On the day the 2012 masters class graduated from Design Academy Eindhoven, the school announced the resignation of masters school head Gijs Bakker, which was then followed by the announcement that masters heads Jan Boelen, Louise Schouwenberg and Joost Grootens would step down from their positions.
Boelen, Schouwenberg and Grootens, who are respectively heads of the Social Design, Contextual Design, and Information Design departments, have explained their decision in the resignation letter we publish below, stating that the DAE is becoming a complex system, "no longer based on trust and dynamics, but on distrust, hierarchy and control." The three masters heads further state that "this is a set-up we can no longer commit ourselves to," leaving them no other option "than to jointly bid farewell as of the start of the new academic year".
Resignation Letter by Jan Boelen, Louise Schouwenberg and Joost Grootens
5 July 2012
Honourable Members of the Executive Board
After months of continuous talks about the contents and organisation of the Master programs of Design Academy Eindhoven, we have now reached a breaking point. The Executive Board wishes to retain a trajectory of renewal and innovation that we feel will have devastating implications for the quality of our programs.
Heartened by our strong commitment to the contents of our education we have been trying these past years to uphold what we believe to be the quality standards befitting the Master program of DAE. Initially, we received the support of the educational system which contributed to the name and fame of this school and helped procure the status of "Excellent" in 2008. The system in question was implemented in the eighties by a visionary and generous board, who realised that proper design education could only be accomplished if leading designers, architects, artists and theoreticians were persuaded to engage in the Academy's educational activities.
The heads of department were carefully selected based on their outspoken views regarding their discipline. They were given maximum autonomy and latitude in choosing their own topics and assembling their own staff of lecturers. It worked. To date the Academy harbours an array of experienced lecturers, acknowledged experts with a firm footing in their professional practice. In the past decades the academy has thus been able to train numerous students who now count among the cream of the international design world.
As the heads of the three Master programs we have continued the structure Gijs Bakker introduced for the Masters. We have worked together with diverse lecturer teams, all operating at the forefront of their disciplines. The recent, successful accreditation has shown that the Master programs have succeeded in generating the much-needed critical mass that was previously lacking. As the programs have become appealing to more and better international students, this has helped attract a choice of magnificent lecturers. Commitment, passion and dedication have followed naturally from the confidence anchored up to today in the program's open structure. Additionally, this open structure has secured DAE's present international benchmark position in the perception of Dutch design.
For years, the current Executive Board has been without an artistic director with vision for the discipline as well as design education (the content of an institute of learning cannot be stationed incidentally with an artistic 'curator' for exam exhibitions). The lack of vision appears most of all in the educational reform schemes for the next couple of years. The substantive experts (Deans of Design and Teachers) become subordinate to the educationalists / managers (Deans of Education), while "interpreters" need to bridge content and education (Translators, Mentors, Facilitators, Connector, Deans of Education). This complex system is no longer based on trust and dynamics, but on distrust, hierarchy and control.
The comparative autonomy of the heads of department and their teams of lecturers, which has brought worldwide success to the original model DAE, is to be relinquished.
The role that we, and with us all former heads of department, could play as Deans of Design in this new set-up, has been radically marginalised. The dominant system will be one of educational management, whose main purpose appears to be to stifle creativity and substantive development in a tangle of meetings. The newly created functions and reciprocal apportionment of roles express the desire to control: to divide and rule. This is a set-up we can no longer commit ourselves to.
You have left us no other option than to jointly bid farewell as of the start of the new academic year — to the school, three marvellous research fields, fellow lecturers and, above all, a group of highly dedicated students. A painful, but inevitable decision.
Jan Boelen, head of Social Design
Louise Schouwenberg, head of Contextual Design
Joost Grootens, head of Information Design
Photo above: detail of the Design Academy Eindhoven exhibition at this year's Salone del Mobile, by Ramak Fazel