Dear all, on behalf of you all, Jeanette asked for more reasons why we are leaving the Design Academy so abruptly.
Yes, it's a bad timing for you, but for us this was the only one possible timing. After a long struggle with the board, in which we have tried to safeguard the values and the qualities we deem necessary for a good design education at masters level, we received final answers to our requests and demands last week. Answers we couldn't possibly agree with. What to do? There was no doubt in our minds that we should give you the proper final evaluations and the proper exams that you all deserved. And so we decided to continue working with you and not inform you one week before the finals, so you could focus totally and fully on your work. Yesterday's farewell to Gijs Bakker was the first day we actually felt free to announce our decision. Summer holiday starts and will last two months: that is a lot of time for the board to find solutions and fill in the gaps we leave behind. Will those solutions be good? That is something we cannot predict and I truly hope they will be good. Trust that we are leaving with pain in our hearts, we would have loved to work with you and have looked forward to do so for a long long time.
Included is our resignation letter to the board. And below I sum up in more details why we chose to quit:
This school has become famous because of its accomplishments since the eighties. Everyone in the cultural field knows that Dutch Design became an internationally relevant phenomenon because of the Dutch design education system and of some additional factors, such as the subsidies system, etc. Design education had a turn in the eighties because of two directors of the DAE at the time: one focussed on content (Jan Lukassen), the other on management (Jan van Duppen). Together, they decided that education could only become big if they were able to attract important designers to the school, professionals with strong careers and strong views on design. How could they attract these people? By giving them autonomy, freedom to choose their own themes and freedom to choose teachers which were equally professional. It worked fantastically. The school attracted very good heads of departments and teachers, and as a consequence DAE started to have fantastic output: among the alumni were Hella Jongerius, Piet Hein Eek, Richard Hutten, Jurgen Bey, Maarten Baas, Bertjan Pot, Job Smeets, Wieki Somers, Joris Laarman, Demakersvan, Formafantasma, Mischer'Traxler, and many more.
When these visionary directors left the school at the end of the nineties, Li Edelkoort became artistic director, and Liesbeth in 't Hout was the general director. They continued the infrastructure of freedom the education system granted to the heads of departments and the teachers. And they made the output more visible to the international community. The students benefited from that high quality, and the school continued to "deliver" high quality output.
Since Edelkoort left, the school has struggled with various directors. In my view, the lack of artistic content started to be felt when the board decided to totally reform the school's system, when there were no obvious reasons for such drastic changes. The infrastructure of autonomy and freedom is in our view the only valid (and even psychologically sound) way of working with the best professionals in the world, who as a consequence have the best views on design. However, the current board thinks differently. They have started to talk about a reform in which a web of many educational and managerial positions would interfere with the autonomy of the professionals: the same people whom we believe they are the only ones that really count within a high standard masters school.
Literally this means: in the new system we, heads of departments, would become Deans of Design, focussed on content only, able to deliver advices about themes and advices about teachers, but having no decision power anymore. In the new system we would not appoint teachers, not be responsible for applications of new students, have no financial resources to create research programmes and create presentations, etc. New people are appointed within this school, the so-called Deans of Education (educationalists, not design professionals, and managers), Translators, Facilitators, Connector... That web would mean: many many meetings to standardise criteria for evaluations, to come to agreements about the relation between content and education, etc.
We think this new system will stifle all possibilities to give students the education and research possibilities we deem necessary. And most of all: we see that this new system, that maybe has some necessary qualities of organization for the bachelor departments, definitely has no qualities for the master departments, which need to be focussed mainly on research, not on teaching skills.
We fought hard to reverse all these plans, at least for the masters. We expressed our opinions and views in many, many meetings with the board, and meetings with others within the school. We made demands, we tried to postpone decisions. Sometimes the board promised us things, such as: we will not change anything in the masters structure for at least three years. Later that promise changed to one year. And finally, last week, we found out that we could appoint mentors for the next three months only. After that time others (a new Dean of Education) would take over this part of our job. From this moment onwards we would also have to quit the mentoring, and our direct contact with the students would be severed. For us this is unacceptable. In the masters we don't "teach" in a traditional sense, but we guide the students in research capacities. In our view, for high standard research the mentor needs to be a professional who knows from his or her own career what that entails.
All these answers we received last week. After a year of many, many discussions, they were a slap in our faces. Not a single demand of ours was met. If we take our principles seriously, we can only leave the school. Trust me when I say that this grieves me tremendously. I also feel as if I am abandoning you: the mentors and I promised you things we cannot hold on to anymore, as we are not given the permission to create a context for the research we deem necessary.
What will the future look like for you? Some of the teachers will leave with us, some will stay. Others will come in and naturally they will have good intentions to give you a good guidance in your final year. And who knows: maybe we are deadwrong with all our worries and the new reforms will actually improve the school. We have other views, as described above (and described in our resignation letter).
I hope this long letter provides the explanation I owe you for leaving too early. If there are still questions, please ask them. From today onwards I will be on the move, but I will check mails regularly.