UW plan merges forestry school, 5 others
The University of Washington has released plans to create what it says would be the largest environmental college in the world. The proposed new College...
Seattle Times higher education reporter
The University of Washington has released plans to create what it says would be the largest environmental college in the world.
The proposed new College of the Environment would start with 97 faculty members, 1,135 students and a budget of more than $60 million, according to a UW report released this week.
The new college would merge six existing academic disciplines that focus on oceans, the atmosphere and forests. Over time, it would employ 30 new faculty and staff members, as well as a dean.
"Certainly, higher education in general has a responsibility to tackle challenges that threaten the well-being of the planet," the report says. "The UW is strongly positioned to truly advance the contributions of academia to the very concrete problems of the world around us."
UW regents are scheduled to discuss the plans today and vote next month. The college could be ready to open in fall 2009.
"Founding a college is a big event in a university's life, and we don't take it lightly," said UW Provost Phyllis Wise. "We believe we already have very considerable strength in this area and a firm foundation to build on."
The last time the UW created a college or school was in 2001. The Information School, or iSchool, was born of librarian studies but has broadened to include a range of disciplines involved with the study of information.
Wise has been meeting with key people about the idea since last June. It has come with its share of controversy — some professors have raised concerns that the college could duplicate existing programs or diminish the role of such disciplines as forestry. Each of the existing programs would need to vote to be included in the new college.
Yet in dozens of meetings, Wise has been able to win over many critics. The UW forestry faculty last month voted 28-16 in favor of continuing talks about joining the new college. Under the plan, the struggling College of Forest Resources — which no longer graduates forestry engineers due to a lack of student demand — would be absorbed into the new environmental college.
Jay Manning, director of the state Department of Ecology, said he hadn't heard about the plans until Wednesday but said it makes him both excited as an employer and proud as a Washingtonian.
"I think it's an absolutely outstanding idea," he said. "The timing is perfect. I think the public is ready for this, and there's a generation of kids who are more interested in the environment than any generation has been since the 1970s."
Manning said UW research — especially by the Climate Impacts Group — has had a profound effect on the debate over climate change both in Washington and elsewhere in the world.
The new college would rank fifth-largest by student count among the UW's 17 colleges. It would be smaller than Arts & Sciences, Engineering, Business and Medicine — but ahead of Law, Education, Nursing and Social Work.
Other universities that have environmental colleges include Duke, Stanford and Yale. In Washington state, Western Washington University has been a pioneer, forming the Huxley College of the Environment nearly 40 years ago.
Yet according to the UW report, no existing environmental college would come close to the scope of its plans: "The UW is better positioned to meet these challenges than any other university in the country or the world," the report says.
Along with forestry, the new college would absorb the following departments and schools: Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Atmospheric Sciences; Earth and Space Sciences; Marine Affairs; and Oceanography. It would create a new program: Environment, Society and Culture.
The college would have the ability to grant degrees at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels.
The report says the college would produce students who could significantly add to the science and practice of protecting the environment: "It will be a bold, creative, problem-oriented hotbed of ideas," the report says.
Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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