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Environment school, center proposed

A third major proposal by the university’s Committee on Academic Structure (CAS) calls for the creation of a school of environment and a multidisciplined environmental research center. The proposal, which could affect 18 departments across the state, will be up for public discussion at 4 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17.

The CAS, formed in 2004 by the Faculty Senate and the Office of the Provost, was assigned to suggest ways that the university’s academic system could be realigned to make it more effective and efficient.

The committee’s previous two proposals, addressing the creation of a Division of Health Sciences and reorganization of the College of Liberal Arts, were topics of statewide discussions on Oct. 12.

Discussion of the environmental proposal will be held in WSU Pullman’s Food Science and Human Nutrition T101, and it will be videostreamed at www.caheinfor.wsu.edu/video/stream.html. Meeting rooms also will be available at WSU Vancouver, Tower Room, SS301, and WSU Spokane, SCLS 119.

To review any of the three proposals, go the Faculty Senate website at http://facsen.wsu.edu/new_proposal/index.html.

Under this third proposal, a school of environment would be formed by combining the Department of Natural Resource Sciences, Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, Department of Geology, and Department of Environmental Science and Resource Planning, and would boast more than 40 faculty members. Faculty resources would be drawn from about 14 additional departments, schools and colleges, as well as from all three urban campuses. And, the school would be jointly administered by deans from the College of Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences.

The proposal also suggests forming an environmental research center that would report to the office of the vice provost of research, which already supervises numerous research centers.That office has a “demonstrated track record of facilitating the seeking of large grants that would help” the environmental research center get started.

“The main thing faculty members should remember is that these are just proposals,” said Chuck Pezeshki, chair elect, Faculty Senate. “The committee (CAS) has given them a lot of consideration, so they are sophisticated first stabs.

“The reason for these public meetings is to receive proposals for augmentation or counterproposals. Although this is just a starting point for discussion, we need faculty to bring ideas that offer design and synthesis. It’s not enough to just analyze it and give it a grade, or a thumbs up-thumbs down vote. We need faculty to go beyond just criticism, we need concrete proposals that will move us ahead in the realignment process.”

Not everyone agrees
Initially, the CAS considered four overall proposals regarding environmental studies. In the end, though, it unanimously supported the concept of creating a school for environment, which would serve independently as the degree-granting unit for diplomas.

The deans from the College of Sciences and the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences put the preferred proposal up for a straw poll vote in February 2005 among the four major contributing departments. The results showed that Natural Resource Sciences and Crop and Soil Sciences (representing about 29 faculty members) strongly supported the concept. However, Environmental Science and Resource Planning and Geology (representing about 15 faculty members) did not support the plan.

Naysayers cited concerns including “problems inherent in answering to two deans” and “differences in academic cultures” between those departments (e.g. focuses on policymaking and societal issues vs. physical and biological sciences).

“There has been a considerable amount of discussion and rethinking on all sides since last February,” said Ron Mittelhammer, professor and director of the School of Economic Sciences, and a member of the CAS, “but resistance to the proposal remains among some of the faculty. We’re hopeful that people will keep an open mind and see this as an opportunity to continue to discuss ideas.

“One thing people should remember is that this is a multifaceted proposal and not all items have to be implemented simultaneously,” said Mittelhammer. “It is possible that either the research center or the school could go forward without the other.”

Another point Mittelhammer emphasized is that efforts by the CAS are “a faculty-driven exercise, not a top-down mandate. That has never been an issue.”

Ray Quock, a professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a member of the CAS, stressed that the proposal is not immutable.

“We are open to receive input and ideas we didn’t consider … If there are other options, we want to hear them. The purpose of the proposals is to get people thinking, to generate input and discussion, and hopefully lead to a buy-in from people interested and involved.”

Similar to the proposal to create a division of health sciences, Quock said, this proposal is an “effort is to try to create a larger umbrella under which environmental-related people and programs could identify themselves, work together and take advantage of opportunities.”

Creation of both an environmental school and research center, the proposal states, “would send a strong message to the research public about WSU’s commitment to scholarship regarding the environment, and would facilitate marketing efforts to bring both students and extramural funds to the WSU system.”

Quock encouraged faculty to read the proposal again, rather than relying on memory, and come with an open mind. (See proposals at http://facsen.wsu.edu/new_proposal.)

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