Environmental Studies major endangered
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.”