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2007 Faculty Senate University Service Award: David Lee Smith

As an architect, David Lee Smith has shaped the local landscape by designing dozens of buildings in the area. As a UC faculty member, Smith has shaped students’ lives by helping to design the best education possible university wide.

Date: 3/29/2007 12:00:00 AM
By: M.B. Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Lisa Ventre

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Few University of Cincinnati faculty members have taught as long as David Lee Smith – 42 years.

David Lee Smith
David Lee Smith in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning.

And even fewer have so dramatically contributed to the quality of the university education to be found here as has Smith, who has led and contributed to the most influential committees – especially during key periods of growth and transition. Smith is the 2007 recipient of the Faculty Senate University Service Award

In the entire history of UC, Smith, professor of architecture in the university’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning, is the only person who has twice served as chair of the Faculty Senate. In addition, he’s served on a great many committees related to the Faculty Senate. He has also served as the elected faculty representative to the UC Board of Trustees, served on the UC President’s Cabinet (twice), served to formulate and refine the university’s General Education requirements and served on the Strategic Enrollment Management Evaluation Committee, on the Collegiate Structures Initiative Committee and, more recently, with an ad-hoc working group to improve decision making, engagement and communications at the university.

He jokes that he’s done so because he was raised with an “Albert Schweitzer eomplex of service” regarding responsibility to community.

More seriously, he admits that – over the years – people have asked him why he takes the time to be so involved with university governance and the shaping of academics along with other forms of decision making. Explains Smith, “One of my problems is that I’m always interested in everything, and I definitely like collaborative projects and teams. Architecture is, after all, all about collaboration. We’re all here together so let’s work together. I’m really just doing what I like to do.”

David Lee Smith
David Lee Smith offers guidance to a student in an architecture studio class.

He adds, “In some ways, it goes back to why I teach. I fell into teaching because I’d been complaining about how architecture students were being educated. I thought it was about time I stopped criticizing from the sidelines and tried to do something to improve education. That’s when I began to teach. The same goes with my service on all the university bodies over the years.”

The best part of those years of service has been “meeting faculty from other disciplines and developing strong friendships.” And changing a few minds in the process.

For instance, Smith recalls the time in 1988 when he became the first faculty member to sit on the President’s Cabinet. He remembers, “At first, I was told that that was not a body where faculty normally sit. It had more of an administrative function, but I argued that an academic voice would be helpful.”

He continued, “I changed President [Joseph] Steger’s mind, and I later found out, I changed a few other minds by serving on the Cabinet. For example, one individual also on the Cabinet was an ex-military officer who had a different understanding of how organizations should operate. When he retired, he told me, ‘I objected to your role on the Cabinet, but I was wrong. Your being there was very helpful to us all.’”

Smith relishes his recollections of such moments – even when the changed mind has sometimes been his own. He stated, “Over the years, I’ve learned that some people I don’t always agree with turn out – eventually – to be right. Or, I’ve often learned there is no simple right or wrong, that creative solutions can be found. That’s why this job is the best in the world. It’s all about exploring ideas and changing.”

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