New school for environment, sustainability approved to replace SNRE in July

Thursday, December 8, 2016 - 6:48pm
The University of Michigan Board of Regents unanimously approved a new School of Environment and Sustainability, which will take the place of the current School of Natural Resources and Environment, at their December meeting Thursday afternoon. The new school is set to open on July 1, 2017, and will be the first new school at the University in two decades. 
 
In September, a research committee to examine the strengths and weaknesses of sustainability programs at the University recommended creating a new school to address pressing global challenges to the environment in their report. The committee consisted of 14 different University faculty from 10 different units and looked at the possibilities for growth within the SNRE, Graham Sustainability Institute and the Program in the Environment.
 
Feedback was also gathered through meetings, town halls, surveys and other tools from students, faculty and staff about sustainability at the University. Earlier in October, a new school faculty team was appointed to help transition the School of Natural Resources and Environment to the new school.
 
University Provost Martha Pollack, who originally requested the research report concerning the University's sustainability programs, said in an October interview that the impetus behind the idea was to spur innovation in the area.
 
“The idea of the new school is to think of new ways to bring these people together, new ways to involve students, really whole new ways to do education and research in this topic,” she said.
 
The school was approved at Pollack’s final Board of Regents meeting as provost at the University. Last month, Cornell University appointed Pollack as president following the death of Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett. Pollack will begin at Cornell on April 17, 2017, but will step down from her University position several months before that. 
 
According to the action request, the new school will still include faculty from the SNRE and will aim to build on the school’s strengths. It will be designed to encourage cross-University faculty collaboration in a faculty and staff structure the request described as “porous.”
 
University President Mark Schlissel first officially introduced the school at a leadership breakfast in October and emphasized broader intersectionality between relevant academic programs and hands-on research opportunities. In an interview last week Schlissel confirmed that work on the new school would still continue despite uncertainity on federal government committment to sustainability — President-elect Donald Trump has stated skepticism about climate change several times, and recently appointed Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic who is currently part of a group suing the Environmental Protection Agency over its Clean Power Plan, to head the agency. 
 
“Our commitment is unchanged by the election, though we’re uncertain about the administration’s stewardship,” he said.