McGill University School of Architecture 2011 Cyclical Academic Unit Review

For more background information on this document and its importance, see:

Alleged Forced Resignation at McGill University Stirs Backlash from Students
The Legacy of Change: An Open Letter from students of the McGill University School of Architecture
On Loyalties Divided (re: sacking of Michael Jemtrud at McGill)

McGill School of Architecture: 2011 Cyclical Academic Unit Review

  • 741 pages
  • February 2011
  • 12.31 MB

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On June 30th 2011, Michael Jemtrud, Director of McGill University’s School of Architecture for four years now, stepped down from his post. An event which left the students and staff confused.  This event took place a few weeks after the completion of a trial process instigated by the university called the Cyclical Academic Unit Review. The SoA (School of Architecture) and SoUP (School of Urban Planning) were test subjects for this pilot project.

A number of students and staff were included in the process. School was reviewed by two committees: an internal one, which consisted of individuals from other departments within McGill University, and an external one, which consisted of members from other architecture schools.

Professor Jemtrud’s resignation was not announced to students. Efforts from the students to reach out and ask questions about this produced these answers:

1. Professor Jemtrud resigned from his administrative duties in order to follow up on personal projects and research (Annmarie Adams in an interview to the McGill Daily).

2. There was no more faith in Professor Jemtrud’s leadership, and measures needed to be taken to ‘resolve’ the situation, even if it involved spending more money (referring to a severance package and to the added cost of a second director salary).

3. Professor Jemtrud had committed unethical acts and the gag order put in place on Jemtrud and those involved – whoever they were – was to protect his reputation (told on many occasions by Aaron Sprecher and Martin Bressani to numerous students including during a recorded conversation).

In the aftermath of Jemtrud’s department, Derek Drummond – a man who had served as the SoA’s director for almost 20 years, and who had dedicated more than 40 years to teaching – resigned. No announcement was made. Ricardo Castro – associate director – stepped down from his post. No announcement was made. Those who asked about these events were told that the three were isolated incidents that were not related.

This document, the Cyclical Academic Unit Review (referred in the document as AUR) brings clarity to a lot of the events of the last 5 months.

It outlines the problematic relationship between the SoA and the Faculty of Engineering, a conclusion that both reviewing committees come to after their interviews and assessments, and an ambitious and thorough plan of Jemtrud’s to give the SoA more autonomy and to bring in new disciplines and program. It also brings to the table a generous endowment that would facilitate the transition, a gift that is conditional upon the SoA’s independence. In this, it is clear that Jemtrud had no intention of leaving the SoA to pursue personal research; he was very much dedicated to his vision.

The AUR also attests to the fact that there is a clear division in the faculty over their support of Jemtrud. However, both teams of reviewers find Jemtrud’s work over the last 4 years exemplary. They attest that he has steadily brought the school to a level where it can compete with international giants like the GSD and the AA. Moreover, the review committees highlight that Jemtrud has managed to create important redundancies in the curriculum which will eventually reduce costs and allow the SoA to turn over its recent deficit (a deficit which can be linked to the way in which the Faculty of Engineering redistributes funding). In this, it makes clear that although Jemtrud’s leadership might have been in question, this came from within the faculty of the SoA and this was a sentiment not reciprocated by the committee, nor was it backed up by any evidence or verifiable data.

As for the unethical and immoral acts, Dean Christophe Pierre spoke on record and confirmed that this was not the case, and that Jemtrud was simply asked to leave the school because it needed ‘a cooling off period’.

Of course, there is a lot more in the report.

Those who participated in the writing of this document, staff, students and the reviewers were told that this document would be presented at the University’s first Senate meeting in mid-September.

Students who asked to see the document, hoping to find in it some explanation for the swift and drastic changes made in the school, changes that had a direct impact on their academic careers, were told that the document was always intended to serve only as advisory to the Provost and as such would only been seen by an academic review committee, who would in turn draft a report (of the AUR) and present its findings to the Senate. The first meeting came and went, and the document was not brought up, not even alluded to.

Over the last four months, the individuals who stood up to question the significant changes within the SoA were either ignored or intimidated into keeping their voices down. When they commented on the significant lack of transparency over the mentioned processes, they were told transparency was not necessary. When they asked for a public presentation by the new director to discuss the events of the summer, the significant changes in classes and curriculum, or simply an indication of the new direction of the school (and how it is an improvement over Jemtrud’s), they were told these questions could perhaps be addressed personally but that answers were not guaranteed and the public forum was not the proper place for this.

McGill is a public institution, and the SoA a very small community within it. Given the current position of McGill vis-a-vis the MUNACA strike, it has become evident that the hierarchical distribution of power has led to certain abuses; this perhaps being one. The publication of this document is important such that it may allow students, parents, teachers, potential students to ask the proper questions. The new directors of the school, Annmarie Adams, David Covo and Martin Bressani said (on record and in a recording) that the university was a corporation and their first interest was not education. If education is a business, shouldn’t we know what we are paying for?

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7 comments for “McGill University School of Architecture 2011 Cyclical Academic Unit Review

  1. October 3, 2011 at 3:43 am

    I am glad that this is finally public.

  2. Thomas Strickland
    October 11, 2011 at 4:11 am

    I have been following the controversy around the resignation of the former director of the McGill School of Architecture (SoA), Michael Jemtrud, with keen interest since the announcement on June 23, 2011. While I respect the ethics that underpin the students efforts to expose and correct what they understand to be an injustice, I am disturbed by the mis-representation of information connected to Professor Jemtrud’s resignation and the students increasingly argumentative and high-pressure tactics.

    As recently as this morning a letter was sent to the new Director of the SoA, Dr. Annmarie Adams, asking for her to “officially announce her role as the new Director and to clarify this in an editorial to be published on Kollectif” (see: request for letter below). Dr Adams appointment had already been publicly announced through the normal venues. A Memorandum from the Faculty of Engineering’s Dean, Christophe Pierre, was emailed to SoA students, faculty and staff on July 28, 2011, announcing the appointment of Dr Adams as the Director of the SoA, effective August 1, 2011. Further to this letter, on September 27, 2011 a “Message from the Director” was posted on the SoA website in which Dr. Adams’ clearly identifies her core objectives for the school as a “commitment to architectural research, as well as a sincere dedication to diversity in architectural education” (see: Message from the Director below). The Memorandum is clearly an official recognition of Dr Adams position as Director and the “Message” is in every way an expression her of role and objectives as Director. So why is she been asked to again confirm her appointment, if not an attempt to incite some ambiguity surrounding Dr Adams appointment, an ambiguity that, in fact, arises for a small group of students from the resignation of Michael Jemtrud.

    It is important to note that this feeling is not consistent across the student body at the school of architecture, as is clear from the comments section in the blogs. I for one was very proud to be a student of the McGill SoA at the landmark moment when it appointed its first woman director. At the same time, however, I am saddened that, rather than celebrating this milestone as part of the SoA’s commitment to issues of gender, sexuality and diversity in architecture and architectural education, which it most surely is, a few student’s protestations are instead attempting to obscure its significance. I chose to describe the students actions an “attempt to obscure,” as I can only read what I will show to be their misleading statements as an active effort to generate an economy of controversy around Dr Adams appointment and, in this way, draw attention to what they understand as the unjust “forced” resignation of Prof. Jemtrud (see: CAUR below).

    Over the past few months certain facts included in letters and posted on blogs about Prof. Jemtrud’s resignation have been incorrect or have been mis-construded to over-emphasize Prof. Jemtrud’s contributions to the SoA. For example in an October 2, 2011 contribution to Public Intellegence an unnamed author wrote, “In the aftermath of Jemtrud’s department, Derek Drummond – a man who had served as the SoA’s director for almost 20 years, and who had dedicated more than 40 years to teaching – resigned.” The truth is Prof. Drummond was already retired, he did not resign. In another instance, the same unnamed author wrote this interpretation of the McGill School of Architecture: 2011 Cyclical Academic Unit Review (CAUR) document, an external review of the SoA’s economic and academic outlook, “[t]hey attest that he [Jemtrud] has steadily brought the school to a level where it can compete with international giants like the GSD and the AA” (see: CAUR below). At no point in the CAUR do the reviewers attribute the SoA’s outstanding achievements directly to Prof. Jemtrud.. While Prof. Jemtrud is, indeed, commended in the CAUR for, among other contributions, bringing FARMM to the school, the same paragraph also explains the significant contributions of similar and aligned multi-media approaches by Prof. Aaron Sprecher and Prof. Torben Berns. Further, the CAUR points directly to the important leadership roles of other faculty members in organizations such as the Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas, of which Prof. Ricardo Castro was an inaugural fellow, and the Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (ISEAD) for which Prof. Covo’s is an advisory board member. The CAUR further praises the important contributions to architecture and architectural history and education at the SoA of Dr Avi Friedman, Dr Robert Mellin, Atelier Big City (Prof. Howard Davies) and Atelier T.A.G. (Prof. Manon Asselin), Prof. Martin Bressani, Dr Alberto Perez-Gomez and Prof. Vikhram Bhatt, for example.

    While this short list draws directly from the an account of faculty achievements produced by the CAUR it only attends to a few of the important contributions of faculty past and present. What it makes clear is that a school of architecture is made up of more than than one person. For that matter it is more than its professors, McGill students consistently produce projects and research that rank among the top in country. My point is that exercising creative license to bend the SoA’s successes in favor of Prof. Jemtrud’s tenure as Director, effectively obscures the hard work and valuable contributions made by faculty, staff and students. The school’s dynamic and world renowned teaching and research environment is constitutive of all of these contributors. Privileging Prof. Jemtrud’s resignation during this process of change, does very little to recognize these contributions and thereby does not support the best ideas and practices within the school. The significance of Dr Adams appointment will not, in the end, be clouded by this controversy as it is historical important. But, at the moment, it is also evidence of the SoA’s commitment to its long standing research and development based curriculum and recognition of SoA’s belief that it seek, not only new directions in design, but also inclusive approaches to cultural diversity.

    Most Sincerely,

    Thomas Strickland, M.Arch.II.
    J.W. McConnell Doctoral Fellow
    School of Architecture
    McGill University

    CAUR : http://archinect.com/navigate/22825500/http%253A%252F%252Fpublicintelligence.net%252Fmcgill-university-school-of-architecture-2011-cyclical-academic-unit-review%252F

    Message from the Director : http://www.mcgill.ca/architecture/director/

    Request for letter : (http://archinect.com/navigate/22825500/http%253A%252F%252Fpublicintelligence.net%252Fmcgill-university-school-of-architecture-2011-cyclical-academic-unit-review%252F)

  3. Anonymous Student
    October 17, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Thomas, for someone who has been “following the controversy with keen interest”, you are missing a lot of information. For the sake of having an intelligent conversation, I would suggest you check the facts before posting something like this.

    First of all, Prof. Derek Drummond did resign. He was an Emeritus Professor and as such was still teaching at the school (Site usage and Civic design are two classes that come to mind that he was still teaching). He had an office at the school and was very much involved. He left (packed up his office and all), and the people close to him know exactly why. I would suggest, before speaking on his behalf, to go talk to him yourself. You show an enormous amount of ignorance and disrespect by dismissing his role in the school.

    I would also suggest that you actually read the AUR before commenting on it. While Prof. Jemtrud is not singled out as the sole contributor to the school’s success, several of his initiatives (curriculum and program changes, redundancies, grants, etc.) have been highlighted as great improvements to the school. Statistics are given over the past couple of years, and they show clear improvement in many areas during his mandate (don’t be surprised if these numbers fall dramatically under the new leadership).

    On a similar note I am not sure what kind of position you hold to be able to talk on behalf of the student body (and claim that “that this feeling is not consistent across the student body at the school”). The only way to know how the students feel is to have an open discussion, which is something Prof. Adams has been very consistent at avoiding.

    Neither the Memorandum or the “Message from the Director” provide any explanation for any of the events that happened this summer. If you knew anything about these processes that you label as the “normal venues”, you would know that they were neither transparent or democratic. What we are asking of Prof. Adams is not a “Message”, but a conversation. We are asking for an open discussion where the recent events and the future of the school can be properly addressed and where questions can be asked (and hopefully answered).

    I could keep going but I think the point is, Thomas, if you want to have an intelligent conversation, you should first check the facts. Everything written here is either on record or well documented. I would love to be able to leave my name here, and have an open discussion with you and anyone else, but I can’t. The reality is that the school is an incredibly hostile environment, and the current leadership has gone (and will go) to great lengths to target individuals who speak their minds; we are talking about harassment, intimidation, false accusations and slandering. Make no mistake, this is a lot more serious than you know.

    Sincerely,
    Another concerned student that prefers to remain anonymous for his/her own safety

    PS: I would hope that Prof. Adams will be remembered for her qualities, not for her gender. I personally find the insistence you put on her being a woman very insensitive and, quite frankly, insulting, both to her and to all women. That’s like saying Prof. Jemtrud was a great director because he only had one arm, therefore contributing greatly to the diversity in the school.

  4. Bob Hinter
    January 14, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    I love Montréal and McGill. I love the qualities of a Canadian architectural education. The cyclical roiling of Carleton, McGill, and UManitoba with deposed intellectual leaders, distracted students, interference from leadership in Faculties of Engineering, and infighting and squabbling between talented faculty who don’t respect each other is pitiful. These are great schools that periodically throw themselves on pyres of negativity and petty politics.

    I especially appreciate one aspect of what I’ve read about Jemtrud’s leadership. He was working to get the school out from under the oversight of the Faculty of Engineering. The nasty cloud set up over other aspects of his leadership are unintelligible–not my place to judge from outside.

    When you study Design Intelligences’ annual ranking of U.S.A. architecture schools you find a common thread amongst almost all of the top rated schools–even the ones that get high marks for “technical” professional capacities–Few, if any of them, are parts of an academic engineering unit. The U.S.A. isn’t Canada. Let’s not jump there but c’mon! There are crystalline moments of engineering leadership in arch ed but the average day in that situation (funding, curriculum, staffing, etc.) is not a positive moment for most arch ed schools that are part of engineering units. Stats in the U.S.would suggest that such a relationship is not conducive to excellence in arch ed.

    Please, these are great schools of architecture, in a great country, in awesome cities. Settle down, show respect for each other, pull your own load, and stop this cyclical silliness.

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