With new professors, Environmental Studies Dept. gains footing

By Jakob Wartman

Recent changes in the Environmental Studies (ES) Department, including the hire of two additional faculty members and a proposal for a department chair, has allowed the department to continue its focus on its interdisciplinary approach while building a core faculty.The department, which has 12 graduating majors, tripled its faculty at the beginning of the 2005-06 school year. Professor and current acting director of the ES Department Brett Smith, who was the sole faculty member, was joined by professor of environmental history Chris Wells and professor of environmental policy and politics Roopali Phadke last fall.

The increase in faculty was a direct result of the college’s 2003-04 decision to require all departments to have at least two faculty on staff and a commitment to keep ES as a major, Smith said.

The department has also requested that the college allow for the department to establish a permanent ES chair, a decision the college is expected to make in May, Smith said.

In addition to the new faculty, the ES program now boasts a minor plan in addition to its major.

The new faculty finally provide the major with a group of core professors in addition to the numerous affiliated faculty the department cooperates with in a large amount of its courses. The new hires also separate Macalester’s ES department from many other schools, which lack any core faculty members, Smith said.

ES, a largely interdisciplinary major; defines its goals of the program on its website as “emphasizing the need for an interdisciplinary approach to searching for effective remedies to these environmental problems.”

This interdisciplinary approach has been a large reason as to why the department has been able to operate with only one core faculty member. ES has been successful in integrating its courses with others to create cross listed and multidisciplinary courses.

The approach is a draw for many ES majors. “I really liked the interdisciplinary approach,” ES major Roscoe Sopiwnik ’06 said. “There are no major tracks and it is really nice to take classes from all disciplines.”

The department encourages the interdisciplinary study by requiring all majors to must fulfill a concentration in either natural science, social science, and humanities.

Affiliated faculty contribute to the success and size of the ES programs with professors in all fields taking classes attuned to the broad spectrum of environmental issues, from geology to economics.

“The ES department strongly believes in having an impact beyond our majors,” Smith said. “ES is about raising issues all over campus.”

The college’s decision for the additional hires reaffirms its commitment to ES, Smith said.

“I think [the recent hires] speak to the importance of ES in general,” Sopiwnik said. “With our urban campus, diverse student body and commitment to ES, I think we can set an example for other colleges.”

Smith, who has been instrumental in these changes will retire after this year. Former Provost and current Professor of Biology Dan Hornbach will serve as the new acting director, splitting his time between his current biology position and the ES department. Hornbach’s position could change depending on the college’s decision on implementing a full ES chair.

“I am retiring quite happy with what I am leaving here, we are on a real strong trajectory now, we now have a strong nucleus of students and faculty along with continued support from the college.