Six months after the launch of the College of Design, some faculty members are complaining about a new level of bureaucracy and the fate of some of the old programs.
Also, some faculty members are unhappy over a controversial court decision that allows dean Christoph Lindner to control extra funds from a donor’s will that were intended only for books and photographs for the art history department.
Lindner, who became the dean of the School of Architecture and Allied Arts in 2016, proposed that the school undergo a massive restructure and become what is now known as the College of Design.
Established in fall 2017, the college is home to these schools: Architecture and Environment; Art and Design and Planning, Public Policy, and Management, as well as one department: the History of Art and Architecture.
Lindner said that the creation of the College of Design was a result of conversations about the school’s identity.
“We had a series of conversations around who we are and who we want to be. The College of Design is a result of that process,” Lindner told the Emerald.
The reorganization created three new faculty leadership positions known as “school heads,” in addition to the existing department and program heads.
“The school head is a bridge between programs and departments which exist inside the school,” Lindner said in an interview with the Emerald. “The school heads work with program and department leaders in their schools to make a leadership team. It’s a highly collaborative structure for a collective set of goals.”
But some faculty complain that the school heads complicate communication.
Dave Cecil, the executive director of United Academics, the union that represents faculty members on campus, says that the reorganization has caused confusion about who is responsible in each school.
“There’s now a layer between faculty members and the dean,” he said. “Now there’s a little bit of unclarity of who to go to when a problem arises. There’s a new layer of bureaucracy.”
According to Cecil, faculty members feel that they were not consulted before certain programs, such as Arts and Administration, were ended.
“Some of the faculty who worked here for decades felt they worked to make a successful program,” he said. “They felt as if the decisions were made unilaterally and that the dean wasn’t consulting them.”
Town Hall meeting
As a result of faculty members’ discontent about the changes that have occurred since the beginning of the 2017 school year, Cecil held a town hall meeting for union-only faculty members last week.
Faculty became uncomfortable when Patrick McCusker, a fundraiser for the college and a non-union member, appeared at the meeting and photographed their discussion of the state of the college.
But Lindner said that McCusker’s appearance at the meeting was a misunderstanding. According to Lindner, McCusker saw an announcement about the town hall on UO Matters, a blog run by economics professor Bill Harbaugh. The post did not say that the meeting was closed to non-union members.
According to UO spokesman Tobin Klinger, McCusker’s presence can be explained by the fact that his job requires him to understand the climate at the college.
“Development officers are constantly looking to learn more about what’s going on with the faculty and what’s going on with every facet of the college they’re representing.”
Lindner offered an apology and said that McCusker’s attendance was “a terrible misunderstanding.”
Changes to the Marion Ross Fund
Restructuring of elements from the College of Design, formerly called the School of Architecture and Allied Arts, took place not only on campus but in the courts as well.
Controversy arose when excess funds from the Marion Dean Ross Fund were repurposed to fund activities unrelated to the original intent of the fund.
Professor Marion Ross was the first chair of the department of art history at the UO. Ross died in 1991 and instructed the Board of Trustees of the non-profit UO Foundation to establish the Marion Dean Ross Foundation, a private endowment which at the time was worth $1.2 million and increases in value each year. Ross left two co-personal representatives to his will; the only who is still living is Thomas L. Price, a longtime friend of Ross.
According to court documents obtained by the Emerald, Ross’ will stipulates that the fund should be used only to purchase photographs and books on the history of architecture, which would be used by the art history department. Ross’ will also says that the photographs and books will be selected by the department of art history.
But in November 2017, the UO Foundation petitioned the Lane County Circuit Court to modify Ross’ will, despite Price not giving his consent to the modification. In a letter sent to UO Foundation General Counsel Wendy Laing, Price said that the proposed changes to the Ross Fund were “contrary to [Ross’] intent.”
Lindner said that changing the fund was justified because most of the money is being spent on books and photographs, and the remainder of the fund is still going toward the department.
“The whole point of that fund is to support art history and that’s exactly what’s happening,” Lindner said. “In an environment of very limited resources, we’re giving that department access to more support to use on itself and its students.”
According to court documents, the UO Foundation argued that Oregon law allows for modifications of trusts to be made if a “particular charitable purpose becomes wasteful.”
For example, the UO Foundation said that the annual distributable amount from the fund in 2016-17 was $94,000, which is more than the art history department spent on books and photographs that year.
Despite Price’s objections — and the original intent of the Ross Fund — the Lane County Circuit Court allowed the UO Foundation to modify the trust so that excess funds are under Lindner’s discretion. According to the judgment document, the excess funds will be used for costs such as Ph.D. fellowship support and research-related expenditures.
Richard Sundt, a former UO professor who knew Ross, disagrees with the modifications made to the fund by the UO Foundation.
“The rationale for modification of the will seems to be based on questionable grounds and conflicting data. We need transparency and clarity,” he said. “The dean and the department have shown remarkable little vision as to what a fully funded Ross bequest can accomplish and has already accomplished.”
This article has been updated to more accurately reflect the conflict over the Marion Ross Fund, and it has an additional comment by Christoph Lindner from an interview with The Emerald last week.