Partnerships--Professional, Personal and Continental
Dealing with the professional first, over the past 18 months the university has been preparing for a major reorganization that has regrouped our 18 departments into six large schools and two postgraduate institutes. As with all businesses, the rationale for the reorganization was largely financial; however, there is also an element of restructuring to better face the challenges offered to the university education sector. Multi-disciplinarity is becoming the norm, and we have found that our research clients and prospective students at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels expect a broader view of our disciplines and the application of our knowledge.
Thus, while the university restructured, the School of the Built Environment, operational from August 1, formed from the existing Depts. of Civil Engineering, Building Engineering and Surveying, together with the transfer of a Dept. of Planning and Housing from another college in Edinburgh. This transfer of staff and students and the building refurbishment necessary on this campus were funded by a $1.2M restructuring award from the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council--a seal of approval on our aspirations. The addition of the Planning and Housing staff, students and research portfolio transformed the School of the Built Environment. It became a partnership formed as a positive response to the declared need for the educational and research community in the U.K. to provide a holistic approach to the generation of a built environment infrastructure capable of supporting the future needs of our society.
Governmental statements and financial planning projections have indicated the need for a major U.K. building program, not only in the housing sector but also to support an improved health, education and transport infrastructure. Much work is still needed in all these areas. The university sector has the challenge of providing suitably qualified graduates to see the process through, as well as a responsibility to provide research-based tools and methodologies that will ensure both innovative and sustainable solutions. The government is clearly concerned about the profligate use of green field sites to generate new housing and its associated support services. The reuse of city center sites or the transformation of previous city industrial areas provides major challenges. The skill portfolio resident within the School of the Built Environment will allow the school to contribute to both the educational and research-based objectives. The possibility of civil engineers, with a knowledge of soil conditions and geotechnics, working with building services engineers, with a knowledge of the required infrastructure, including sustainable urban and building drainage and water re-use schemes, as well as urban planners, familiar with both planning needs and the limitations imposed by legislation, is exciting. Such multi-disciplinary teams will be essential if we are to reach sustainable solutions to the myriad problems facing the built environment. These problems range from the provision of challenging educational courses that will attract the brightest and best students, to the delivery of quality research that will address the consequences of climate change, as well as the social questions raised by changing demographics and societal aspirations. The provision of an acceptable built environment will become one of the major challenges facing us in this century.
Change does, of course, have its downside. Personally moving to lead the school of some 80 academics from a department of 30 will present some challenges. Actually moving office space to be at the center of the school has been a daunting task--perhaps readers of this column will be familiar with dispensing with files, notes and papers going back years that have been kept "just in case they are needed." A good clean-out is a good discipline.
Also, I will miss the more immediate contact with my previous colleagues and the small rituals all closed societies generate--some not transferable to a larger organization. For example, over the past seven years, it has been our habit to hold a July staff meeting, following a buffet lunch, to "celebrate" the end of another teaching year. As a diversion from normal business at these meetings, I would challenge staff to identify a particular quote, the prize being a bottle of wine. It was all very juvenile but would probably be included in Management 101. (For anybody who would like this year's quote, it was, "These proceedings are closed." No clues, except that each year the quotation is generally from a character who has both virtues and some flaws. For example, in 1998, it was General De Gaulle. You can send in your answers to me by e-mail at the address below.)
So, starting in August, it will be the School of the Built Environment, opening a new chapter for all my colleagues.
The other change during the last week of July was of a personal nature. We attended the wedding of our daughter, an economics lecturer at York University, to one of her colleagues, also an economist at York, from that part of Italy close to the Slovenian border. My impression, formed from personal experience and the media presentation of American society, is that such partnerships across national boundaries, or the boundaries of ethnic origin, are far more common in the U.S. Doubtless as Europe feels its way towards a greater unity, they will become more common here, too. This was a happy event, and one that will undoubtedly shape our futures. However, one is left with that old economics joke that whenever two economists meet they generate three opinions.