Deans of architecture schools and department chairs set agendas. Strategically, strong heads can aim an educational community, including faculty, students, and alumni, in an intended direction. Transition points—the beginning of a term, or an addition to the physical plant—offer opportunities to take a broad look at where a school is headed and where it came from.

Though long dead, former Yale architecture head Paul Rudolph (chair of the architecture department from 1958 to 1965) held center stage throughout the weekend of November 7 to 9, when the restored and expanded Art and Architecture Building, designed by Rudolph in 1963, was rededicated. (Now named Paul Rudolph Hall, it adjoins the new Haas Family Arts Library and Jeffrey Loria Center for the History of Art, designed by Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.) During the weekend’s packed events, an exhibition investigating Rudolph’s legacy opened in the gallery of the restored hall, and panel discussions took place in the concrete-ribbed auditorium. There, former students such as Lord Richard Rogers, Lord Norman Foster, and Stanley Tigerman, FAIA , vividly recalled working through the night under the tutelage of the master.

Those thronging to the Yale dedication also observed another former Rudolph student in action. Now dean of the School of Architecture, Robert A.M. Stern, FAIA, has carved out an active tenure at Yale since 1998. Well organized, ever-bright, and still maintaining a busy New York practice, Stern has literally shaken the place up. His strong identification with Yale’s architecture program reminds us how deans (and chairs) can matter immensely, and underscores the importance of a school’s leader to its character and progress.

Obviously, not all deans share Stern’s celebrity. While the schools and the people vary, deans and department chairs help set the tone and affect the culture of the school, attracting the all-important faculty and students, recruiting dollars, and building support, within their universities and beyond. They act as communicators, telling a school’s story and articulating its values, and evolving within their own institutions as times and people change, even as they themselves change.

Deans (and department chairs) move around. A cursory glance at recent changes in leadership shows the following shifts: Monica Ponce de Leon, to the University of Michigan; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA, to the University of Pennsylvania; Mohsen Mostafavi (dean) and Preston Scott Cohen (architecture chair) at Harvard’s GSD; Kenneth Schwartz, AIA, to Tulane; Alan Balfour, to Georgia Tech; Michael Speaks, to the University of Kentucky; Wellington Reiter, FAIA, to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Other schools are conducting searches.

Why all the turnover? Is the year 2008 unusual, or subject to the phases of the moon? According to one dean, not at all. In a recent interview, Gordon Brooks, the dean of the College of the Arts at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, says that most deans remain for about 5 to 7 years, leaving to “seek other positions that have more responsibility or that more effectively match their talents.” Furthermore, he points out that the people in leadership grow and change themselves, developing strengths that they had not been aware of. They may look for a new position from a school that seeks a fresh perspective.

While deans themselves debate the relative merits of deans engaging actively as practitioners, Marvin Malecha, the incoming president of the American Institute of Architects and the dean at North Carolina State University, differentiated between faculties that blend disciplines, as his does, and schools devoted to architecture alone. “I do believe the director of the school of architecture needs to be a licensed architect,” he stated to architectural record in an interview on our Web site. Schools that combine disciplines require a dean with professional credentials in at least one field—engineering, or interior design, or architecture.

Malecha pointed to a contemporary reality of practice. While the famous-architect-as-dean phenomenon embodied by Stern still holds currency, the shift in architecture to a multipartite discipline, integrating a variety of professions in the complex enterprise of designing and building, now may be equally as effectively represented by deans who orchestrate from within, keeping relatively low profiles outside, while building up their faculties. Many new deans are assuming leadership in a quieter, less visible role. They are changing as they rethink who they are and who they and their schools might become. The profession evolves as a new crop of students assumes its place in offices throughout the world. Architectural history is affected as deans bring into focus overlooked educators and practitioners, such as Paul Rudolph. He created a masterpiece that housed a school that he stamped in a highly personal way—an architecture school that continues to grow.

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