Up until a few weeks ago, the UNLV Landscape Architecture program was on firm ground. It had just received its first six-year accreditation from the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board. It also had hosted a successful national conference for 400 landscape architecture students. Then the topography changed.
The program was proposed for the chopping block as UNLV struggles to close a $9 million budget gap for next year. In March, UNLV President Neal Smatresk asked Vice President for Research Ron Smith and Provost Michael Bowers to independently list 20 programs they would recommend cutting, based on criterion such as cost and students served. Some programs had “no record of scholarship, or they had too much faculty or was it absolutely central to the role of a university,” Smith says. “There’s not a bad program on there, but the point is we have to come up with $9 million.”
They wound up with a list of seven programs that included women’s studies, marriage and family therapy, and landscape architecture. David Baird, director of the School of Architecture, says landscape architecture was put on the chopping block because its coordinator recently took a job at another university. “Because of the hiring freeze, we have her position and another position we were hoping to fill frozen,” Baird says. “I think the thought was, by some, that made the program nonviable.”
Now it’s up to Baird to marshal his resources to try to save the program. He argues that the program is “really in the best interest of the state. They’re employed in all our city agencies. They help run our parks and rec departments.” He adds that this is the only landscape architecture program in the Mojave Desert. “Its loss would be a major setback in the movement to make our region more sustainable.”
What’s more, he says the loss of landscape architecture could have a negative impact on the quality of the rest of the architecture school, which also offers programs in design foundation, and interior architecture and design. As noted in a draft report the department is preparing, “Due to the integrated nature of the three programs in the [School of Architecture], eliminating one will diminish the remaining two programs.” If landscape architecture is cut, the changes in faculty-student ratios may impact accreditation for the architecture program, which begins next year, since many courses are cross-listed.
The landscape architecture program began in 1995 and currently has 46 students, the most in its history. Earlier this month, the department submitted a report to a faculty review committee, and Baird is scheduled to meet with the committee on April 21 to give a 30-minute presentation about why the department should stay. The committee will make recommendations to Smatresk, who will make a decision that in turn must be signed off by the Board of Regents.
“We’ll deal with the situation dealt to us,” Baird says. “We’re committed to the education of our students and to the state, providing what the state needs to function. We’re going to make do with whatever decision is made. But we would like a robust landscape architecture program. That’s what we’re going to fight for until we hear otherwise.”