University of Michigan (Colin)



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    I’m a bit fed-up- in a bit of a fed-up mood.

    By colinrichardson
    Nov 30, '07 11:13 AM EST

    Here at Michigan, we have a bunch of required classes- classes that you must take in order to graduate. They’re not required for any arbitrary reason- they cover topics that the accreditation board considers essential to the education of an architect- fine. These classes are taught in a large lecture hall, with a professor (sometimes more than one) at a podium, and usually rely heavily on powerpoint and quantitative evaluation- probably the most efficient way to teach. These classes; construction, history, structures, intro to theory, environmental technology, site planning- are often taught by professors who are hired and evaluated based first on their record as researchers or practitioners in their discipline and second on their ability to educate. We have a lot of great innovators, researchers, and designers here at TCAUP, most of them are good teachers too. Still, we have a few severely-challenged teachers.

    If you asked students who they’d prefer to introduce them to a subject: a talented, motivated teacher with the minimum expertise necessary to teach an introductory course competently or a renowned expert or acclaimed designer who can’t teach well (and doesn’t seem to care), most, if not all, would go for the former. From the students’ perspective, teaching comes first; from the perspective of the university, research and publication come first. Admissions packets will always tell you that all of their professors are fine teachers, but the only information that any prospective applicant has to understand their prospective teachers are statistics on the number of faculty with terminal degrees, the books they’ve written, the things they’ve designed, and the panels, committees, etc. that they’ve served on.

    These classes are part of a larger package, and that’s how they’re sold. When students complain about the quality of the classes, the answer is usually that it’s just one or two out of many and that not everything can be ideal. Students hate it, they resent it, they grumble, but then it’s time for studio and they move on. The semester goes on like this- frustration melts into apathy and then the semester is over and the next batch of students go through it again. Still, I really wonder if it has to be this way- do all schools follow this practitioner/researcher-primary, educator-secondary ideology? What’s it like at other schools? How do they meet NAAB requirements? Also, what do faculty think- do they perceive the system in the same way that students do? Do they value the same things in an educational environment?


    • manamana

      Tom's been dealing with this particular professor for years now. Hands are pretty much tied. I've seen similar issues at other schools but the one instance I'm assuming you're talking about is among the most severe I'm aware of. It royally sucks when you're in it but in the grand scheme of things it's really pretty minor.

      The only thing I can tell you at this point is don't worry about it - do what you can and move on, but make sure you lodge your issues with the appropriate party just so there's a record of it. That file's gotta be several feet thick by now.

      Lately I've been wondering is if it would be possible for folks to get credit for that one class at another university. Does that work in a master's program?

      Nov 30, 07 12:17 pm  · 


      it's not just one professor, just so you know.
      it's been the case that every single semester we have a required course taught by a world renowned expert who just fails at the teaching part of his job.

      and btw, this does not happen in other fields.

      i remember waking up at 9am and running to my language and mind class taught by world renowned expert linguist, Dr. Badecker, every single mtw for a whole semester. and that was the required intro course...

      Dr. Paul Smolensky was just the same thing, imagine a top expert in the field, capable of teaching precalc, calc, calc i, calc ii, calc iii, diff eq and linear algebra, all in one semester... and succeed at it, while teaching a neural networks class that was SUPER interesting.

      here... that does not happen.
      and it sorta sucks.

      Nov 30, 07 3:43 pm  · 

      ah, I see. I only recall taking serious issue with one particular class.

      Here's a you think any of it has to do with the way that these ancillary classes are considered subordinate to studio, by both faculty and students?

      Nov 30, 07 4:23 pm  · 

      one particular class set off that post, but i think this problem occurs in more than one class. i think that you're right about the ancillary label changing peoples' attitudes to these classes, but more in the sense that they become a low priority for the administration/faculty as a whole. i wonder if the individual professors teaching these courses somehow internalize this- i doubt it happens too much. the pest professors take on these classes, plan and teach them well, and elevate the discourse and work within. i can't really blame individual professors too much- with only a few exceptions, i think most take their work seriously and approach teaching sincerely. if they lack teaching/planning skills, it's up to the higher-ups to recognize this and change things, either by working with them on specific skills, or removing them from particularly challenging situations.

      Nov 30, 07 8:19 pm  · 

      When I was there as an undergrad the general current seemed to be: studio > history & theory > structures > construction > environmental tech. Who knows, perhaps thats the way they want the program and is consistent with my impression of Buresh's sensibilities.

      "Moji has tenure and has been there for 20+ years" is the un-stated reason he continues to teach despite scores of student complaints.

      Dec 1, 07 2:00 am  · 
      le bossman

      take it up with tom

      no whining on the internet or you're not a wolverine. you have good teachers, 3g. enjoy the student lounges i built for you.

      Dec 3, 07 10:18 am  · 

      le bossman+manamana,

      yeah, this problem is particularly acute with one course, but i'm not concerned with the one course. i'm more interested in the politics and culture of the college. i think the faculty (and thus the administration) are less concerned with quality of their colleagues teaching than they are with quality of their colleagues research. students, i think, are affected much more by the quality of teaching and would prefer better teachers. this isn't just an issue with one teacher or one class.

      bossman- i'm about five steps ahead of you here. thanks for the lounges.

      Dec 3, 07 10:46 am  · 
      le bossman

      in re-reading my remark, sorry if i came off as an ass. i was half-joking. not all of the professors at michigan are perfect, and some are there because they are geniuses in their fields which yes doesn't guarantee they will be good teachers. this goes for studio and technology professors. that said, even some of the teachers with the worst reputations were still people who i found to be a wealth of information, but one had to be proactive and willing to approach these people in their office hours for clarification. you might think you shouldn't have to do that, but it is a good way of showing initiative and building relationships anyway. at my ugrad school i had a more organized, better explained building systems class, and maybe this contributed to my success in understanding what was going on at umich, but i still felt that the information i gained at michigan was more valuable in that it was taylored to my interests. moji was willing to take me aside and ask me what i wanted to learn, and this is why he was valuable to me. i think he can get an unfair rap. i gained a lot of useful information under his instruction that has proven to be valid in the professional world. most of the people at umich who were bewildered during grad school were people who had backgrounds outside of architecture, and this was true where i did my ugrad as well as we often took courses with these people. (it is unfortunate that the world works this way, but a lot of 3g's are also at an advantage in the design studio as they aren't approaching architecture know that it graduate architecture school wouldn't necessarily be any different anywhere else; you are only going to be in school for a short time more and to make the most of it takes a vast reserve of determination and personal initiative. one think i learned in grad school quickly was that no one was going to teach me anything, it was up to me to learn for myself; my instructors could only provide me with information. i think the better students in any program realize this. the information is there, and i think if you work more proactively with your professors you'll find your experience to be more wholly beneficial. you don't want to become one of those students who ends up feeling bitter about their experiences as though they didn't learn anything, and didn't meet anyone that helped them get to the next phase of their career.

      Dec 3, 07 2:41 pm  · 

      i think i might have to slightly disagree about this happening in other fields. although urban planning is somewhat related to architecture, it's definitely a different type of beast.

      from my short experience in my planning program, i have already come to conclude that you will always come across a professor (or two) at any school who is just frustrating to have to deal with.

      this is going off on a tangent...

      do you think that student feedback is just basically thrown out? i kind of get that impression here where i am. it's the same situation that brer stated - complaints for years, yet nothing has been done.

      the real question for me is - why is the feedback ignored? the strange part about all of this is that we are the ones paying to attend these universities - albeit a short amount of time. does the faculty think that we don't have enough invested in the university therefore our opinions are somewhat less valid?

      any thoughts?

      Dec 4, 07 8:22 am  · 


      "we are the ones paying to attend these universities"

      you're totally right- but we're not really paying a la carte. The schools sell their degrees as packages, they don't say "apply for our 20th century BT history class, and apply for our intro to modeling calss, and apply for our structures I class." You're paying for the whole bunch, and they make you take certain classes as part of your contract with them. I think that if all classes within an architecture or planning program were elective, market forces would pretty-efficiently weed-out the most problematic ones. But they're not, because we have required classes.

      I think you're also right about the short-term problem. I think that some faculty might be dismissive in this way. I also think that the short-term also makes it much harder for students to enact changes that might realistically take 3 or 4 years within the political/bureaucratic system of a college.

      what's the ratio of required/elective classes within your planning program? do you see a distinction between them?

      Dec 4, 07 10:54 am  · 

      They (they as in administration) dont care. Moji is a smart, well known expert in his field but he is a lousy teacher, point blank. However, b/c of his reknown the admin will never let him go, if the admin cared:

      1.) The class wouldnt be at 8:30 in the morning. I mean seriously, thats not a good combination. Before he instituted the practice of pop quizzes, no one came to his class.

      2.) GSI's that are actually interested in teaching/helping. They have no set office hours. You literaly have to hunt and chase them down to ask a question, and I always left with the impression that they thought I was bothering them.

      3.) Ppl have complained about this class for a long amount of time. Nothing has changed. I mean absolutely nothing has changed.

      Dec 10, 07 10:53 am  · 

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