Alejandro Zaera-Polo at Princeton Architecture Dept.

A photo from Alejandro Zaera-Polo’s multi-part video series.
Photo credit: Alejandro Zaera-Polo / Vimeo

An architecture professor said he was fired from Princeton University after a long investigation, and therefore published a multimedia controversy mainly about himself but also, he writes, about the fall of American academia. . This is an extremely pure example of low stakes but high drama college nightmares.

“I am writing these lines from the academic epicenter of the culture of cancellation and ‘awakened’ thought, Princeton University,” begins Alejandro Zaera-Polo, in a paper titled ” The fascisms of difference in the post-truth university “. His textual controversy is accompanied by nearly five hours of videos, posted on Vimeo in recent weeks, entitled “The Gonzo Ethnography of Academic Authority”. The videos incorporate diagrams and lots of internal documents, and they’re amazing. The first episode goes from Nietzsche to Latour, then quickly begins to rampage through the school’s faculty, starting with Elizabeth Diller, who, in addition to teaching at Princeton, is the principal of Diller Scofidio + Renfro.

“The ethnography aims to capture an extreme case of the ailments affecting universities in 2021,” he wrote in the text. These discomforts include the capture of the institution by the “financial-information-media-educational complex which today constitutes the center of American power”, its cancellation by Woodrow Wilson. Zaera-Polo is also opposed at length to his department being invited to compile candidates “of exclusively black ethnicity” for a pool of hiring. (He notes that three applicants of “exclusively African-American ethnicity” were offered jobs consecutively, constituting “preferential treatment.”)

In the videos there are a lot of them, numerous screenshots of inter-departmental emails with nuances that will never be intelligible to anyone outside of school. There are lengthy and berated emails to colleagues on meta-topics, such as addressing his “alleged lack of collegiality,” which he writes, allows him to address “the dark side of conversationalism, which is the code of conduct. silence. “

Examine carefully.
Photo credit: Alejandro Zaera-Polo / Vimeo

A letter noted in his videos by a close observer, from July 2020, shows that it is forbidden to have any contact with Mónica Ponce de León, the dean of the school of architecture. From screenshots of other emails in the video, she had already informed him that “your insults and threats are preventing me from doing my job” and “I have already asked you to stop your assault. and your inappropriate behavior “.

The video series seems to end with a meditation on the meaning of the obvious.

Among his complaints, the most notable is the office situation, located in the basement. Watchers of Netflix’s Excellent Sandra Oh Vehicle The chair will be remembered as a crucial plot point.

How did we get here? Alejandro Zaera-Polo, an architect who grew up in Spain and whose area of ​​research is building facades, began teaching architecture at Princeton in 2008. In 2012, he himself became dean of the school. – a decision of more than half of the students of the school protested. They didn’t like the opaque process behind the choice, but they didn’t like his teaching either. Despite this difficult start, in the summer of 2014 Zaera-Polo met with a triumph – the Venice Architecture Biennale, led by Rem Koolhaas, had a strong representation of Princeton’s research and included an exhibition (on, of course , facades) by Zaera -Polo himself.

Extremely readable.
Photo credit: Alejandro Zaera-Polo / Vimeo

Yet even while this exposure was still visible, Zaera-Polo announced that he was stepping down from this post. The college, he later graduated from, had accused Zaera-Polo of plagiarism in an essay he wrote for the Biennale’s exhibition catalog.

This followed online gossip on Archinect in August:

In interviews, Rem has all but denied part of AZP’s show, a facade research exhibition. […] Supposedly large portions of his text have been verbatim plagiarized; this offense is normally the subject of serious academic scrutiny and could potentially cause him to withdraw his post as dean. We’ll see soon enough. What is even more shocking is that the source he is accused of plagiarizing is Wikipedia (!). He’s obviously not an academic, but, I mean, come on. Wikipedia?

“I heard that it is not [sic] the first time he’s accused of plagiarism, or maybe it’s the same, ”someone on the thread replied. “I heard he crushes kittens, or maybe he doesn’t,” wrote another.

This (the plagiarism charge, not the kitten crush) was not really true, or was not quite true. Rem Koolhaas had strongly defended Zaera-Polo, before the resignation, by writing an email to the president of Princeton explaining that the essay was intended to be non-academic and did not include any footnotes. At the beginning of 2015, still a teacher, Zaera-Polo began to clarify. “I inadvertently suffered a few instances of paraphrasing,” Zaera-Polo explained in a letter, meaning he had paraphrased some things he normally quotes in an academic context. Princeton described this as “inaccurate and incomplete” and said he had been asked to step down as dean because he wrote that he was “not familiar with University policies on plagiarism”.

Actor network analysis, do you like it?
Photo credit: Alejandro Zaera-Polo / Vimeo

Eventually, this conflict escalated to the courthouse, the extremely imperfect place to settle reputation issues. In one lawsuit, Zaera-Polo accused the school and others of libel – including administrators and online gossip. He had lost business and his reputation, and the mystery surrounding the resignation led to “false rumors of sexual or financial misconduct.” Since then he’s been in school, five seemingly excruciating years in which, as we see in his video series, he’s been an incredible troll at best. This summer, a board committee voted to remove him as a professor. This week, the school cut ties with him.

Princeton did not respond to requests confirming the layoff. “The Fascisms of Difference in Post-Truth University” and “The Gonzo Ethnography of Academic Authority,” arguably his largest and most captivating works, remain Zaera-Polo’s monument to his years in the world. ‘university.

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