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History of our LA Department

Our department has a rich history to share. We thought the best way to tell this history is through the perspectives of Roy H. DeBoer, department founder. This essay was written in 2013.

Roy DeBoer and Steve Strom
Roy H. DeBoer and Steve Strom (1995)
Dear Friends of the Department of Landscape Architecture at Rutgers,

It is hard to believe, but I have been retired from Rutgers and the Department of Landscape Architecture for 9 years now, after being on the faculty for just short of 50 years. With this perspective, I want to provide a bit of history about the department.

Rutgers offered an instructional program in landscape design as early as the 1930s, but this emphasis was discontinued during World War II. There was no landscape design taught at Rutgers until I was hired in 1955, immediately after I had received my bachelors degree from Cornell. Rutgers was reestablishing an emphasis in ornamental horticulture and landscape design within the existing Department of Horticulture. I was charged with the responsibility of establishing a strong landscape design program within the ornamental horticulture section of the department. I was the sole instructor in landscape design. An initial sequence of five design courses was immediately established, including a design sequence, planting design, and some construction. These initial courses served the needs of undergraduates interested in ornamental horticulture and landscape design, and graduate students in horticulture who desired some introductory design exposure. I used a number of practicing professionals from New Jersey to serve as visiting lecturers and augment my program. Student demand for these courses increased, and it became necessary to add an additional faculty member to teach design related courses. Robert Harvey, who had just completed his undergraduate degree at Iowa State, joined the faculty in 1959, with administrative approval for him to pursue an MLA degree at the University of Pennsylvania, under the guidance of Ian McHarg. Bob was very strong in all aspects of graphics and construction, and brought those strengths to the fledgling program, but he left his Instructors position at Rutgers to return to teach at Iowa State in 1963.

The instructor position was upgraded to the Assistant Professor level, and Jeffrey Hall, who had done his undergraduate BLA degree at the University of Mass. and his MLA at Iowa State, was hired in 1964. He brought with him a full range of talents in landscape architecture, including a strong interest in landscape architectural history. The landscape design courses offerings were expanded significantly and they six course/6 semester design sequence was put in place. The curriculum was very sequentially structured, with beginning courses becoming the basis for more advanced courses, and advanced courses being based on the material that had been covered in earlier classes. We were now offering a very well balanced design program, within the framework of an ornamental horticulture major, which at the time, required over 150 credits to graduate (in four years). Student enrollment in "landscape design" continued to grow.

Quite inadvertently, the program had grown into an awkward situation – – – it offered and required more design related courses than were normally part of a "landscape design program", – – – but not enough design and professional offerings to call it a "landscape architecture program". The faculty decided to explore the development of a nationally accredited landscape architecture program. I went to a meeting of the National Council of Instructors in Landscape Architecture (NCILA), and met with Wayne Wilson, from Penn State, who was the chair of the ASLA Accreditation Board. After reviewing our curriculum, he told me that it would be necessary to cease our affiliation with the Department of Horticulture, and to get rid of many of our required science courses, and replace them with professional design and other professional courses, before we could even be considered for accreditation. I was discouraged by his assessment, but we nonetheless pursued the development of a new curriculum at Rutgers that we could call "landscape architecture.” The new curriculum was approved by the faculty of the then "College of Agriculture and Environmental Science", in 1964, and we began to call our program "landscape architecture" and shortly thereafter became the Landscape Architecture Section of the then Department of Horticulture and Forestry, with me as the "Head of the section."

At about the same time, landscape architects of New Jersey saw the need and established the New Jersey Chapter of Landscape Architects, under the ASLA. Jeff Hall and I were very active in the establishment of the new chapter in 1964. Jeff and I were "charter members" of the new chapter. The new chapter was very interested in and supported the development of our new landscape architecture curriculum at Rutgers. Many practicing professionals from New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania were utilized as visiting lecturers, and visiting jurors for our design/studio courses. Most participated with no financial compensation, demonstrating their interest in and support of our program. The new LA program developed and offered one and two day professional conferences and symposia focusing on topics of interest to the LA profession and the design/build industry professionals, the serving those two groups and developing strong ties with their membership.

At about the same time, 1964, Julius Fabos, who graduated from Rutgers and was currently a graduate student earning his MLA at Harvard, together with his fellow graduate students, had developed a superb exhibit portraying the work of Frederick Law Olmsted, and made it available for display throughout the country. We immediately jumped at the opportunity, and arranged to display the exhibit in Collins auditorium (then in the core of Blake Hall) for a full month. It was a wonderful way to provide the publicity for our newly established landscape architecture program. It turns out that we were the first school of landscape architecture to schedule and show the exhibit – – – the effort was a great success!

The enrollment in landscape architecture grew dramatically, and somehow, even with limited resources, the breadth and the quality of the instructional program continued to improve. Nicholas Dines, MLA from the University of Massachusetts, joined the faculty for a couple of years. An additional tenure-track line was created 1969 and was filled by John Webster, who had a degree in architecture from Kent state and an MLA from the University of Massachusetts. Bob Scarfo from the University of Massachusetts was hired as an Instructor at the same time.

Scarfo's hiring was part of an arrangement between the University administration and the landscape architecture faculty, by which Bob's line was added, allowing for him and three other faculty members to serve one quarter time as "campus landscape architects" working under the "new facilities division" of Rutgers. We had a campus landscape architecture office across the river in the old military warehouses adjacent to the Livingston college campus. This arrangement had many problems and did not last but a few years, but did result in University hiring its first landscape architect as part of its facilities staff.

The first accreditation visit was held in the spring of 1970, in the midst of campus turmoil and student unrest which was at its extreme on the campus following the Kent state shootings. As Rutgers president Mason Gross was welcoming the team, masses of students were demonstrating outside old Queens, ready to "takeover and occupy" the building. Despite the turmoil, the visit went very well, and we were granted the normal initial accreditation status of "two year provisional" for the first two years, with recommendations for improvement of facilities and certain aspects of the curriculum. Once the word got out that we were a nationally accredited professional program, the enrollment exploded, and we faced a critical shortage of funds, faculty, and studio space.

Ironically, the curriculum that had been approved as part of the accreditation was not substantially different from the curriculum that I had shared with Wayne Wilson some years earlier. Education in the profession of landscape architecture had shifted during that time, and a strong science base was no longer "the kiss of death", but rather considered as a strength. We had made considerable improvements in the strength of our professional design related offerings, but not to the extent that had been stated a few years earlier. This shift in emphasis can most likely be attributed to the accomplishments of Ian McHarg at the University of Pennsylvania, and Phil Lewis at the University of Wisconsin and their natural resource inventory approach as a crucial part of the design process. We were the first program to be accredited for landscape architecture while still being administratively part of a Department of Horticulture (horticulture and forestry). Several other schools including Cornell in Minnesota followed. Within five years of accreditation are student enrollment mushroomed to over 200 students, with the same limited faculty, space and funding. There were five sections (23 – 25 each) of the first semester "Introduction to Environmental Design" course. Several part-time faculty were added to handle the incredible teaching load. This student overload crisis forced us to establish a policy and procedure for "limiting enrollment" in the program in 1977. Initially we had over 70 students competing for spaces in the upper classes of the program, and submitting portfolios. We accepted 30 – 35 students to go on into the junior level courses. This limiting enrollment process worked extremely well, largely because the criteria essentially reflected the performance in the first fall semester "Introduction to Design" course, which was packed with basics, and taught a strong design process, and included the graphics necessary to depict their thought process and their design product the ride in the course. After a few years the student numbers stabilized, went down a bit, and developed a pattern where we had three beginning design courses, about 40 portfolios submitted, and about 30 being accepted into the program. Junior courses generally had two sections of approximately 15 students each, and senior courses were reduced slightly due to normal attrition. At this point, the faculty consisted of four full-time, tenured lines, plus a couple of one-year temporary appointments, and continued for the next 20 years or so. As part of the normal sequence of keeping these lines filled, Steve Strom joined the faculty in 1980, and Connie Terry Webster in 1981. Landscape architecture became an independent Department in 1985, and Steve Strom became the first Chair. The first new tenure-track line was approved in 1988, and JeanMarie Hartman was hired to bring more ecology emphasis into the program. This was the first academic line in the Department that included funding by the experiment station as part of the line description. David Tulloch joined the faculty in 1997, with responsibilities to both the Departments of Environmental Resources and Landscape Architecture. He brought geometrics emphasis to the Cook Campus and taught the basic Environmental Planning course.

Even though changes occurred in the LA teaching faculty, we always strived to work as a team, and had the attitude that each of us contributed an important part of our graduates’ education. The most important LA faculty meetings were at the end of each semester, when we shared information and opinions and developed strategies to deliver the most interesting, most comprehensive, and most exciting learning experience for our students. The landscape architecture faculty, although limited in number, combined with excellent part time faculty, and worked together very effectively, and delivered an excellent, cohesive, undergraduate program. This faculty was unusually stable and consistent with few dramatic changes for many years.

In the late 1990s, serious health issues of two of the faculty created some serious challenges. During a short span of time, Connie Webster and Steve Strom were both diagnosed with serious forms of "blood cancer.” At that time, the main treatment center for their diseases was centered in Seattle, Washington. Both Connie and Steve Strom were treated and given "stem cell/bone marrow transplants", only a few months apart. When Connie and John returned to New Jersey, they decided to retire. I had been appointed as the “acting chair” during Steve’s absence. Steve came back to New Jersey, assumed his position as Department chair, and continued treatments here in New Jersey for a number of years.

When Steve Strom came to Rutgers in the early 80s, he brought with him the study abroad program which he had started in Munich, Germany while he was at Wisconsin. He ran the summer program in Germany himself several times during the 80s. The program became a regular annual offering in the 90s, and I ran the program five times, through 2001, with other faculty participating in the other years, when other countries were used as summer program destinations.

After returning from Germany in 2001, I became suddenly very ill, and was confined to a wheelchair, and – – – was eventually diagnosed Lyme's disease combined with a nerve disease called Gillian Baret. My EDA course had an enrollment of almost 500 that year, and Steve and JeanMarie coordinated the efforts to cover the course on an emergency basis during that year. I returned to limited teaching and involvement for the spring semester.

Two new faculty were hired – Jake Woland who had an MLA from University Washington and had worked in Richard Haag’s office and Joe Chambers trained at Penn State – to replace Connie and John Webster. Both left Rutgers to practice in New York City after several years. Larry Porter had taught for many years as a coad, and several years on a temporary full time line, and it was hoped that his academic line would be made permanent, and that he would become a permanent member of the faculty. This did not happen, and he accepted the position of landscape architect in the Rutgers new facilities department. Steve was hospitalized in 2004. Since I had already announced my retirement, Dr. George Nieswand was named as the acting chair of landscape architecture, and I was named as the academic program coordinator under him. This was an awkward arrangement at best and lasted less than one year. JeanMarie Hartman was named as the acting chair of landscape architecture, and a few years later became the chair of landscape architecture.

In the ensuing years, a number of major changes occurred in landscape architecture. Laura Lawson was named as the new chair of landscape architecture; a new graduate program was approved and started in landscape architecture; most of Blake Hall was renovated, and considerable new space was assigned to landscape architecture; new faculty resources were provided for both the undergraduate program and the new graduate program! Landscape architecture at Rutgers is essentially a new program, with new facilities, new leadership and new faculty – – – the program has a great future, and will provide an exciting educational experience to all of its students and graduates."

Roy H. DeBoer, FASLA, LLA# 00001