The University Record, December 4, 2000

SNRE, LS&A move closer to joint undergrad program on environment

By Amelyn Reyes
News and Information Services

A report by a committee established by LS&A Dean Shirley Neuman to examine the possibility of integrating existing undergraduate degree programs in the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) was endorsed by SNRE faculty during a meeting in November.

The report by the Environmental Sciences/Studies Curriculum Development Committee, which is made up of SNRE and LS&A faculty and students, outlines a proposed new concentration in environmental sciences/studies to be jointly operated by LS&A and SNRE.

The report has been submitted to Neuman for review. It’s expected that an implementation team will be established to examine the feasibility of the proposal. If all parties accept the proposal, the new program could be implemented as early as fall 2002.

“This is an exciting and important partnership,” Neuman says. “The committee of faculty and students who have developed this proposal has offered us a wonderful opportunity to develop a program that will draw on strong teaching and research on the environment from across campus. If we work together effectively to implement its suggestions, we will have a program impressive in its capacity to educate students about both the policy issues and the science of environmental studies.

“That students would undertake such a program in the context of a liberal arts and science curriculum, in which they learn something of the social and cultural contexts that shape our uses of the environment, our impact on it and our responsiveness to environmental policy, will certainly strengthen their understanding of this very complex subject,” she adds.

Student forums have been held in recent months in which students voiced both support and concerns about the proposed program. SNRE students also were able to fill out an evaluation form designed by an organization representing SNRE students.

Under the proposal, the program would be managed by a director who would report to the deans of both LS&A and SNRE. The report also calls for establishing an advisory board of LS&A and SNRE faculty. The new concentration would replace existing SNRE programs that lead to a bachelor of science degree.

“SNRE’s general endorsement of the initiative and support for further negotiations between SNRE and LS&A does not constitute any formal or final approval. This is not a done deal,” says SNRE Interim Dean Barry Rabe.

“This initiative reflects an extensive process of review and I thank all SNRE and LS&A colleagues who contributed to this effort. We’ve talked about the need to promote interdisciplinarity and cross-unit collaboration in undergraduate education, especially in areas such as the environment where single-discipline approaches are likely to be quite limiting. This initiative,” he adds, “offers a new model for thinking about how we might approach this challenge and how new partnerships might emerge between LS&A and professional schools.”

The proposed program is designed to be interdisciplinary and take advantage of environmental studies education and research programs currently offered by other U-M schools and colleges. One of its primary goals is to graduate well-rounded and better-educated undergraduates in environmental science and studies.

The report highlights the need to “educate a new kind of citizen” better suited to address the rapidly changing condition of the environment.

“Increasing understanding of the scientific basis for environmental change and the kinds of policy decisions needed to deal with such change will be one of the major challenges of this century,” the committee wrote. “We will need to educate a new kind of citizen able to deal with the complexity of problems resulting from changes potentially so profound that they could cause major social and political dislocations.”

In designing the proposed program, the committee, which was chaired by English Prof. John R. Knott, pulled from the best of the country’s most respected environmental science and studies programs at other institutions.

Under the proposed program, students would earn either a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts degree. Students would take courses in SNRE, biology, chemistry, mathematics, earth science, economics, history and geology among other areas. The program also calls for fieldwork and internships, as well as a lecture series that will focus on environmental policy failures and successes.

In establishing the committee last March, Neuman said that SNRE has, in recent years, not met its admission targets and has experienced fiscal difficulties. The revamped program is designed to be more competitive with similar programs at other institutions.

LS&A has a growing number of faculty engaged in environmental research and teaching and currently offers a minor in environmental studies.