Architectural Record has learned that Lesley Lokko has resigned as dean of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York in Manhattan. She was appointed in June 2019, after the public institution, serving more than 400 students in architecture, urban design, and landscape architecture, had been without a dean for four years.
Lokko, of Ghanian-Scottish heritage, is a widely-acclaimed educator and global design leader. She earned her architecture degree from the Bartlett School of Architecture in London and has a doctorate in architecture from the University of London. Lokko founded the graduate school of architecture at the University of Johannesburg in 2015, and when accepting the post at City College, she said she was drawn by the diverse body of students: “They reminded me of many South African students: hungry, quite curious, many juggling jobs to stay in school.”
She formally took up her post this past January, not long before COVID-19 shut down the school, as well as New York City, which became a coronavirus epicenter. Lokko’s esteemed colleague at the school, Michael Sorkin—an architect, urbanist and activist (and RECORD contributor)—died of COVID in March.
Lokko explained her resignation in a statement to RECORD:
"My decision to leave Spitzer after less than a year is fairly straightforward: I was not able to build enough support to be able to deliver on either my promise of change, or my vision of it. The reasons why are more complex. Part of it has to do with COVID-19 and the rapid lockdown, which occurred after only three months in post. It's hard enough to build social capital in a new place without having to do it over Zoom. Part of it too has to do with the wider inflexibility of U.S. academic structures. In an incredibly bureaucratic and highly-regulated context, change is as much administrative as it is conceptual. The lack of meaningful support—not lip service, of which there's always a surfeit—meant my workload was absolutely crippling. No job is worth one's life and at times I genuinely feared for my own. Race is never far from the surface of any situation in the U.S. Having come directly from South Africa, I wasn't prepared for the way it manifests in the U.S. and quite simply, I lacked the tools to both process and deflect it. The lack of respect and empathy for Black people, especially Black women, caught me off guard, although it's by no means unique to Spitzer. I suppose I'd say in the end that my resignation was a profound act of self-preservation."
Dee Dee Mozeleski, Senior Advisor to the President of City College, confirmed that Lokko had tendered her resignation last week and told RECORD, “We are very fortunate to have Dean Lokko with us through the end of January and I know her colleagues, and the students in the Spitzer School, are looking forward to working with her during this transition.” One faculty member called Lokko’s departure, “a major loss for the school.”
This story was updated with Lokko's statement on October 6, 2020.