Actualité 05.11.2011

The Montreal Gazette – "Cracks appear in McGill architecture department"

Cracks appear in McGill architecture department

After praise, a sudden resignation; Some say engineering faculty schism prompted Jemtrud to quit as director

NOVEMBER 1, 2011

MONTREAL – McGill University’s formal review of its School of Architecture last winter lauded director Michael Jemtrud for doing a great job.

So why did Jemtrud abruptly resign in June and go on paid leave for two years?

His sudden retreat one year before his contract was up has never been explained to students who call his departure a huge loss, or to mystified supporters who say he was taking the school in an exciting new direction.

While university officials will not comment publicly on what transpired over the summer, many of the bewildered believe Jemtrud was forced out – in part due to a personality conflict between an ambitious director whose vision was not shared by his supervising dean, in part because of a schism between engineering and architecture.

The root of the problem may be structural: The architecture school falls within the faculty of engineering. While not uncommon, this setup has caused tension at McGill, where architecture has fought for more autonomy.

So when the external reviewers doing a routine academic examination of the department last winter concluded that architecture should be given faculty status, and that its placement within the faculty of engineering was “problematic for all,” it may have seemed like a victory for Jemtrud.

According to architecture professor emeritus Derek Drummond, who has taught at the department since 1964 and also served as director, that conclusion may have been too much for then-engineering dean Christophe Pierre, who had had a particularly rocky relationship with Jemtrud.

“The dean conspired to get rid of him,” said Drummond, who quit his job at the department right after Jemtrud’s departure.

“It was always difficult for Michael, because the dean didn’t like architecture much.

“But he was really going in the right direction and he couldn’t have come through any better in terms of the (review).”

Pierre, who left his position in September for a job at the University of Illinois, said he had no comment for The Gazette.

Following Drummond’s resignation, associate director of architecture Ricardo Castro stepped down from his post, too.

Drummond believes Pierre “died a thousand deaths” when he read the review praising Jemtrud and chastising Pierre for lacking “trust” in his colleagues at the school of architecture when it comes to new hires.

Pierre fired back a response to the review, saying in a memo: “The faculty is less convinced than the reviewers are that all is well within the school” and referred to a “divergence of opinion” regarding Jemtrud’s leadership.

He agreed there was a problem with the relationship between the school of architecture and engineering, but disagreed it had anything to do with the faculty undervaluing the school, and he proposed interviews with all the school’s professors to help clarify things.

Those interviews ultimately led to the departure of Jemtrud.”

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(Source: Montreal Gazette via Nicolas Marier)

(Photo credit: ALLEN MCINNIS THE GAZETTE, The Gazette)