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A Letter Regarding the GSAPP Dean Selection

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Dear Members of the Search Committee,

On behalf of the Columbia University Urban Planning alumni community, we would like to share our perspective on the selection of a new Dean for the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. Urban Planning alumni are an integral part of the GSAPP community whose continued engagement contributes to the school’s long term success. As practitioners in many fields related to planning, we serve as ambassadors of the school. Furthermore, alumni facilitate the transition of students from the academy to professional practice, an inevitable path for graduates upon the conclusion of their studies. We recognize the important and formative role a GSAPP education has had on our careers, and would therefore like to make the following recommendations upon the arrival of our incoming Dean:

The new Dean should create a plan for the trajectory of the Urban Planning program. This plan should articulate GSAPP’s perspective on the discipline and profession of Urban Planning and answer the question “what makes an Urban Planning degree from GSAPP distinct and unique from other planning programs?” The plan should then outline how the program will grow and adjust to meet these goals, whether this includes the hiring of new faculty or the establishment of new programs or initiatives.

Urban Planning should remain as much of a central focus of the GSAPP experience and identity as other degree programs are. Within the school, Students and professionals are generally eager to break from a “siloed” conception of the built environment. The school will sustain its role as an entity that catalyzes discussion more fully by enabling all disciplines within the school to function in an interdisciplinary fashion, and by more thoroughly communicating the role and value of all of GSAPP’s programs to outside audiences.

There should be an effort to develop stronger cross-disciplinary linkages among GSAPP programs in the form of communication, events, and courses, especially studios. A more holistic understanding of overlapping theory and practice will enable students from all disciplines to approach their respective professions with a critical and collaborative mindset.

In addition to the school’s pedagogical functions, GSAPP should increase opportunities for gaining practical experience and more actively assist in matching graduating students with real world opportunities as they continue their professional endeavors. GSAPP would benefit from stronger ties between the school and its Urban Planning alumni (who will be in turn more than happy to give back to their alma mater), current students, and practitioners in the field. The program should also do more to involve itself in the pressing issues facing New York City. This will connect students to professional opportunities and contacts, as well as provide a valuable service to the larger professional urban planning community.

As GSAPP continues to grow globally and develop its international character, the school must ensure the integration of its students and research centers in a manner that benefits the student body at large. As the student body becomes increasingly international, GSAPP should adapt accordingly and make a concerted effort to maintain a unified urban planning cohort. These efforts can begin at orientation and continue beyond the classroom by strengthening the network of alumni related activities and connections abroad.

We hope these suggestions guide the new Dean’s priorities for the Urban Planning program and open the door to collaboration between the GSAPP and the broader planning community. We wish the Search Committee the best of luck in the selection process.

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