RCA resignations: some context

The last few days there has been a lot of conversation about the resignations of senior people at the Royal College of Art; most visibly here and here. I just wanted to give more context to this discussion, as I feel it is greatly missing some.

Public services in the UK are undergoing huge change. Specifically massive budget cuts, as much as 40%. I know this from as an outside observer reading the news and also from working inside government since I graduated from the RCA in July.

No one has mentioned the wider context of public sector cuts when criticising the recent developments at the RCA. Paul Thompson, the RCA’s Rector, perhaps might of done a better job of explaining to people the reasons for change, but lets not skewer someone who is simply trying to keep this beloved institution open. ‘Thompson has shown shockingly little regard for the welfare of its faculty, staff, and students’. What about the shocking disregard by those tutors ignoring their duty to their students, by suddenly quitting half way through their degrees? If Paul Thompson was truly driven by profit and greed, working as an administrator in higher education would not be a logical career move.

Also, may I point out that Anthony Dunne, the former head of Design Interactions at the RCA, had been teaching there since 1991. That is nearly 25 years, a quarter of a century. That is longer than Arsene Wenger has been the manager of Arsenal Football Club. Prime Ministers and presidents stay in power for less time. They too are usually lambasted for not stepping aside after 10 years or so. So why should lecturers be exempt from legitimate concern of incumbency.

Design is changing (as always). The problems designers are now required to help solve and communicate have never been more complex. As Malcolm Gladwell said not too long ago, the 20th Century was about lone geniuses, where the 21st Century is about lots of smart people working together. The RCA needs reform and still needs to catch up in order to teach people to be ready for the complicated demands of being a designer today. The RCA Design Interactions course and others (including the one I studied on) have reinforced outdated attitudes inside and outside design education.

So I hope what I have said gives the discussion some context. It needed it and needs more still. Those who have left have made invaluable and lasting impressions on art and design. It is a unpopular thing to say and I will get flack for saying it, but I think the RCA will be better off without many of those who have resigned. Hopefully it can be become a less elitist and more humble, collaborative and open place as a result.