Implementing Climate Studies Curriculum at a Small Diverse Jesuit NE University
Saint Peter's University (SPU) President Cornacchia signed the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2008, and has made substantial progress reducing our carbon footprint with co-generation, solar panels, and 100% wind power purchased energy, and a new prominent LEED Silver student center. The University's Climate Action Plan was drafted under the initiative of the President's office and a green team consisting of faculty and staff.
An environmental science minor was established by the biology department, and a vibrant student club, Students Against Violating Earth, S.A.V.E. , is one of the outcomes. However further progress implementing sustainability across the curriculum has been much slower, and has met many institutional hurdles from an academic administration that does not share the sustainability vision and priority. An environmental studies major was established through the leadership of the chair of the chemistry department, but the academic administration cut out the business track, did not provide support for student recruitment and has made it difficult for departments to run the new courses. Department chairs are under a new rule that only allows them to run new classes, if they cut an existing class. The academic vice president has put the environmental studies major under pressure to reduce the science content of the major, believing our diverse student body has an aversion to science. The primary motivation for the resistance to academic sustainability programmatic growth however is economic.
While the brick and mortar side of Saint Peter's is enjoying the financial benefits of energy efficiency, the academic side has been hit by a decline in student financial well being from the financial crisis and economic meltdown that began in late 2008, and a long term demographic trend of a projected decline of fifteen percent of the pool of graduating seniors in New Jersey in the near future, sharing a general declining trend in the Northeast. Like many state governments facing loss of revenues, New Jersey State cut assistance to higher education. At the same time, the freshman age population is shifting to a higher proportion of Hispanics. Fortunately, Saint Peter's is well situated to attract this growing segment of the college age population. Saint Peter's was founded in 1872 as a Jesuit school, with a long tradition of attracting recent immigrants with a global perspective. Saint Peter's is a federally designated Hispanic-Serving Institution, was ranked third in ethnic diversity among comprehensive universities in the north by U.S. News and World Report (2008), and is a recognized Non-Governmental Organization at the United Nations. Fortunately, unlike many of our neighbors in New Jersey, freshman enrollment rebounded, and Saint Peter's new doctoral programs are growing. However, because of the wide spread practice of tuition discounting, the financial constraints of incoming freshman, and higher education cuts from the state, there remains an academic operating deficit, and pressure to reduce costs.
The AMS Climate workshop was valuable in a number or respects: the cohort approach of faculty with diverse populations, site visits to NOAA and NASA, site visit to a university climate research facility, discussion with guest speaker and sharing information among cohorts. Highlights include witnessing weather forecaster specialists work with data and make revisions, visiting weather and pollutant monitoring stations and discussions with technical staff, presentation of graduate students of meteorological and climate research.
To build awareness, knowledge, and support for sustainability and climate science in the curriculum, a number of activities have been generated from the bottom up of faculty and staff. The Social Justice and Honors Program staff, faculty and students have created a community garden in their backyard and hold outdoor activities involving art, culture, and natural sciences, attracting staff and students from Fine Arts, Biology, Chemistry, Political Science, Public Policy, Campus Ministry, and Public Administration departments and programs. The public is invited as part of the quarterly city wide Jersey City Fridays art celebration. We have run a faculty development workshop to provide ideas and support for faculty to incorporate sustainability content in their courses. We plan to discuss with department chairs how to include sustainability learning outcomes in their courses.
The Sustainability Council is presently discussing offering the AMS Climate Studies course in the Masters of Public and Business Administration and Continuing Education programs, and the School of Education. The opportunity has renewed discussion of creating a Sustainability Certificate, with the AMS Climate Studies course as the core. We believe teaching the course in the Masters program of the School of Education will have the most impact, because of the multiplier effect to K-12 students. We have a new interim academic administration, but face the same fiscal constraints. We are attempting to be pro-active, by creating proposals for programmatic funding that will involve our minority students in climate and sustainability studies and action research. We believe sustainability and well being programming is has an additional benefit of attracting more female and minority students into the STEM disciplines, particularly if we are successful in implementing sustainability across the curriculum.