Students Discuss Proposal for Environmental Studies Department

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

13 students met Wednesday to discuss the expansion of the Environmental Studies (ENVS) program at Swarthmore and to give feedback on an environmental studies revision proposal. The proposal, drawn up by students after a student-faculty discussion last March, recommends the formation of an Environmental Studies department with a coordinate major and a core faculty, by 2015.

A “coordinate major” means that each student majoring in Environmental Studies would be required to also major in something else that is linked to Environmental Studies. This second major, called the disciplinary major, would have to be completed in full; the coordinate major would include an estimated nine to eleven credits of coursework.

The proposal, which runs seventeen pages in length, also recommends hiring two tenure-track faculty members, endowing an ENVS lecture series, and establishing a campus space for interdisciplinary programs and departments.

Ben Goloff ’15, who, along with Julia Carleton ’15, authored the proposal, said that a system requiring ENVS students to complete two majors (coordinate and disciplinary) would ensure that students graduate with a depth of knowledge as well as an interdisciplinary emphasis on “thinking between things.”

Currently, Swarthmore participates in a joint ENVS minor with TriCo, in which each school offers courses cross-listed with ENVS.

“By pooling our resources together, it allows the program to be more interdisciplinary,” Carleton said. This minor would not go away under the proposal. Indeed, said Carleton, the proposal “should amplify resources for the minor.”

According to the proposal, “students and ENVS Program coordinators at [all three schools] have already expressed interest in learning more about this project and launching similar efforts at their own institutions.”

Included in the proposal is a comparison of twenty-six members of the Consortium of Liberal Arts Colleges, eighty percent of which have at least one full or joint tenure-track ENVS faculty member. Of the twenty-six schools studied, Swarthmore is the only without the equivalent of an ENVS major. The two other TriCo schools, Bryn Mawr and Haverford, were not among the twenty-six.

Michelle Call ’13, who helped brainstorm the proposal, stressed the limited number of course offerings ENVS minors choose from each semester, saying that only one to three humanities courses are cross-listed with ENVS each year. Though, with recent funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, she said, “things are beginning to change.”

In March of 2011, Swarthmore received Mellon Foundation grants aimed at strengthening TriCo’s ENVS offerings. Since then an Introduction to Environmental Studies course has been offered and, starting this semester, two new visiting professors are sitting on the ENVS Program Committee.

The proposal will be presented to the faculty committee on Monday, and Goloff and Carleton hope to eventually submit it to the provost. However, Goloff said that the reform should be a student initiative.

“They [the administration] want to see who in the school would consider this program,” Goloff said, “they want to see that there’s an audience here.”

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