Message from Dean Vazsonyi – August 2021

August 20, 2021


Dear Faculty, Staff, Alumni and Friends,

Nicholas Vazsonyi, Dean

“Change! Architectural Experiments in a Changing Society” is the theme of this year’s lecture series in the School of Architecture.

“Change!” could just as easily serve as the theme for our entire College this year. You may have noticed the redesign of our newsletter, and we are pleased to report that we have started launching our new College websites. It’s a long and involved process and has been going on behind the scenes for a while. But now at last, some of that work is becoming visible. Please take a look and let us know what you think.

I am also delighted to welcome Dr. L. Kaifa Roland, our new and first ever full-time director of Pan African Studies after what became an international search, including top candidates from Africa. Kaifa comes to us brimming with ideas about energizing the academic program and creating campus events and opportunities for students outside the classroom. Welcome to Clemson, Kaifa!

We have other changes on the horizon that I am looking forward to sharing with you as soon as it is appropriate. Change is almost always unsettling and produces anxiety. As exciting as change can be, and as much as we are dissatisfied with the present conditions, we are often still resistant to the mere idea. Hence the expression “the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.”

Resistance to change has dominated societies at points across history. A case in point in European history are the so-called Middle Ages which saw the creation and maintenance of systems which were predicated on ideas of immutability and Divine Right. Everyone knew their place, and there was not much to be done about it.

But then, for a variety of reasons, change came to Europe. The culture of determinism gave way to ideas of self-determination. A spirit of inquiry and critical thinking, exploration and innovation, resulted in the most dynamic, revolutionary, and transformative age ever known. The age in which we continue to live today.

The university as an idea was born during the medieval period. The first ones were in Bologna (founded 1088), Paris (1150), and Oxford (1167). These institutions were the bastions of received wisdom and were dedicated to the cultivation and preservation of knowledge. Even today, we see the remnants of the medieval institution: the gowns, the feudal hierarchy, the anachronistic vocabulary and traditions.

But then came the “modern” university, the first one founded in Berlin (1810), modeled on the idea of research, constantly pushing the frontiers of knowledge, the thrill of perpetual change.

Today’s universities have inherited both traditions. Caught between tradition and progress, between preserving the tried and the true, and sweeping everything away in the face of the shiny and the new. Caught between the drive to innovate and the almost instinctive anxiety that is triggered in the face of change.

I love the fact that we have managed to retain one institution in our fast-paced world that still has both drives, even if it does make for some very long meetings!

“Go Tigers!”

Nicholas Vazsonyi, Dean
College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities

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