Staff Editorial: Student input a must for enviro major

Last Wednesday’s town hall forum regarding the University’s environmental studies program highlights the increased concerns of students and faculty about the program’s future. The forum came on the heels of a letter that four environmental studies majors submitted in February to James McLeod, vice chancellor of students, calling for more interdisciplinary courses and the eventual evolution of the program into an academic department.

However, recent developments make us wonder: Will the program lose funding or be eliminated all together? McLeod and other deans have not announced specific changes, though the University’s recent economic troubles and the upcoming departures of three professors within the program compel us to wonder if cuts are imminent. With the program’s structure currently “under review,” we appreciate the willingness of administrators to listen to students. We hope the University takes this opportunity to evaluate and advance environmental studies at Wash. U.

A recent and positive trend among colleges nationwide is the increasing availability of interdisciplinary programs—a trend that the environmental studies program furthers. Environmental studies incorporates not only biology and chemistry, but also engineering, economics and political science. This amalgam of subjects offers students multiple foundations for futures in academic research, public policy or entrepreneurship. It allows students to broaden their ability to think across a spectrum of issues and perspectives, which we feel is the ultimate goal of a liberal arts education.

What should Wash. U. do to the environmental studies program?

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Without a strong environmental studies program, the University would risk denying undergraduates adequate preparation for major emerging career fields that pertain to the environment. Studying the environment will only become more important as the United States economy shifts toward an emphasis on so-called green jobs, and as both the public and private sector become more concerned with the environmental implications of business and politics, the demand for scholarly research in ecology and related fields will only increase.

Wash. U. has acknowledged this demand, responding with a minor in environmental engineering, an emphasis on sustainable architecture and consistent support of the Pathfinder Program in Environmental Sustainability. The University has also augmented its reputation as an environmentally friendly campus with a recently published sustainability plan and vigorous support of Proposition A, a local tax benefiting public transportation.

Yet it would be odd for administrators to follow these moves with cutbacks to the environmental studies program. Shrinking or eliminating it would go against the popularity of the major and minor among the student body and send a conflicting message about Wash. U.’s commitment to environmental and sustainability issues. A better option would be to strengthen the environmental studies program. We ask the University to respond to the concerns of students and faculty with specific changes that will expand the program and make it even more successful.

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