Structural problems in architecture faculty

In late February, the Faculty of Architecture, Design, and Planning abandoned a promise made to students to maintain the number of scheduled class contact hours in the Bachelor of Design in Architecture.

‘Studio’ is the affected unit of study. It is also the core creative design subject in every undergraduate architecture course in Australia. It is understood that lecturers were allowed to choose which weeks to omit from their teaching schedule.

Third year students have drawn the short straw and lost the first four weeks of semester, meaning students will not work face to face with their tutors until April 12. While different year groups have lost contact hours at different stages throughout the semester, more than 20 hours have been cut out of each year of the degree.

What happens when architects can't get a proper education
What happens when architects can’t get a proper education

The cut backs are just the most recent problem to have besieged the department. The Sydney Morning Herald revealed last year that Faculty Dean, Professor John Redmond, had guaranteed admission to students from other universities if they opted to study at the University of Sydney. This was in breach of the University Admissions Centre’s ethics guidelines.

The move was followed by the resignations of senior academics, including the Head of Architecture, who claimed that the Dean’s position had become untenable, and demanded his resignation or dismissal. Neither were forthcoming.

At the end of 2012, the Faculty Board approved changes to the Design Studio unit structure. This was in the form of an optional elective extension unit that effectively doubles the unit’s fees and credit points without increasing contact hours or resources. The suite of art electives was also thinned. Both were done without student consultation, demonstrating a flagrant disregard for university policies like the Academic Board Policy on Consultation with Students.

Student opposition to these changes led to a town hall style meeting on December 4 for faculty executive to address students’ concerns about non-adherence to student consultation policies.
The meeting produced an FAQ document, published on the faculty website on December 17, stating that, “in Semester 1 of 2013 … your contact hours with teaching staff will not be reduced” and that the faculty would consult with students prior to any “major amendments” to units of study. These promises were either undertaken without real commitment, or very quickly forgotten.

The faculty claims that these reductions are in the spirit of the FAQ document and assurances given to the faculty society, the Sydney University Designers’ Association, at the end of 2012. Students expect that the faculty will argue that the changes do not constitute a major amendment to the course.

SUDA undergraduate representative Michael Baker said that, “the loss of one third of contact hours in our most important design subject cannot be treated so lightly,” emphasising that the faculty has an obligation to adhere to the intent of student consultation policies.

It has been suggested that the tutorial cutbacks are a consequence of the faculty’s lack of academic research, which is relatively low compared to the rest of the university, and that the 20 contact hours students will be denied can be set aside for the production of publishable work by academics within the faculty. If this proves to be the case, the faculty would do well to remember that their prestige is indebted to the quality of the education they provide as much as the quantity of research the produce.