Sometimes leading gets ugly: AIAS
“It’s about commitment. To you, and to the program.”
That was my campaign theme as I ran for Andrews AIAS president at the end of my third year. AIAS is the American Institute of Architecture Students; most schools of architecture have student chapters. I watched as things had in many ways digressed in the architecture department and morale among students was pitiful. We lacked leadership from the top down, in both the student body and among faculty. Learning a great deal about myself in my third year and wanting to put into practice a life of service, I joined the race to lead the student body. A good friend and fellow classmate, and later roomie, said he would run for vice president, and together we won. Big time.
Having served in student government both in high school and at Bethel, this seemed like a natural thing, right? Well, I have to admit, I was intimidated. The reason was because I felt that what I could bring to the table for the student body was somewhat limited based on my own theories, or lack thereof, on architecture. But what I learned quickly at the beginning of my term in my fourth year was that the students simply needed a unifying person, not an intellectual. And I wholly admit, I'm not an intellectual. I was humbled in realizing how overwhelmingly God would use me.
That year our accreditation visit was scheduled for the spring. The students understood that a great deal hinged on this and all were concerned that what seemed like a lack of leadership producing the direction we needed to go could jeopardize the years we had already spent in school. So, doing our part, we turned our little AIAS chapter into the most active and unifying force in the program. Student membership had always been around 50%. We were over 90%. We established a mentoring program that continued for many years after I graduated. We established a committee for program advancement that became the one-two punch in rectifying a number of bad situations in the curriculum and faculty. At the end of my fourth year our AIAS chapter, which had never even participated in national events, won 4 of the 6 national honor awards given annually. And one of those 6 we didn’t apply for. By the time the accreditation team had come for a visit, nothing was lacking on our student body’s part. We were a unified and powerful force.
The following year we learned what we had feared, that the program was on academic probation and had two years to change course or lose accreditation, which would mean any class below me would not have an accredited architecture degree. With a student leadership consortium that now included three representatives on the faculty board, and one on the architectural academic advisory board to the university (me), we pushed hard for changes in the faculty which resulted in the ouster of two professors. Then came the moment when armed with a crushing survey taken of the students we made a demand that would essentially remove the dean of our department. We were within two hours of a sit-in over the demand when it was announced he would resign. Sometimes leadership is ugly and bloody, and for those times it isn’t always healthy to look back at what brought you to the point you are today…..sometimes those difficult years can be left unspoken and just allow people to reap the benefit of those who did the dirty work.
My time in student government with AIAS over the course of two years was the most rewarding, most productive time in serving others I have ever experienced in my life. The model we established lived on for several presidents after me.......and this all came back in a flood of memories when I saw that one of our former presidents made the front cover of Maine Today. Congratulations!