Stanford’s Sustainability School: A Good Model?
There are pros and cons, nevertheless it is smart to bring the university org. chart into the twenty first century.
In my last post, I wrote about universities like Stanford which might be creating recent programs in sustainability. Stanford’s move may encourage others to follow. There are pros and cons, nevertheless it seems inevitable that the organization of universities will ultimately take account of one in every of the largest problems facing humanity.
Administrative reorganizations, whether in government, business, or the academy, are at all times difficult and expensive, often taking years before the rearranged units gel right into a recent unit. Even when a sustainability school goes to recruit additional faculty and staff, there are real administrative costs in launching such a program, not to say financial ones.
Are these costs worthwhile? Listed below are the professionals and cons.
I’ll speak about some more mundane considerations next, but the basic issue is basically whether there’s enough commonality amongst people like energy economists, conservation biologists, and civil/environmental engineers to make it useful to place them and their students under one roof.
Simply because they’re studying different features of the identical thing doesn’t routinely mean they’ve so much in common. Music, acoustic design, sonar engineering, the neurology of hearing, and speech therapy all involve sounds, but combining them right into a School for the Study of Sound probably wouldn’t accomplish much.
Sustainability issues have many interconnections, nonetheless. Students who’re serious about conservation biology may often be serious about other issues like air pollution; they might also seek jobs that address sustainability as a broad topic. More fundamentally, sustainability problems are interconnected and lend themselves to interdisciplinary study. Ecology and conservation biology are an example: climate change can have a big impact on ecology, but shifts in ecology (especially tropical rainforests) also impact climate change.
Sending a Message.
Reorganizations signal that a university is serious about sustainability is a field of study. For example of a non-credible signal, consider a university president’s speech in regards to the importance of research and teaching on sustainability, a primary example of what economists call low-cost talk. Having a more credible signal could be useful to a big selection of audiences: students considering colleges, faculty on the lookout for job opportunities, and donors who care in regards to the issue. The effect on donors isn’t inconsequential. From Stanford’s perspective, making a recent sustainability school is well worthwhile even when the one effect is to herald a billion dollars from John Doerr and make it possible to rent quite a lot of recent faculty.
Education and Planning.
Creating an environmental or sustainability school also provides organization that makes it easier for college kids with an interest in the sector to know options. It also makes things easier for donors who wish to support something in the final area but don’t have a transparent sense of specifics. On the executive side, having a faculty provides an institutional framework for pondering in a coherent way in regards to the university’s faculty hiring, teaching, and fundraising in the world. That appears to be the emphasis in Columbia’s recent Climate School, as an illustration.
Putting sustainability researchers from different fields in closer proximity is more likely to spur interdisciplinary research. In my opinion, at the least, less mental siloing can be a really positive change. Furthermore, having a Dean whose mission is to advertise sustainability research might help coordinate larger grant applications. It also creates a sustainability champion in battles for scarce resources reminiscent of faculty slots.
Breaking Across Existing Structures.
Whether it’s value pulling various academic efforts are ultimately depends upon how strongly they’re connected. These connections are especially vital within the environmental area, particularly in reference to climate. Human societies and technologies, ecological systems, and atmospheric and oceanic systems are tightly interconnected.
Universities are going to must work out recent ways of coping with the interconnections, which can mean finding ways to interrupt across current academic structures.
There’s multiple way of doing this. A recent School or College like Stanford’s is one route. Or the reorganization could happen on the central administration, with the creation of a recent provost position like Harvard’s. A final option is a few form of interdisciplinary institute that has its own administration and pulls together students and college from across campus.
The one thing that seems clear is that a token effort won’t accomplish anything. Whatever the type of the sustainability effort, it has to have real resources behind it so as to accomplish anything. Whether universities follow Stanford’s route or not, nonetheless, they’re ultimately going to must rise to the occasion as humanity faces the challenges of a planet in crisis.