July 27, 2020

What a year! 

If you’ve been keeping up with the AIAS’ Learning & Teaching Culture Policy this year, then you know that the Project Team has been as productive as they have been thorough with putting together a model LTCP for our members to use. It’s not just for students though: this document is meant to also protect teachers and administrators; altogether the promises discussed and made within the policy benefit everyone. In addition, this document is useful to the National Architectural Accreditation Board, as it will serve as a guide for their Visiting Teams during Accreditation Reviews for architecture schools and universities.

AIAS Model Learning & Teaching Culture Policy

The LTCPP Team encourages you to view and consider the document carefully – perhaps your school doesn’t have a culture policy and this would be a great start! Perhaps there already is a policy in place at your school, but it’s missing some key sections. The AIAS Board of Directors has voted to endorse the document and stands behind everything within it as our official stance and advisement on what a healthy studio culture looks like and how it can remain sustainable. Beyond that, the AIAS made sure that the Project Team also created these resource guides to assist the implementation of the LTCP. The intent of these accompanying guides is to address common concerns and provide more context to the often difficult-to-explain concept of what students and faculty deserve from each other.

History of Studio Culture & the AIAS    Tips for Tough Discussions    Resilient Learning & Teaching Cultures

LTCPP Faculty & Student Survey Results

If this is all news to you and you haven’t heard about what the AIAS has been doing all year to bring this document to life, then here’s a brief overview of what the Project Team has been up to this year: 

In the Summer of 2019, the AIAS resolved to establish a Model Learning & Teaching Culture Policy Project in response to a recent outcry from the membership about outrageously unhealthy studio classes, as well as the impending 2020 NAAB Architectural Review Forum where Studio Culture and Studio Culture Policies had infamously not been taken seriously. At the NAAB ARF, the AIAS’ Steering Committee Representatives successfully changed the term “Studio Culture” into officially “Learning & Teaching Culture”; this move reinforced the AIAS’ belief that a real and healthy Studio Culture was not a list of demands or expectations placed exclusively on students or faculty, but an agreement between the two parties and their administrators to prioritize methods of behaving in the school community that were not detrimental to very purpose of providing and earning an education.

During the Fall semester, the AIAS convened the Model LTCP Project collected existing Studio Cultures – many of which had been compiled the year prior by the Health & Wellness Task Force. Under the Co-Chairing of AIAS President Sarah Curry and Oklahoma State Chapter President (and South Quad Director-Elect) Scott Cornelius, members of 2019-2020 AIAS National Committees met three times to discuss and plan a method by which a Model LTCP could be considerably crafted. The initial, obvious goal was to draft a Model LTCP that could be adopted or advocated for by AIAS members and students. However, this was met with a general fear that anything drafted exclusively by students would be dismissed or unenforceable. These fears prompted the idea that this model document could be endorsed by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, and then presented to the NAAB for their use as a resource and standard for their Accreditation Visiting Teams. ACSA President Rashida Ng and NAAB President Barbara Sestak were very agreeable to those pursuits, and both were supportive and welcome of the AIAS’ guidance.

As 2019 came to a close, the Model LTCPP Co-Chairs wrote and released a survey for students and a survey for faculty about their experiences with and knowledge of Studio Culture at their institutions. As the data came in, the Co-Chairs were still deciding how best to interpret the information into a new model document that was as unbiased and holistic as possible. President Curry remembered the promises that were made by the allied-architecture organizations at the NAAB ARF just a few months ago to work together more frequently, and to support each other’s missions more often. After broaching the subject at a meeting between the Presidents and Executive Directors of the AIAS, the AIA, the ACSA, NCARB, and NAAB, the Co-Chairs spent the Winter Break preparing a plan and schedule, and in January of 2020, President Curry wrote to each organization, including NOMA, to ask for two representatives to serve a 6-month term with the Project.

NOMA, NAAB, the ACSA, and the AIA recommended individuals who joined the AIAS Co-Chairs on the team: Leslie Epps, NOMA; Jose Gamez, ACSA; Amy Larimer, ACSA; Nathan Leonard, AIA; Rebecca O’Neal-Dagg, NAAB; Robyn Payne, NAAB; and Malini Srivastava, AIA. The truly collaborative group would go on to meet 6 times in as many months of 2020. Through all the humbling and harrowing experiences that wracked the globe, the United States, and the very schools and students we were doing our best to serve, the Model Learning & Teaching Culture Project Team stayed the course and produced an incredible amount of work. Their rich thoughts and discussions culminated in a universal, representative, and equitable stance on what students, faculty, and administrators deserve to expect and how they should conduct themselves in a productive and healthy environment. Over the six months of their meetings, the team analyzed the survey data and made inferences about what would be most important to cover in the model document and pay attention to in the sample Studio Culture Policies they all reviewed. This studying helped create a familiarity with and criteria for the spectrum of well-written and educationally supportive behaviors. The first rough draft of the Model LTCP was built on the information gleaned from that research.

Early into the Summer of 2020, the final draft of the Model LTCP had been critically edited by the group and was unanimously approved. Even so, the team’s work was not complete, as there were other concerns that needed to be addressed in order to consider the Project officially complete. Among other concerns, the early worries of students about the difficulty of advocating for this kind of cultural change was still a priority, so the team devised a few accompanying guides to ensure the effectiveness of the model document: “Resilient Learning & Teaching Culture” enunciates the facets of any educational environment that make it most effective; such aspects are unalienable, even in the face of unprecedented circumstances like pandemics and virtual schooling. “Tips for Tough Conversations” anticipates the 6 responses a student might hear when facing an unwilling faculty or administrators, and provides reasonable responses and reminders. “Framework for Implementation” outlines in more detail the ways that the Model LTCP can be adjusted per school, and how it can be adjusted equitably and annually as a living document. “History of Studio Culture and the AIAS” recounts the AIAS’ journey through fighting for the rights of students over the past few decades, and the efforts that led to this most recent movement. We feel that this combination of resources packaged together is the best way to give students and faculty an advantageous opportunity to make a fundamental shift in their school cultures. 

The next steps include, of course, monitoring the use of the Model LTCP and its effectiveness with NAAB and at universities and schools. Although this team should feel very proud of themselves, the work is not yet truly finished, and it will not be until the profession values a healthy process over ill-imagined results. As long as there is a lack of understanding of or a disregard for the health, wellbeing, education, and growth of any who are involved in the noble pursuit of training architects and designers, the AIAS and its allies will pursue as many iterations of justice as is necessary to protect those the system overlooks.