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Environmental Studies major endangered

| Staff Reporter

Another major might soon bite the dust. Students, faculty and administrators met last Wednesday in a town hall forum to clear up confusion regarding the fragile future of the environmental studies program.

With the departure of three professors in the field, the program’s structure is currently under review. According to James McLeod, vice chancellor for students and dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, there have been no specific changes finalized yet.

Senior Kady McFadden explained that students were prompted to organize the town hall meeting after learning about restructuring efforts and a later e-mail sent by McLeod to all environmental studies students explaining these beginning efforts.

“We really wanted to make sure that students had a say in what happened before decisions were made,” McFadden said. “So, we didn’t want to just react to what administration decided, but we wanted to really be given the chance to engage with what we wanted to see in a program we’re so clearly invested in.”

McLeod told students at the town hall that those currently completing the environmental studies major or minor will still be able to leave Wash. U. with their planned degree.

The environmental studies major allows students to focus on environmental issues from a social science, geoscience or biology/ecology track.

The number of students pursuing the major has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Fifty majors are expected to graduate this year alone. New faculty members have been difficult to find, and expansion of the major has not matched this increased interest throughout the University for environmental studies.

Current professors Clare Palmer, John Orrock and Ellen Damschen expect to leave at the end of this year. For the program, Palmer teaches an environmental ethics course and introduction to environmental studies. Orrock teaches a course in behavioral ecology and Damschen teaches introduction to ecology. Both introductory courses are required for majors and minors. Behavioral ecology and the environmental ethics courses are electives.

Students hope that this is an opportunity to improve the program.

“A lot of students voiced here [at the town hall] that they want to see growth in the courses,” said freshman Jeremy Pivor, a biology/ecology track environmental studies major. “So what would be really nice to see is core courses where everyone in each of the tracks takes the courses together to learn about just in general environmental studies…and then, within their tracks, growth and specialization in areas they want to learn instead of the constant overlap of topics.”

Students at the town hall also voiced the hope that the program will maintain its interdisciplinary nature and, in the long term, turn into a department. They further look forward to future collaborations with the leaders of the environmental studies program and the dean’s office.

“I definitely think [the town hall] was a productive discussion, but it definitely will not be the last,” McFadden said. “We want students and faculty involved in the decisions that are being made in the future. We’re looking for Dean McLeod to at least accept a program in which students will be integrally involved in the decision-making.”

Within the coming weeks, McFadden and other students will form a plan to present to the administration detailing what they want in the major semester by semester.

Some students are still wary of potential parallels between the future of the program and the controversial actions of Mary Sansalone, former dean of the engineering school.

“There were a lot of similarities drawn last night [at the meeting] by students between this and what happened in the engineering school with Dean Sansalone,” said sophomore Arielle Klagsbrun, one of the organizers of the town hall. “I really hope that the school learns from the mistakes that happened in that time period and looks at how they can be transparent in their decisions and how students can be involved…in whatever restructuring they’re going to do.”

Sansalone had upset engineering students, faculty and alumni by making decisions regarding the school without much input from others.

“We all want a stronger effort. We want the study of the environment here, and that makes it a good discussion, a wonderful exchange,” McLeod said. “I heard from [students that] I need to keep them informed. That seems loud and clear—that needs to be a process.”

  • As you know, I volunteer for duty, as a full time Lecturer with a ten percent pay cut from my 2006-07 salary, if the money saved will be applied to scholarships for low income students. I will be honored to teach the proposed class, “Religion and the Environment,” given to me by my good colleague Professor Frank Flinn, by verbal agreement Spring 2007, and by tacit agreement since then. My return to the PAID faculty of Washington University is in accord with Student Life editorials (Aut 06, Spr 07) and three vigorous student petition campaigns during the same period, and since. Thank you very much!

    How about:

    Aut 10
    *Focus 2310 “Cooperative Living, Community Building, and Sustainability” [taught Aut 04, 05, 06] (I will teach this course, as before, for a modest Four Year Advisor stipend for up to ten students)
    *Yoga Traditions (Religious Studies) [taught Aut 00, 02, 04, 06]
    *Save the Planets: Environmental Themes in Science Fiction and Fantasy [taught as a Religious Studies course in Summer 07, though it should have been listed as Envirnonmental Studies]
    *Hindu Medicine and Indian Food [taught in the Summer School, Su 01, and in University College, Aut 02, 03, 04, 05, 06]

    Spr 11
    *Focus 2311 “Cooperative Living, Community Building, and Sustainability” [taught Spr 05, 06, 07]
    *Karma and Rebirth (Religious Studies) [taught Spr 00, 02, 04, 06]
    *Religion and the Envirnoment\
    *Theosophical Societies and New Age Spiritualities [taught Su 07]

    Su 11
    Science Fiction and Religion: May the Force Be With You [taught in the Summer Scholars Program, Su 05, 06, 07]
    Fundamentalisms East and West [Religious Studies and International Affairs) [taught Spr 02, Su 04, Su 06]

    Please let all these courses be cross-listed as Environmental Studies, because they all live up to that designation.

    For my widely circulated Five Year Plan, please see:

    I volunteer to do what I do best: fill in the lacunae in our program, with mature courses and a few new ones. Right now, Environmental Studies, especially the humanistic and social scientific dimensions, is in crisis. I can help! Happy Earth Day to you all!

  • Tedward

    Losing three key faculty is not a minor change for such a small program, especially one that is growing in demand so rapidly.

    Unless somehow new professors fall from the sky the program is going to undergo something more than just a little moving. That is the reality. What we need to do is work together to ensure the program comes out of this stronger than before. Student input is essential in this process.

  • I am not annoyed and I do not think green action and studlife have blown this out of proportion. I am happy that our students are so passionate about their education. It may well be that something has been nipped in the bud by student activism. Many of the spokespersons are not free to tell us all they know. This has been strongly hinted.

    Let’s have less Byzantine maneuvering and academic turf warfare, and more transparency, by ALL parties.

  • you’re annoying

    This whole business is damn annoying. as a non-enviromental studies major who actually ATTENDED that town hall, they made it incredibly obvious that NOTHING has actually been decided or even fully thought through at all…even the ideas they DID just think about didn’t involve anything about the “major biting the dust”, but just potentially thinking about moving the the major around a bit. green action and studlife- stop blowing things out of proportion…

  • PA


    as an engineering student, you of all people should know that a major was cut just last year – civil engineering.
    not to mention the downgrade of aero to a minor.

  • enginerd

    “Another major might soon bite the dust” ????

    StudLife, what are the other majors that have bitten the dust? I cannot think of any during this past academic year, or last academic year.

    I can only think of new ones that have been developed (or will soon be developed), such as: Public Health, Healthcare Management, Religion & Politics, and a few new minors in the Engineering school like Mechatronics and Nanotechnology.

    While it would be so disappointing if the Environmental Studies major is downsides (2x interest in ten years, a relevent field of study to today’s concerns, already outstanding professors like Jen Smith and Ray Arvidson)….. I’m disappointed that StudLife is framing this like Wash U is just slashing things left and right.

  • “..what would be really nice to see is core courses where everyone in each of the tracks takes the courses together to learn about just in general environmental studies…and then, within their tracks, growth and specialization in areas they want to learn instead of the constant overlap of topics.””

    Yes, a common core would be nice, but this must include humanistic approaches as well (the ethical, spiritual, religious, and aesthetic dimensions of environmental studies). Please let’s establish an environmental humanities track to meet student demand, and let’s bring back medical humanities as well. WashU once had a dedicated group of faculty committed to the establishment of such a program. I was pleased to read, in an interview with Student Life last year, that such an initiative is under discussion. Please, let’s put everything on the table, for all to see.

    Readers may be interested in the Facebook group, Environmental Studies Reorganization Updates,