Ralph Stern, the dean of the faculty of architecture at the University of Manitoba in Canada, announced he will not seek reappointment following the publication of a damning report by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). Accused of contributing to the creation of a “culture of fear and retribution,” Dean Stern has faced controversy since assuming the post in 2010, with repeated complaints lodged from both colleagues and students.
The CAUT report detailed the rapid turnover of personnel within the department. Over the course of Dean Stern’s tenure, an alleged three different department heads passed through, two of them leaving with documented grievances directed at Stern. In particular, former head of the department Nat Chard wrote in a published letter, “My sole reason for leaving the University of Manitoba was the behaviour of the Dean, who established a culture of fear within the faculty and appeared only to try to find problems with the department, despite its peer reviewed success. It was clear that it was not possible to work to one’s capacity in either teaching or research under the Dean’s regime and therefore a completely unsatisfying place to work.” Chard’s letter continues with details on the effects this had on his personal life.
One of the strongest accusations hurtled at Stern comes from Professor Mark West, former director of the Centre for Architectural Structures & Technology (CAST). The well-respected professor and researcher left the University of Manitoba for MIT after alleged interference and degradation from Stern. In his resignation letter, West wrote, “My eighteen years at the University of Manitoba have been the most productive period of my professional life… Unfortunately, my recent experience working under the leadership of Dean Ralph Stern has brought great frustration and unhappiness. I could cite numerous reasons for my dissatisfaction, but chief among these is the fact that Dean Stern has placed certain devastating constrictions on my research that have made it impossible for me to continue my work here.”
Students also voiced opposition to Stern’s deanship. Kailey Kroeker, president of the University of Manitoba Association of Architecture Students, told the university newspaper that the atmosphere of the school had seriously declined. With the loss of faculty, the student to teacher ratio greatly increased. “There have been a lot of negative affects from these political tensions on student morale in general.”
The University administration did not make any direct comments to the school newspaper regarding Stern’s decision. In a statement released with the news, Stern condemned the CAUT report: “…a number of elements, internal and external to the faculty of architecture, have attempted to undermine the University of Manitoba processes. In my opinion, their actions have jeopardized the reputation of the faculty and the success of our students.” His sentiments echo earlier statements made by University of Manitoba president David Barnard against CAUT processes.
Note: The original iteration of this article stated that Mr. Stern resigned. In fact, he declined to seek reappointment.