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AA School ‘polarised’ over Steele’s reappointment, claims department head

‘Hostility’ and ‘open opposition’ have broken out at the Architectural Association following the reappointment of academic head Brett Steele on a new ‘dual’ contract, claims a senior tutor

The letter – which is the first from a staff member to speak openly about issues at the school – raised concern over the AA council’s decision to reappoint Steele on a new contract claiming the body has ‘assumed’ increasing authority over academic affairs.

The letter by Mike Weinstock, director research and development and director emergent technologies and design, and published in the Ghost Dance Times argued that  ‘significant changes – of constitutional and legal importance for the school community’ had taken place.

He said: ‘I do truly fear the consequences.’

According to Weinstock, Steele’s new contract is part of a bid to transform the AA into a ‘business entity’ and make the school ‘subservient’ to that entity’s corporate interests.

He said: ‘There is a great deal of worry amongst staff and students that significant steps towards achieving [this] have already been made.’

Weinstock added: ‘For the first time in the history of the AA the number of administrative staff exceeds that of the academic staff – and they occupy the grand Georgian spaces of the buildings. Students and tutors are seen to have much less personal space, accessed in the main through the alley of Morwell Street.’

On 11 February Steele and the Architectural Association (AA) council agreed new terms of appointment, formally recognising him as both ‘director of school’ and ‘director of association’.

Steele’s initial five-year contract to run the school ended last year and was renewed on an ongoing basis up until the point, earlier this month, when his second five-year contract was signed. AA students endorsed Steele’s continued leadership of the school one year ago.

According to letters disclosed to the AJ, members of the student body fear a ‘dramatic’ move away from an academic focus to a more ‘corporate, Association-centred interest’.

An email sent to AA students late last night (25 February) said: ‘The vote for Brett Steele in November of 2009 took place on the premise that his role stay the same – this has not been the case, and has resulted in a student meeting where the overwhelming majority of those present voted that they did not recognise this new contract as valid.’

The email also reported ‘concern’ over claims that the new appointed head’s salary had increased 34 per cent.

It added: ‘Members of staff that are standing up for the students are putting their jobs on the line. This school – founded by students for students – is utterly unique in its ethos and system of trust. It is undoubtedly worth protecting.’

Students and academics are expected to meet with Steele later today to discuss their concerns.

Past AA presidents Marina Adams, Michael Foster and Michael Pearson, plus 11 other signatories, have also called a special general meeting on 3 March with the aim of debating the appointment.

The AA school was unavailable to comment.

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