Faculty reviews enviro studies

By Emily Bell

The environmental studies program will be undergoing a major faculty review, as concentrators were informed in a March 20 e-mail from program chair Ted Steck. The program will likely see some “substantial changes,” and though current students will be allowed to finish their coursework as planned, no new students will be admitted into the program until the review is completed, according to the e-mail.

John Boyer, dean of the College, expects the review committee’s report to be completed near the end of autumn quarter of next year.

Boyer insists that the review is simply a standard procedure and that all departments in the College should undergo a review about every decade.

“The program is about 10 years old,” Boyer said. “It’s about time.”

The environmental studies program was approved as a concentration in 1993. It is an interdisciplinary program, meaning that it does not have its own department and faculty, but rather draws on faculty from several disciplines.

Departments can undergo several different kinds of review, according to Boyer. Departments often undergo a kind of “self-study” with faculty members evaluating the program.

The review of the environmental studies program, however, is somewhat different. Boyer said a smaller, routine review of the program from earlier this year concluded that it was time to reconsider the future of the program through a larger evaluation.

“The advantage of coming to this University, the reason people come here instead of a liberal arts college, is exposure to cutting edge research,” Boyer said.

He added that the best way to ensure students’ access to new research and the most up-to-date curriculum is by forming a relationship between the program and a graduate department.

“We have very strong leadership in the program right now, but we need a stronger faculty base,” Boyer said.

The review will be performed by a committee of faculty members, chaired by professor Kathleen Morrison, a professor in the Anthropology and Social Sciences departments and Director of the Center for International Studies. Morrison, who has an active interest in environmental issues, was chosen by Boyer to chair the committee.

According to Steck, the International Studies department is one possible departmental home for the restructured environmental studies program. The rest of the committee is still being assembled. The review will mainly consult members of the faculty, but will likely also talk to students and staff, as well as other universities to gain perspective on their methods in the field.

Steck said he anticipates that the updated program will likely be significantly different from its current incarnation. During his tenure as program chair, he has emphasized breadth rather than depth in guiding the program. Steck said that his focus has been an “integration” of current theories and has tried to reach out to many areas of study in order to achieve that goal.

Once the program is attached to a graduate department, however, Steck foresees the scope of the program becoming narrower.

“The faculty in that department will be approaching the subject from one perspective, their chosen discipline,” he said.

Boyer emphasized that the review does not speak negatively of the environmental studies program, and that a regular review process is simply a way to keep the University up-to-date.

“People should not be upset that we’re doing this,” Boyer said. “Any university that doesn’t regularly review the quality of its curriculum is brain-dead.”

Since 1994, the environmental studies program has been funded by grants from the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelly Foundation, based in Chicago. The Donnelly grant, which totals nearly $145,000 each year, allows the University to hire post-doctoral instructors from outside the University, as well as host several campus events each year spotlighting environmental issues.

According to Boyer, however, most grants are awarded to individual professors doing research. Because the environmental studies program currently has no faculty of its own, it gets no such funding.

Dennis Hutchinson, master of the New Collegiate Division, likened the restructuring of the program to that of the now-defunct Politics, Economics, Rhetoric, and Law program in the late 1980s.

“We lost several founding faculty members to retirement,” Hutchinson said. This prompted an intensive reevaluation of the program that eventually led to the formation of the Law, Letters, and Society program.

“It’s an exercise in asking ourselves, ‘What are we doing?’ and ‘Can we do it better?’”

Both Boyer and Hutchinson emphasized that the restriction on entry into the program was an effort to be open about changing expectations.

Any students matriculating in the fall will be held to the new standards once they are determined. In an effort to adopt a policy of “full disclosure,” a notice will be placed in the new College Catalog, as well as the program’s webpage, informing students of the review.