Weinberg to consider future of environmental studies

Lauren Kelleher

During a time of increasing “green” activism, Northwestern is working to match its sustainability efforts with strong environmental science academic options.

According to a recent Princeton Review survey, more college applicants are considering a university’s level of commitment to the environment when making their decisions.

NU is “hardly falling behind” the green movements of other universities in terms of its academic offerings, said Ronald Braeutigam, associate provost for undergraduate education, citing University President Henry Bienen’s 2008 Initiative for Sustainability and Energy at NU.

“It is bringing together all kinds of faculty with interests in sustainability and creating a series of undergraduate classes,” he said.

The first of these classes, Sustainable Energy for the 21st Century, is being piloted this spring, Braeutigam said.

The future structure of NU’s environmental courses of study will be discussed at the Weinberg Student Advisory Board meeting with the Board of Trustees on May 1.

A major question facing the board is whether NU should develop an environmental studies program with designated policy and science tracks, said Associated Student Government Academic Director-elect Muhammad Safdari.

NU’s separate environmental programs create a fault line between science and policy, said Jesse Sleamaker, a Weinberg senior minoring in environmental policy and culture and outgoing co-chair of Students for Ecological and Environmental Development.

Weinberg currently offers a minor in environmental policy and culture as well as an environmental science major in conjunction with McCormick through the Environmental Science, Engineering and Policy program.

“They are definitely separate entities,” said John Hudson, an anthropology professor who serves on the faculty of both the EPC and ESEP programs. “I am one of the only people I know of who is involved on both sides.”

SEED members have worked to educate the Weinberg Student Advisory Board’s presidents on students’ issues concerning the undergraduate environmental curricula, Sleamaker said.

Another concern is the retirement of professors from tenure tracks in the social science departments, Sleamaker said. Many students fear that retiring professors who have taught courses with environmental focuses will be replaced by new faculty without expertise in this area, he said.

But not everyone is bothered by the status quo of environmental studies throughout the university. Hudson said in terms of course offerings, the university meets most of the needs of the approximately 30 environmental science majors.

“We don’t have as many people (in that area) focusing on environmental issues as other universities,” Hudson said. “But that is because as a university, we don’t have as much of a long-standing commitment to the study of natural resources.”

Hudson said schools with stronger environmental programs are often state universities with “enormous resources” for teaching and research on campus.

While many student groups agree that NU’s environmental academics need “substantial reform,” Weinberg deans have been receptive to concerns thus far, Sleamaker said.

“They recognize that environmental studies should be a part of undergraduate education in a field that is growing so fast,” he said.

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