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Letter to the Editor: Identity politics can't mask the real problems inside the School of Architecture

School of Architecture
Gabe Lipkowitz / The Daily Princetonian

To the Editor:

The Daily Princetonian news piece about my dismissal from the faculty of June 7, 2022 — which had been in the works since November 2020 and was published nearly a year after my dismissal — is fairly well researched. However, it has some minor factual misrepresentations and uses as a title a claim that I have never made: that I blame “cancel culture” for my dismissal. I believe in my conversations with ‘Prince’ reporters I have always maintained that my dismissal was due to the fact I denounced and publicly challenged the thesis protocols at the School of Architecture (SoA). I contend some members of the faculty abused these policies for over a decade, in breach of the academic freedom of faculty and students and the most basic academic standards. 


What I may have implied in my public statements is that I believe Dean of the School of Architecture Monica Ponce de Leon mobilized identity and gender politics (which are often associated with “cancel culture”), sometimes surreptitiously in her conversations with colleagues and her correspondence with the University administration, to suppress my public opposition to the thesis system. In the ‘Prince’, Ponce de Leon implies that “patriarchy” is the reason for my opposition to the thesis protocols and my demand for independence in my thesis advisory duties. It is astonishing to read that my public opposition to a system — which, starting in 2008, entitled one faculty member, Elizabeth Diller, to dictate a “yearly theme” for all the theses in the SoA, to absorb the full credit for thesis duties at the expense of the actual supervisors, and to “sign” the thesis grades — is due to my “patriarchal” attitude. By the way, I suspended the “coordinator” of the thesis system during my deanship through a vote of the faculty. Thus, Ponce de Leon’s subsequent statement that I “did not take care of [my concerns about the thesis system] when [I] was dean” is ― also ― demonstrably false. 

I also must respond to the statements from Professor V. Mitch McEwen quoted by the ‘Prince’. McEwen has accused me of “bigotry” and “trafficking in default white supremacist presumptions, that the most talented people would be the white faculty displaced by the Black faculty,” among other accusations. These statements are categorically false and are not grounded in any of my actions or public or private pronouncements. I believe that these statements are exclusively referring to my public account of what I believe was the misuse of affirmative action by the SoA. McEwen must withdraw what I believe to be defamatory allegations, or bring forward the evidence on which she based them.

Even worse than “cancellation,” these accusations of “patriarchy” and “bigotry” are a classic example of witch hunting, a procedure customarily used by authoritarian regimes to suppress dissent and legitimize repression, or worse.

The piece includes the comment from a third “anonymous professor” from the SoA who states that “gatekeeping the field” is “immature, absurd, and problematic, especially for those identity groups that it has historically empowered.” In this anonymous quote, we see a perfect reflection of the discriminatory and stereotyping behavior that plagued my time at the SoA: as a white male, I cannot complain publicly about the behavior of faculty to whom, apparently, I owe reparation. Believe me that I had no interest in gatekeeping the field, as long as my work as a thesis advisor was not affected by systematic interference and the imposition of certain ideologies embedded in the system itself (postmodern relativism, post-structuralism, social constructivism, critical theory, among others). Gatekeeping the field is the role of the University administration, which not only has failed to stand by academic freedom, freedom of speech, and proper crediting of academic work, but has also repeatedly breached its own standards to cover up inappropriate behavior and legitimize a wrongful termination.

Alejandro Zaera-Polo was formerly a faculty member and dean (2012-14) of the School of Architecture.