We are the last class to experience the Paris Program!?! As a senior architecture student participating in the Paris Program, I never imagined I’d have to think about, let alone put such a thought into writing.
Dean Balfour and some of the administration responsible for the Paris Program have chosen to turn it into a simple exchange with the university here. You might be asking, what’s the big deal? There will still be a program in Paris so what’s the difference? I didn’t know the significance of the word “exchange” at first either, but it is a very important word…
The program has always been what is called a “resident instruction”. This means the School of Architecture maintains an office here at Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Paris La Villette (ENSAPLV), the host architecture school, and the professors who teach our classes sign a contract with the School of Architecture. Although something like having an office might not seem like much, those of us participating as well as the program’s alumni have seen firsthand the importance this kind of distinction carries.
Turning the program into a simple exchange means students coming here will for the most part have to navigate the governmental bureaucracy, university bureaucracy, find housing, sign up for the required health insurance and more on their own. The gratitude the other students and I have for the time and effort our program coordinator, Anja Valero, took to guide us through the incredibly daunting, and regularly frustrating, French bureaucracy can’t be expressed in words. Trying to imagine doing all these things with the level of preparation we had when we arrived is mind boggling. Having someone to help guide us through these nuances allowed us to start making the most of our time here right away.
I know, for me personally, this experience is something I have eagerly waited for since transferring to Tech. The Paris Program was truly a selling point and thinking about the prospect of the program as a simple exchange, I probably would have seriously considered going to a different school. My time in the Architecture program has not been an easy one and there have been numerous times when I wasn’t sure if I could keep putting myself through the fatigue, frustration, anger and sadness, but I would always think to the Paris Program as a light at the end of the tunnel. Now that I’m here all the doubts and stress have melted away and I’m truly having a once in a lifetime experience.
On top of my personal experiences what also makes the fate of the Program so frustrating and upsetting is the way the management of it has been handled. Last year when we were preparing to come there was healthy interest but the costs of the program were not given to us until weeks into the second semester. We were told this was because administration for the program was being transferred to the College of Architecture but then for some reason was given back to the School of Architecture. This delay of giving us information meant at least two or three students dropped out of the program. While there might have been a genuine interest in better management of the program, we found that due to the lack of information and someone to talk to we could not discuss our upcoming trip with underclassmen in a way to maintain word of mouth knowledge/interest.
The other students and I felt like preparations for the juniors this year would be better managed because the organization issues seemed to be worked out. A little while into the first semester we heard there was not a lot of interest and/or knowledge about the program so we got a newsletter (viewable here), made each year by the students in Paris, to school as quick as possible and asked a short write up each of us made to be emailed to all the students. The numbers we heard made it seem like these had no effect. However a couple months into the second semester we found out there were apparently something like 25 students initially interested, about half of these seemed seriously interested, and then for some reason the number dropped to only a handful. What seems to be most telling with regards to how some in the administration view the program is the fact that when our Program Director, Professor Libero Andreotti, traveled to Tech and had a presentation about the program and student work for that semester ready to present, he was told the night before he didn’t need to give the presentation.
To show the administration the continued support for the program those of us here created and circulated a petition found here (feel free to sign and pass it along to others as well): to alumni and professors at Tech. We sat down with Dean Balfour, SoA Chair Professor George Johnston and Eric Trevena on March 3rd, when they came to discuss the fate of the program with our teachers and the host school. We found the meeting a classic case of “dodge the question” and finger-pointing. The Dean reiterated several times that his only task is to handle French tax code issues and both the Dean and Professor Johnston insisted things were better organized and advertised. The Dean also repeated several times the fact that he wanted to hear our suggestions for how to “increase” interest in the program. Several suggestions were made, fundraising directed toward program alumni, of which at least 200 signed the petition; some students coming for a semester and others for a year, have all participants take a French studio and others, but all were treated with a standard: We’ll take these back to Atlanta with us/research them further.
Most telling was when the issue of our director not giving his presentation was raised the Dean immediately said he didn’t know about that happening or why it would happen and asked Professor Johnston if he knew what happened. Professor Johnston also said he didn’t know what happened and apologized to our director for not being able give the presentation. The other students and I got the sense that the Dean and Professor Johnston knew about this but hadn’t expected us to know and/or bring it up.
The Dean also mentioned the depressed status of Paris within architecture and urban planning. While at first this might seem to be the case, during our time here the other students and I have seen how the city faces the same issues as at least other modern European cities. It has to confront the issues of urban sprawl, an increasingly strained public transportation system, an unemployed and un-housed population and etc… The program already has the advantage of being a resident instruction program, why cancel it? Our teachers have repeatedly insisted their willingness to update the program, make it more “relevant”, but have never received any feedback suggesting this is what the administration wants.
Although the program might be a simple exchange this year I hope that by reading this article, getting people to sign the petition, and letting the administration know they can’t handle one of the longest running study abroad programs at Tech this way, it will once again thrive and enrich the lives of students as a resident instruction program for another 35 years. I’d also like to express the truly profound gratitude I, the other students this year, and students from past years have for all the time and effort the Program Director Libero Andreotti, Program Coordinator Anja Valero, and Professors Marc Bederida, Damien Valero, and Xavier Wrona as well as past Professors have invested in the program.
[ architecture, Paris, Paris Program, soa ]