend the Program to future students, and we hire and work with them when they graduate. We often return to the studio as guest critics or faculty, bringing fresh insights when we arrive, and bringing back even more when we leave. The innovations and conversations within the studio and in the workplace bear directly, often immediately, on each other. Our investment in the shape and future of the Program is profoundly tangible to us, and makes us a critical component to the larger UD community.
Therefore, in that capacity, we ask for the following:
We ask that you provide an account of how you arrived at your decision, framed not in terms of people but in terms of the ideas and thinking they represent.
We ask that you submit, openly and forthrightly, an informed and specific vision for the UD Program.
We ask that you engage the entirety of the UD community, students and faculty and alumni, and recognize their roles in shaping the future of the UD Program.
We ask that you lead, not only with authority and prerogative, but with authentic discourse and deliberation.
It is with a deep commitment to the enduring success of GSAPP, and to your tenure as its Dean, that we respectfully share our perspectives in reflecting the severity of this moment. We look forward to contributing towards an inclusive and transparent conversation about the UD Program—one that gives form to its future while honoring the hard-earned legacy of its past.