Architectural Blatherations

How to be a Brilliant Architectural Professor

top rule

The Good Oil

So: you've got your first proper job as an architectural academic {professor}: perhaps a lecturership in one of the Commonwealth nations, or an assistant professorship in North America. How can you retain this chumbly lifestyle for ever? Read on to find out how to spend the next 30 years in cosy comfort.

The academic chimera

Architectural academics are the tragic thalidomide victims amongst the alpha-plus academics meandering the world's universities; rendered even sadder because they believe themselves beautiful.

They can never understand why they are reviled as ugly both by architects and by other academics. They are easily dazzled by other professors. Their design colleagues regard them as on the fringe of the profession, as slightly dotty types shoring up their tottering practices with solid academic incomes.

To their university colleagues they are academic paupers, with their petty Bachelors and Masters degrees. In most places in academe, one needs to be a postdoc to gain a humble teaching assistant position. In architecture, the concept of a postdoc barely exists. About 2.7% of America's university students are studying for doctorates. Only 1% of America's architecture students are. Where other disciplines in academe consider the PhD as the first stepping stone, architecture schools dismiss it as egg-head-ism.

Architects don't want to be PhD eggheads, but they are rather keen on being called 'Doctor'. Hence the moves afoot to upgrade their titles and the stupid idea of a DArch.

Faux academics

In the architectural academy, the intellectual superstars are not even full-time academics, but the eminent architects who fly in for a few weeks of studios, entourages and Issey Miyake in tow.

We shall dismiss these immediately. They are no more academics than our cats. Great designers make excellent inspirational speakers, but they are rarely decent teachers, and they certainly do nothing remotely resembling what the rest of the university thinks of as research. Many of them are actually quite uninformed, even if they fancy their intellects as beyond the rest of us.

In our opinion, they can be positively dangerous. The great designers tend to be arrogant, disdainful and self-important. If they have a large practice, the more so. They are used to bossing around employees, whose options are limited to either taking it or losing their job. When they bring this demeanour in to the design studio, students can be subjected to a withering criticism that can do nothing but harm to their development.

Strategies for success

Here is our quick and dirty guide for budding architecture professors wanting to propel themselves into the academic stratosphere.

Get other people to do all your work

Most important of all, get other people to do your work for you.

  • Put your name on the work of others. Insist that your name appear on every paper published by any academic or student junior to you. This really works a treat with young postgrads {graduate students} keen to see their first paper published. It's a cross between plagiarism and slave labour, but completely lawful. Etiquette varies on whether your name should be first or last. In some disciplines, the first name is reserved for the senior academic who everyone knows did bugger-all work - sorry, we meant the author's mentor. In others it is the last. Architecture has no clear convention, but be careful if your work is to be published outside of the field.
  • Plagiarise yourself. After a few short years your published output will achieve a critical mass. You can take a few paragraphs from this paper, a few from that paper, then send the rebadged mix to some submission-starved journal or desperate conference. Voila, another item on your lengthening CV, with minimal effort! If you disperse your wisdom widely enough, you can produce papers year after year without a single new thought.
  • Get your students to teach all your courses. They will at first be grateful for the experience. But be warned, they only have a shelf-life of two years. After that, even their rarefied minds will have worked out that not only are their tuition fees paying your salary, but you are getting them to do your work for nothing- while you attend conferences in the sort of island retreat that Tiberius would have envied.
  • Edit books-but certainly don't write them. Why spend years writing a book when you get 10 or 20 other eminent people to write as many chapters for you in just a few months? You just pen the preface, a few hours effort, and email your contributor's pdfs to the publisher. You will have to write at least one book in your academic life, but you can do that early on. Having done that, you can 'edit' another ninety-nine and still rightfully claim on your CV to have 'written or edited a hundred books'. Isn't that impressive?
  • Host as many conferences as possible. Where do you think those edited books come from? From the conferences you host at your school, of course. If you live in a sunny, pleasant, and cosmopolitan clime, you can expect a ready response to your call for papers. Happy to leave the dismal winters of their native institutions, your authors will be anxious to board a taxpayer-subsidised flight to your balmy locale. You wrap up their chirpy scribblings in the 'conference proceedings', and there is your book! Who will do all the work of actually organising and running the conference? Your students, of course. Who gets their name on the cover: you!

Stay at the cutting edge

You can fool some of your professorial peers and some of your students only some of the time. On second thought, that's not true. Your academic colleagues, confident in their intellects, hold themselves incapable of being duped. Which makes them ripe for the plucking. Your students actually want to be swindled. Take advantage of these character defects to stay on the cutting edge.

  • Steal your rivals' ideas. You now run many prestigious conferences in architecture: your rivals always show up, anxious to present their latest work to satisfy their university's KPIs. You will have their conference contributions or papers months before the actual talkfest. Get your graduate students to start projects using ideas stolen from inspired by these papers. Have them present at the talkfest. In one simple stroke it seems like you and your acolytes are the cutting edge, and your rivals sad followers. All without a lick of work on your part!

Become Professor Everywhere

Nothing conveys a sense of global importance than a frantic international schedule.

  • Obtain multiple appointments. You can impress your colleagues at each university with the achievements you have made at the others, without doing anything at any of them: your postgrads will be doing all the real work for you, after all. Why let Nike have a monopoly on transnational exploitation of the young and innocent? Who'll know? In Academic Gamesmanship, the author puts it like this:

    By far the most effective way of establishing prestige is to be frequently away from the campus on long-distance trips. The top dogs in any department are the ones who are constantly attending international conferences, giving lectures at other universities, or consulting with government or industry. The jet-propelled professor does almost everything except that for which he draws his salary. (p 19)

  • Join as many committees, working parties and groups as possible. A good proportion of these should be at places and with organisations far distant from your campus, and preferably overseas.
  • Spend all your time in meetings. In both the private and public sectors, the hallmark of the important person is the number of meetings they attend. You should aim for at least half your working week. As an academic, of course, your working week is only twenty hours long, so this should be very easy to achieve. Important note: never attend a meeting that might require you to do something. You are there to inform, consult, berate, complain and chastise. You give orders, not take them.

Go for the gold

Just because you are on a fixed salary doesn't mean a lack of financial opportunities.

  • Bilk your research grants for all they are worth. Many grants allow for administration costs. Hey, you are the administration cost! And you are worth every damned cent. Five per cent of the grant per annum is considered an acceptable rake-off.
  • Open your own research institute. If we at Architectural Blatherations can do it, then so can anyone else. You are invisible as a humble adjunct at the School of Architecture at Emphysema State University in Cowpat, Missouri. But you will be instantly recognizable as Principal Director of the International Research Institute into Architectural Form. In fact, Dr Garry may take that title for himself, it sounds so good!
  • Employ your family. There is quite a lot of latitude with that research money you are administering! Your youngest may lack the hygiene skills that would be considered rudimentary in a senile marmoset, but make her Executive Research Director of your institute and you can add a few more thousands to your annual family income. No one will notice, since the position itself is useless. She's busy every day at the School for Special People trying not to eat the crayons, so you will have no trouble diverting her paycheques {paychecks} to your university-sanctioned research account.

Other resources

The first place to start is the wonderful book Academic Gamesmanship by Pierre van den Berghe (Abelard-Schuman, New York, 1970), a third-generation American academic. This delightful confection can guide academics of any discipline to fame and fortune. There is also a famous paper from the Journal of Higher Education, reprinted several times. If we can ever find it again, we'll put it here.

Another source is that kooky game for all the family, Survival of the Witless (Avalanche Press, 1997).

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