CES proposes two new ENVI majors

It has been nine years since the faculty voted to add another major to the College’s offerings, but the possibility of transforming the current environmental studies concentration into a major is becoming closer to a reality. In line with both the College’s aspirations of being a more environmentally-friendly institution, and students’ interests in environmentalism, the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) recently proposed the addition of two environmental studies majors, in environmental science and environmental policy.

The CES has approved the proposals for both potential majors. “The current proposals for majors in environmental science and environmental policy were developed last fall by subsets of the CES faculty with expertise in the relevant fields,” said Jennifer French, director of the CES and associate professor of Spanish. Through work by subcommittees within the CES, the proposals were generated through numerous revisions. “At the end of the [fall] semester, the CES faculty voted on the proposals and both were unanimously approved,” French said.

Although the CES supports the proposal, the proposal must also receive support from the Committee on Educational Policy (CEP) and then the College faculty. According to French, there were multiple reasons for development of the proposal. “Williams has had an environmental studies program for roughly 40 years, but the College has never offered a major in Environmental Studies,” French said. “Student demand for a major has been strong for many years, but perhaps never more so than now.”

Although the numbers fluctuate considerably, an average of 10 to 15 students pursue environmental studies concentrations each year. In comparison, from 2005-09, 18 programs and departments had annual averages of less than 10 majors.

French suggested that contemporary social and world issues attract students to environmental studies. “On the one hand, climate change and other environmental problems have reached a state of real urgency, and many of our students are deeply committed to working on these issues,” she said. “On the other hand, Williams is quickly becoming a leader in campus sustainability and is a great place for environmentally minded students.” She cited the environmental studies faculty members, as well as resources such as Hopkins Forest. One concern about the proposal surrounds the structure of the major. “Environmental studies is a broad subject; if the major were structured such that I could make it fit with my personal interests I would probably select the major,” said Sara Dorsey ’12, an environmental studies concentrator. “It would really depend on the courses required for the major.”

Besides this, one major hurdle that the proposal faces is a College practice preventing interdisciplinary programs from offering both majors and concentrations. “The CES faculty is very reluctant to give up the concentration we have offered for many years, which works well and offers a valuable educational experience,” French said. “While we are eager to offer a major, we believe that the major and the concentration will serve the needs of different groups of students, and that it would do students a disservice to sacrifice either one or the other.”

French is optimistic about moving forward with the initiative. “After discussing this issue with the CES faculty very carefully, the CEP raised the issue of allowing us to offer both a major and a concentration at last week’s faculty meeting,” she said. “While some concerns were raised, the response was generally positive. We look forward to continuing to work with the CEP as we fine-tune our major proposals, which we hope to present to the faculty as a whole later this spring.”

Stephanie Boyd, director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, said that the Zilkha Center had been contacted multiple times by prospective students who inquired about academic focus on the environment. “I think having an environmental studies major would help attract students with interest in the environment,” Boyd said.

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