Architecture school deans pass on participating in annual DesignIntelligence Schools Survey Program

Thanks But No Thanks

Architecture school deans pass on participating in annual DesignIntelligence Schools Survey Program

Gund Hall, home to the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Sarah M. Whiting, dean of Harvard GSD, is one of 16 deans that have declined to participate in a survey associated with a popular ranking program of design schools. (Peter Alfred Hess/Flickr/CC BY 2.0)

The deans of more than a dozen architecture schools including the Harvard Graduate School of Design, Rice Architecture, and Taubman College of Architecture & Urban Planning at the University of Michigan have come together to announce that they will not participate in the 2022 edition of the DesignIntelligence Schools Survey Program.

The deans survey, joined by separate surveys of professionals and students, together play a key role in Atlanta metro-based consulting firm DesignIntelligence (DI)’s annual rankings of design schools, including those with architecture, landscape architecture, and interior design programs. “We believe that deep participation is imperative in delivering our annual ratings,” the survey website reads, noting that the program has “evolved in pursuit of highlighting excellence in design education and optimization for industry relevance. We continue to evaluate so that this program provides the greatest benefit for all.” (In 2017, DI stopped using the word “best” when ranking schools, opting instead for “Most Admired;” there is also a “Most Hired From” category.)

Per an August 15 letter published by schools including Cornell AAP and the MIT School of Architecture + Planning (the deans of these respective schools, Meejin Yoon and Hashim Sarkis, are among the 16 signees) states a shared desire not to participate in the program coming out of the pandemic, explaining that during a series of informal discussions “we learned that schools like ours have more in common than differences, and that our differences—in curriculum, faculty, facilities, and culture—are of benefit to our students and the professions.”

The deans further express their reasoning behind their decision not to participate in the survey following its pandemic-prompted pause:

“One area of common concern we identified is the extent to which some ranking systems are out of touch with the goals and ambitions of our faculty and students for the future of design. Reflecting views expressed throughout our communities, we have decided not to participate in the DesignIntelligence survey. However well-intentioned they may be, we believe that the DI rankings have the potential to create a disservice to the public.

After bringing our concerns to the DesignIntelligence leadership in the early days of the pandemic (at which point they paused the survey temporarily, thankfully), we were disappointed to be met with limited change when their publication was restarted as “ratings” instead of “rankings” and deans and department chairs were invited to provide a handful of unverified data points about their programs. Given the state of the world, it’s our belief that DesignIntelligence, with an audience of thousands of prospective students—as well as their parents and potential employers—should be helping to improve design’s position in the U.S., celebrating the many varied strengths that exist across institutions.”

Stating that “design education is not a popularity contest,” the co-signing deans go on to summarize their concerns with the survey program, noting that, among other things, they believe that it hurts smaller schools, takes up valuable faculty and staff time, and is “out of step with student and faculty concerns about the future of design.” The deans also acknowledge that their respective schools have placed highly in the rankings in the past and have benefitted from the resulting, largely positive attention.

In the 2019 DI rankings, Cornell University, the Rhode Island School of Design, Rice University, and Cooper Union held the top four “Most Admired” spots for architecture schools with undergraduate programs while Harvard University, Columbia University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Yale University were ranked highest for graduate programs in architecture.

You can read the deans’ letter in full here view along with the names of all 16 co-signing deans here.

AN has reached out to DI for comment in response to the letter. We will update this article when we hear back.