The Demise of the ‘Environmental Studies: Policy, Culture, and Society’ Major
Climate change transcends the bounds of a singular problem and comprises a complex web of interconnected issues. For a college campus and its academic considerations that translates to a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach to innovate environmental solutions.
A decade ago, Pacific University was aware of this, when, in 2013, it created the “Environmental Studies: Policy, Culture, and Society” major. Not to be confused with Pacific’s current “Environmental Science” program, which rewards students with a Bachelor of Science after four years, the “Environmental Studies: Policy, Culture, and Society” major awarded a Bachelor of Arts. Students in the major were drew from arts, social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities.
But Pacific recently axed the program, citing a bundle of reasons, such as retiring faculty and resource shortages.
The major had two distinct parts: One, a 28-32 credit curriculum of core classes and, two, a specialized 20-credit concentration after the core was complete. Students selected between economics, ethics, politics, sustainable design, or history, with the Politics and Ethics routes the two most popular. Students enrolled in “Environmental Ethics,” “Animal Ethics,” and several other ethics-related courses in the ethics track. In contrast, students in the Politics concentration looked forward to “Environmental Politics” and related coursework.
Dr. Larry Lipin, the program’s founder and a recently retired faculty member of Pacific, said his inspiration for creating the major stemmed from students interested in Environmental Studies but reluctant to commit themselves to a purely scientific path. These students often wished to pursue ecological issues from different access points, such as policy, art, and advocacy.
In addition, Dr. Lipin aimed the program to be “broadening” as it allowed students and faculty from different disciplines to collaborate. Capstones in the major incorporated an environmental focus, informed by the overarching themes explored in the multidisciplinary coursework of the major.
Dr. Ramona Ilea, a Philosophy professor and the former coordinator of the major after Dr. Lipin’s departure, reflected upon some shining pupils, such as Cassandra Gallegos and Jennifer Bass, who graduated from the program. “Cassandra Gallegos got into every law school she applied for,” she said, “and this is super unusual, but she received a scholarship and basically ended up going to law school for free… The scholarship was based on her [environmental] work at Pacific.” Jennifer Bass was another noteworthy student; she won The Outstanding Graduate Award her senior year at Pacific and now continues her studies in an environmental studies graduate program.
Given the program’s success, it is somewhat confusing that it has been abandoned. However, while Dr. Lipin admits that he had not heard that the program had ended in his retirement,is also unsurprised. “Interdisciplinary programs like this one are great as long as the faculty who created them remain,” he remarked. “It would take a lot of effort by the college to maintain such a program when someone like myself retired. I’m not saying it couldn’t be done, but it couldn’t be done the same way.”
Dr. Ilea echoed Dr. Lipin’s sentiment, citing retirements as the number one reason the program ended. However, with retirement always comes the opportunity to hire, which Pacific may not have taken full advantage of. “If there had been more commitment to sustainability, I think those professors could have been replaced,” she commented.
A lack of financial resources may have also partially played a role in the major’s downfall. No funds were allocated to the major, which may have indirectly left faculty uninterested in contributing. As program coordinators, Lipin and Ilea never received any compensation for their efforts.
Looking forward, current students at Pacific are left with less flexibility when choosing between a traditional Environmental Studies major and an Arts, Humanities, or Social Sciences major. The unique nature of the “Environmental Studies: Policy, Culture, and Society” program fostered a unique discourse between disciplines, promoting intellectual creativity.
Additionally, as climate change remains one of the most pressing issues of the 21st century, especially for young people, programs and educational training that raise awareness of environmental issues are increasingly important. At face value, Pacific recognizes the need to promote sustainability, but Dr. Ilea believes Pacific’s resolve leaves something to be desired. “Sustainability is part of [Pacific’s] mission, and yet it is not getting enough resources; the commitment to keeping applied sustainability, environmental science, the sustainability center, and so on is there, but it could be much stronger.”