Building Credibility

UNLV School of Architecture director optimistic despite numerous challenges

The director of the UNLV School of Architecture has a tall task ahead of him. David Baird has spent much of his first year on the job juggling resources to make the best of an understaffed and financially strapped department.

“We’re trying pretty aggressively to become more efficient and streamlined,” he says. “Everyone here is working harder, putting in longer hours and getting paid less.” Nonetheless, Baird plans to make the school more exclusive, and establish a national reputation for it in the architecture industry.

Baird, 45, moved with his wife and two sons to Las Vegas last July from Baton Rouge, La., where he taught at Louisiana State University, founded the PLUSone Design + Construction company and won two American Institute of Architects design awards for his buildings. Baird says he’s glad to get back to the desert, though. “I spent the first six years of my architectural career in Tucson [Ariz]. We really love the Southwest; we’re better suited for it. We love the feeling and the attitudes here. Architects and academics come from all over the world to study Las Vegas because it’s such a unique city, and it’s a fantastic design laboratory. So for me it’s just a wonderful place to teach architecture.”

He has taken control of the school during a particularly difficult time. “This town got hit extraordinarily hard by the economic downturn,” Baird says. “Over 65 percent of architects locally are out of work.” Since 2008, the School of Architecture lost five faculty members. “Our staffing is way below the national standards,” Baird says, “At LSU we had 14 faculty to teach 250 students in one discipline; here we have 12 faculty to teach 650 students in three disciplines. Every year we get cited for not having a good full-time faculty to student ratio.”

As part of recent budget cuts, UNLV considered eliminating the landscape architecture program. Fortunately, during Baird’s first semester, he helped that program receive the highest level of national accreditation from the Landscape Architectural Accreditation Board for the first time in its history. On June 7, the Board of Regents backed UNLV President Neal Smatresk’s recommendation to keep the program.

Baird has had to find creative ways to get the most out of the school’s tight budget. “We’re trying to find what classes we can share, rather than offering discipline-specific courses,” he says. The school also recently arranged for the College of Southern Nevada to provide some courses.

Despite the school’s limited resources, Baird likes what it offers. “Our students and faculty are being recognized nationally and internationally for the work they’re doing,” he says. “This year we had four students win national design competitions. We need to do a better job of letting people know who we are and what we do. I think once we do, we’ll start being recognized nationally for the excellence that’s going on here.”

In the long term, the school will have to reduce its student population to about 200. “We’re just not going to get the resources we need to continue to serve the number of students we have,” Baird says. So the school will become smaller, but also offer higher quality. Baird is exploring the possibility of offering new concentrations in educational design and design and construction.

Despite the many obstacles Baird faces, he is optimistic about the school’s future. “I’m glad it’s happening on my watch.”

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