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Zaera-Polo hits out at plagiarism rumours following Princeton exit

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Alejandro Zaera-Polo has finally hit back at plagiarism rumors which have surrounded his resignation as dean of Princeton School of Architecture

The AZPML director and former Foreign Office Architects’ chief unexpectedly handed in his notice to quit from his post as dean of the prestigious US school in October 2014. The surprise move provoked online allegations that his departure was linked to the authenticity of texts he supplied to the Facade element of last year’s Venice Biennale, curated by Rem Koolhaas.

Zaera-Polo has now issued a statement to address the ‘endless stream of sometimes grotesque rumours’ – including claims that in his Biennale contribution he had copied large amounts of text, unattributed, gleaned from Wikipedia.

In the statement, Zaera-Polo admitted he was asked to resign by the university’s president, Christopher Eisgruber, after he ‘had removed all citations from my contribution to the publication accompanying the Exhibition Elements of Architecture at the Venice Biennale 2014’, but the London-based architect insisted he had done nothing wrong.

Zaero-Polo curated the Biennale’s ‘12 Ecologies of the Envelope’ an exhibition which highlighted 12 facades that had influenced architecture throughout the past century. The work, which involved collaboration with visiting faculty member Ignacio Fernandez, and six students — four graduate students, one undergraduate and one incoming graduate student — formed a section of Koolhaas’ larger Fundamentals exhibition.

Explaining his move, he said that, while it was ‘unorthodox in an academic setting’, the citations were removed to give the publication more relevance to the general public and less of an academic tone.  

He said: ‘While compiling the information for the text and writing it into a narrative, I did incur inadvertently in a few instances of paraphrasis, which would have required citation if they were to meet strict academic standards. In three of these cases, the published text did not follow our approved version, because of a misunderstanding with the publishers.

‘[…]The sources were used only for factual information which is easily available from multiple sources on internet. I believe their paraphrastic structure is entirely irrelevant to the content and meaning of the text.’

In a letter to Princeton University, Koolhaas defended Zaera-Polo, saying that the publication was intended as a ‘polemic, not an academic document’.

Meanwhile the editor of the publication, James Westcott, added that the accusations had been based around a ‘misunderstanding of the nature of Alejandro’s contribution, of the publication, and the overall content.’

Polo continues to teach at the school and his predecessor Stan Allen is acting as dean until a replacement is found.

In response, Princeton University commented: ‘While we normally do not comment on personnel matters, we do need to point out that Professor Zaero-Polo’s statement regarding the circumstances surrounding his resignation as dean of the School of Architecture is inaccurate and incomplete.

‘He was asked to step down in large measure because of statements he made in writing that indicated he was unfamiliar with the University’s policies on plagiarism and that he may have directed his collaborators to breach the rules of the university.’

Alejandro Zaera Polo’s full statement

I am making the following statement in order to finally clarify the reasons for my sudden resignation from the Post of Dean of the School of Architecture at Princeton University on October 30 2014. This is now imperative not just in respect to the rumors spread on the internet about plagiarism and disagreement with the direction in respect to my work on the Venice Biennale 2014, which are demonstrably false, but to address even worse rumors caused by the abruptness of my resignation. The abrupt and unexplained timing of my resignation has produced an endless stream of sometimes grotesque rumors. I am issuing this statement to address those rumors for once and for all. 

My sudden departure as Dean was requested by President Eisgruber following my acknowledgement that I had removed all citations from my contribution to the publication accompanying the Exhibition Elements of Architecture at the Venice Biennale 2014.

While I acknowledge that my actions were unorthodox in an academic setting, I do not believe that I have breached any moral, ethical, or other applicable standards. I would like here to describe factually my actions in respect to the Venice Biennale Exhibition and Publication, and provide some evidence which I believe to be clarifying in this respect.  

  1. I acted in the context of a non-academic engagement, with the agreement of the overall author and the chief editor of the publication, and following the polemical — rather than academic — intent of the project. I enclose the letters sent by Rem Koolhaas, Overall Curator of the 2014 Venice Biennale and James Westcott, Chief Editor of the Elements of Architecture Publication, sent to President Eisgruber on September 30th, in this respect. (09.30.14RK to CE and 09.30.14JW to CE). The purpose of removing the citations was to diminish the academic tone of the text and write it into a more casual narrative to make it more accessible for the general public.
  2. The Biennale publication was to be followed by a freestanding book, to be published imminently by Taschen, which will meet all the academic standards in terms of acknowledgement of sources and otherwise. All sources of the text would be fully acknowledged in the final version.
  3. I did include in the publication for the Biennale a disclaimer, which explicitly states the non-academic nature of the document, its speculative and polemic intent, and its non-suitability as a source:
    “This is not an academic paper, but a historical speculation, a technological fiction not suitable as an exhaustive source but as a trigger of ideas in which we firmly believe. It is not thoroughly researched nor peer-reviewed. It is partial, opinionated, and inexact. But we hope it will fertilize many minds, spin off different forms of scholarship, and originate a new form of thinking about facades. It is, in short, a standard type of architectural writing, aimed at the construction of a new reality, rather at the faithful reproduction of a pre-existing one.”

While compiling the information for the text and writing it into a narrative, I did incur inadvertently in a few instances of paraphrasis, which would have required citation if they were to meet strict academic standards. In three of these cases, the published text did not follow our approved version, because of a misunderstanding with the publishers. The actual list of the instances included in the published document is enclosed here in a detailed document where the exact nature of the information sourced can be accessed. (instances of alleged plagiarism) This document demonstrates that the sources were used only for factual information which is easily available from multiple sources on internet. I believe their paraphrastic structure is entirely irrelevant to the content and meaning of the text.

I hope that this factual evidence of the circumstances surrounding my resignation as Dean of the School of Architecture in order to dispel at once the absurd rumors which have been maliciously circulated.

Unlike other academic disciplines, design is a synthetic practice. The design education institutions which are succeeding to affect the real are already engaging with technical innovation, entrepreneurship and the public, and developing protocols which are closer to those used in a research team or a production office than to a conventional academic tutoring. In the field of architecture, the development of hybrid structures between practice, research and education constitute an increasingly successful model of education for architects. I have been teaching along these lines for over 20 years, and many of my former students and collaborators are now friends and colleagues, in the profession and the academia. I believe that the best education today is delivered through research and a direct engagement with the outside —with the industry, the community or the public at large— rather than through a retreat into a self-referential system which does not take into account the broader audiences that make the work significant and enable individuals to develop a truly transformative practice. In this spirit, I look forward to continue to sustain a parallel academic practice in the future, as a full member of the faculty of the School of Architecture in Princeton University.

Sincerely,

Alejandro Zaera-Polo

Postscript 23.03.15

Further comment from Alejandro Zaera-Polo

‘For the sake of completeness, I would like to add to the University precisions that, before I was asked to resign with immediate effect, and while I had acknowledged unfamiliarity with Chapter 2.4.6 ‘General Requirements for the Acknowledgment of Sources in Academic Work’, in the ‘Students and the University’ section of the Princeton Rights, Rules and Responsibilities, I had also questioned the applicability of these rules to the accused work. As I explained in my statement, the accused publication is neither student work, nor it is academic in nature, as explicitly stated in the work’s introductory disclaimer and confirmed in the statements from the overall author and chief editor, which were also in possession of president Eisgruber before my resignation was sought. 

‘My written statements included also a warning about the background of defamatory rumors - spread via internet and by word of mouth by a few individuals within the university - and the likely effect of an immediate resignation as a tacit confirmation of these rumors and in respect to the operation and profile of the school. In Princeton, Deans serve ‘at the pleasure of the President,’ and the university is entitled to make its own rulings, as long as they remain within the university’s realm and do not trespass the common law. But even if the university’s actions were legitimate, their timing was inappropriate and damaging in respect to this wider background, not only to me, but also to the school.’

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