What Our Charge Was:

The first meeting of the President's Task Force on Environmental Education (TFEE) took place on November 28, 1995. University President McCormick charged the Task Force with answering the following questions.

  1. How can the UW best organize efforts to serve students and faculty who wish to study and learn about the environment?

  2. How can the UW best organize and combine opportunities for undergraduate education in environmental studies in a flexible and interdisciplinary way?

  3. Are we offering appropriate training the graduate level? Are there gaps which exist between departmental based programs, and if so, how can they best be filled?

  4. How can we eliminate barriers to effective interdiciplinary research and teaching and instead promote such relationships? What combination of structures and policies would be optimal?

  5. How can the UW best produce an integrated effort in response to national need, problems of the Pacific Northwest, the Pacific rim and the planet on environmental issues?

    In giving the Task Force its mission, he encouraged the TFEE to think boldly and proceed creatively.

An Organizing Concept:

: One of the first items with which the TFEE struggled was the definition of Environmental Studies, and the development of a model which represents the inclusiveness of this concept, as well as its complexity.

The TFEE early on reached consensus that Environmental Studies consists of the interaction between humans and their natural environment. The disciplinary perspectives bearing upon environmental studies include the natural and life sciences, engineering, environmental management studies, the social sciences, law and, art and the humanities. This definition should be construed broadly and is intended to be inclusive rather than exclusive.

The conceptual framework adopted by the Task Force was first proposed by Professor John M. Wallace and has come to be affectionately known to the TFEE as the "Wallace Wheel" (Figure 1).

What We Heard:

Since November, the Task Force has met weekly with the exception of the Christmas vacation period. Several of the meetings have been held to conduct internal discussions, while the remainder were devoted to listening to, and questioning representatives of, University units that have been or are presently involved with interdisciplinary efforts throughout the University. In addition the TFEE has received input from concerned groups off campus and from representatives from environmental studies programs at other academic institutions. (A list of the programs and people with whom the TFEE met is appended to this report.)

Figure 1. A Conceptual Model for Viewing Environmental Education at the University of Washington.

Based on the input from these individuals and groups, it is obvious that there is a great deal of interest, engagement and commitment to environmental education at all levels of the campus. There are any number of examples of collaboration and educational activities in this area. Many cross traditional academic boundaries in new and creative ways. All of the presentations urged continuing support and recognition of current efforts, as well as increased efforts to foster new initiatives. Students who have provided information to the Task Force have voiced a critical interest in environmental education - some want to focus on it as majors or as graduate students; others want to incorporate environmental education as a significant part of their curriculum. All felt environmental literacy is important in higher education.

The following points are a summary of the common elements and concerns raised and advice given to the Task Force by various individuals.

  1. To avoid being marginalized when the competition for budgets and political/jurisdictional disputes take place, the President and the Provost of the University must declare an institutional commitment to the environmental education program and that teaching and research in environmental studies are central to the University's mission. Because the integrity and health of interdisciplinary cooperation necessary to the program depend on mutual respect, the President and the Provost must solicit an assumption of responsibility by the leadership of existing academic units to implement the environmental education program. The key challenge is to achieve cooperation and coordination among existing academic units without being divisive and threatening to ongoing activities.

  2. Strong leadership and significant resources are required to support and promote the interdisciplinary teaching and experience envisioned for the environmental education program. Sufficient infrastructure support must be provided for participating faculty in regard to teaching assistants, research assistants, curriculum development, classrooms, computer equipment, office space and equipment, secretarial services, etc.

  3. Structural and behavioral impediments exist at the University that inhibit the free flow of faculty and ideas across academic boundaries and discourage interactive multi-disciplinary efforts. Specific teaching and research are sanctioned by departments that are the homes for disciplines represented through research, academic journals and professional associations. According to existing academic administrative systems, effort like the highly interactive multi-disciplinary work considered for environmental education, is outside these activities and only marginally supported. These problems are sufficiently widespread to warrant a University commitment to remove the obstacles and facilitate the relationships contemplated for environmental education.

  4. The conduct of interdisciplinary teaching and research at the University varies substantially in degree and support. A number of centers and institutes constitute the administrative structures for interdisciplinary activities. They function at a variety of levels of administration and must compete for resources available to traditional academic units. Interdisciplinary teaching and research thrive in some academic units; albeit in others such activities are repressed. A number of centers or institutes are products of earlier multi-disciplinary efforts and have faculties drawn from many traditional disciplines. Some, such as Health Sciences, are interdisciplinary in nature; thus, faculty within Health Sciences collaborate well in interdisciplinary activities. However, the challenge still remains for such collaboration to take place external to Health Sciences or similar interdisciplinary subfields, as will be necessary for the environmental education program.

  5. Common problems reported by members of centers or institutes were the lack of space, resources and/or recognition by home units for participation in center or institute activities; as well as a failure to recognize the value of interdisciplinary teaching activities and adjust departmental responsibilities accordingly.

  6. A substantial amount of interdisciplinary teaching and research is already focused on environmental issues in numerous departments, but these efforts are often uncoordinated, episodic, and relatively invisible. While a number of programs presently draw faculty into campus-wide efforts and multi-disciplinary efforts in the area of environmental science and policy, true multi-disciplinary team instruction and continuous high faculty interaction is missing. Much could be accomplished in environmental education by building on these existing strengths through linking programs, augmenting efforts that meet campus-wide goals, and publicizing successful programs. There appears to be strong support for environmental education from just about every academic or disciplinary corner of the campus. There is great interest and potential among the University faculty for the collaborative coursework necessary to an multi-disciplinary environmental education program.

  7. The emphasis placed on the major elements of the University's mission, that is teaching, research and service, varies substantially form one academic unit to another. Careful attention must be given to this emphasis, particularly as it affects team teaching and interactive integrated activities within the environmental education program.

  8. The University has an obligation to provide students with accurate and explicit information about career opportunities, so that they are able to make well-informed educational choices. The environmental education program should allow students to obtain sufficient academic depth and breadth to be well-positioned to obtain employment in the environmental field, to the extent that such employment opportunities exist.

The Issues That Emerged

: In listening to the various interests which have thus far provided input to the Task Force, a series of issues has emerged which the members are currently discussing and on which they need to achieve resolution. These include the following.

  1. The University is a collection of many different cultures that vary greatly, and the recognition of this diversity is critical to encouraging, promoting, developing, and organizing an interdisciplinary environmental education program. How can this best be accomplished?

  2. How can the University provide quality undergraduate and graduate environmental education in a flexible, interdisciplinary way with consideration given to opportunity costs?

  3. With regard to undergraduate education, is it better to design a program based on a dual major/degree -- a discipline-based degree from a traditional academic unit and an environmental education degree, a disciplined major with a minor in Environmental Studies, or a free-standing major in Environmental Studies?

  4. Again with regard to undergraduate education, how should an environmental education program provide for the education of individuals wishing to emphasize the physical-science, social-science or humanities aspects of environmental studies? What are the key skills and concepts that all of these students should experience in an environmental education program?

  5. Is it possible for the University reach agreement among the leadership of existing academic units as to the value of the interdisciplinary teaching and research envisioned for the environmental education program? If so, how can this be accomplished so as to develop a sense of a shared responsibility for the program?

  6. What kind of administrative and governing structure(s) is(are) appropriate and/or necessary for a flexible environmental education program with responsibility for undergraduate and graduate education?

  7. How can the University avoid the perception that the environmental education program is a threat to existing academic units considering the disciplinary culture, bureaucratic turf behaviors of units, and intense University-wide competition for limited resources, both physical and intellectual?

  8. What can the University do to facilitate approaches and incentives for participation in the interdisciplinary teaching and research of the environmental education program?

  9. How can coordinated advice among existing environmental education efforts be provided without being divisive, and how can the University link the substantial strengths that currently exist in environmental education in numerous academic units with the environmental education program.

  10. What needs to be done, if anything, with regard to the design of a graduate program (Masters and Ph.D.) that embodies the teaching and research objectives of the environmental education program?

  11. Many UW undergraduate students enter the University without a clear idea of their academic major, or enter as transfer students, in their junior year. How do we design an environmental education program with sufficient flexibility to permit these students to participate? What bridges and linkages need to be made with Washington community colleges that will help both them and the UW better meet the needs our transfer students with regard to environmental education?

The Themes for a Proposal

: The overall goal is to benefit the maximum number of students and faculty interested in an environmental education that has highly interactive and integrated physical science, social science, and humanities dimensions as represented by the Wallace Wheel. An integrated curriculum and community of faculty teams spanning a number of subfields and academic units are under consideration - building on the strength and breadth of existing University skills and activities.

Further discussion of these issues saw following general themes emerge. These may not be the only themes which need to be addressed, nor has the Task Force necessarily reached a consensus on any of these. Obviously more work needs to be done, within a very short time, before a proposal can be presented to the President with specific recommendations for the organization and conduct of environmental education at the University of Washington.

  1. The environmental education program will be a community of faculty and students (at both undergraduate and graduate levels) with interests in environmental issues that transcend the confines of the existing college/department structure and hence require innovative approaches to education and research. The environmental education program will seek to expose students to both the human and the scientific dimensions of environmental issues. By linking environmental change with human activities, impacts, and perceptions, the environmental education curriculum will provide a broad contextual framework for the many existing departmental offerings and degree programs that touch upon various aspects of environmental issues.

  2. The environmental education program will cooperate with and supplement, rather than compete with existing departmental and interdisciplinary degree programs:

    a) it will monitor departmental and former IES course offerings that it considers to be vital to the health of the campus-wide environmental studies curriculum (hereafter referred to as 'core courses'), and fund additional faculty time and TA's, as needed, to ensure that they are accessible to the students who wish to enroll in them.

    b) it will foster coordination between 'core course' offerings in different academic units, with regard to course content, prerequisites, and scheduling

    c) it will foster the development of 'core courses' designed to fill major gaps in the existing environmental studies curriculum, and to provide synthesis of disciplinary knowledge and 'hands on' experience (e.g., seminar courses focusing on specific environmental issues, group projects requiring collaboration between natural and social science majors, internships)

    d) it will strive to increase the flexibility of departmental curricula to accommodate the diverse needs of students desiring training for environmentally related professions

    e) it will foster and, should it prove necessary, materially facilitate the establishment of new interdisciplinary degree programs in environmental sciences, engineering, management or policy in response to needs of students that cannot be met by existing programs.

    If the environmental education program is to serve in this capacity, it must have the ability to influence the allocation of resources within the University. (NOT YET ADDRESSED)

  3. The environmental education program should address both undergraduate and graduate environmental education on this campus - although not necessarily in the same administrative unit.

    a. Undergraduate environmental education options (involving both BS and BA degrees) should be flexible enough to accommodate each of the following pathways:

    Initially, undergraduate degrees in the environmental education program may have to be offered solely through existing undergraduate degrees in colleges and schools at the University, since it is unlikely that an appropriate organizational unit with degree granting authority can be established quickly. (This could be administered in a manner similar to the current CEP and/or Honors programs.) However, the environmental education program will seek degree granting authority at the earliest opportune moment.

    Important elements in the environmental education undergraduate curriculum should include team taught introductory core courses, followed by capstone experiences in the senior year.

    Controlling time-to-degree is essential. The number of years required to receive a Bachelor's degree will not exceed four years. Student's progress will be the responsibility of the environmental education program.

    The environmental education program should also ensure that the opportunity exists for all UW students to achieve "environmental literacy."

    b. At the graduate level several routes will be built so that differing student interests can be pursued. Building on existing research strengths at the University, consideration will be given to collaboration across existing academic units in investigations. Student programs will be designed individually in consultation with faculty committees from participating units. Graduate degree options might include:

    M.S. programs (NOT YET ADDRESSED)

    an interdisciplinary Ph.D. degree program designed to remedy the deficiencies in Graduate School Memorandum 25 (NOT YET ADDRESSED)

  4. If the environmental education program is to succeed, the Administration must create a system of incentives that ensures that departmental faculty can participate freely without jeopardizing their own career prospects or the health of their departments. The operating budget of the environmental education program should be sufficient to provide incentives for departments to support the use of faculty time for curriculum development and teaching related to the environmental education program core courses.

  5. The environmental education program may foster the hiring of a limited number of faculty in interdisciplinary areas considered vital to the understanding of environmental issues, but not necessarily of high priority in terms of individual departmental recruitment. It is envisioned that most of the faculty recruited in this manner will have departmental affiliations, with the department serving as lead academic unit. In view of (4), it is essential that such positions not be perceived as counting against the department's entitlement, either at the time of the recruitment or in the future. In recruitment for which such an arrangement is not considered feasible, the environmental education program would serve as lead academic unit, subject to the restrictions outlined in (7).

  6. The environmental education program requires the leadership and support of the President and the Provost of the University to send the message that the University as whole is committed to the program. As a matter of policy they need to accomplish the following.

    a. Affirm that the interdisciplinary teaching and research associated with the environmental education program are considered legitimate aspects of the University's academic agenda and should be treated as such in faculty promotion and reward decisions;

    b. in concert with the faculty, establish the administrative infrastructure necessary to support and foster the environmental education program;

    c. allocate sufficient resources to the environmental education program to support its innovative interdisciplinary teaching and research on a continuing basis: and,

    d. encourage the academic leadership to provide a nurturing context for the environmental education program and evaluate them on their effectiveness in supporting and promoting the program.

    The organization unit(s) must be highly visible, with leadership capable of effectively representing environmental education issue and concerns on this campus, and facilitating cooperation and coordination of activities and program among the various schools, colleges, departments and programs of the University).

  7. Safeguards will be needed to ensure that the environmental education program does not evolve into a department-like entity. The program leadership will need to establish and maintain a collegial relationship with deans, directors and department chairs throughout the campus. The number of academic faculty appointments for which it serves as lead academic unit should be limited to a small fraction of participating faculty , and these individuals should not be allowed to have majority representation on the governing Board.

  8. The environmental education program advising will encompass the full spectrum of environmental course offerings at UW. It will be conducted by professional staff. It will be tailored to meet the needs of students in the environmental education degree programs, as well as students in interdisciplinary, environmentally related programs that are too small to have advising offices of their own. It will also be available to the broader student community.

  9. The environmental education program will strive to make the broad range of environmental expertise on this campus more visible and accessible, not only to students, but to private citizens, businesses and public agencies of this state.

  10. Since most of the teaching and research in environmental studies will continue to be carried out within existing departmental units, the space requirements for the environmental education program will be modest. However, it is essential that it have centrally located space sufficient to house its administrative and support staff, an advising office, academic faculty devoting significant effort to the environmental education program activities during any particular quarter. Space should be adequate to provide a 'home base' for students who regard the environmental education program as their primary academic unit.

Questions Ahead of Us

: Much work remains for the Task Force. The members have not heard from everyone who might want to provide comments or recommendations. Nor have they necessarily identified all of the central questions. However, in order to move forward, and in order to comply with their mandate to provide the President with their recommendations by the end of Spring Quarter, the TFEE has identified the two following broad areas which must be addressed during the next two months.

  1. Structure:

    a. What should be the general approach and the level of detail which needs to be specified with regard to the administrative structure(s) of the environmental education program?

    b. How much physical space is required (classrooms, student activities center, equipment, offices, etc.) and what criteria should be used to identify and allocate this space?

    c. What should be the program budget for physical and human resources?

    d. What should be the roles and relationships with existing academic units in respect to participating faculty, shared responsibilities for program content and implementation?

    e. How should essential environmental education advising and career counseling of students be accomplished

  2. Content:

    a. What should be the general shape of the undergraduate degree options with regard to Environmental education?

    b. What should be the nature and content of the core undergraduate interdisciplinary courses; as well as the course work, internships, and projects for the final year of the program; options for the second and third years of study, and, what is the proper level of detail for the TFEE to try to impose on these matters?

    c. What further definition of the graduate component of the program (courses and research) is needed?

    d. What is the need for general environmental courses that serve the needs of non-majors?

An additional area which will need much discussion involves implementation. That is, how should the UW move forward with the environmental education program after the work of the Task Force is completed?

What Comes Next, or How Can I have my Say?

The Task Force invites any one concerned with the issue of environmental education to comment on the work of the Task Force, and to provide the Task Force members with constructive criticism or suggestions regarding any of the above themes, problems, issues or other concerns. Comments should be addressed to:

The President's Task Force
on Environmental Education
c/o Edward Miles, Chair
Provost's Office
301 Gerberding Hall
Box 351237
Seattle, WA 98195-1237
FAX: (206) 685-3218

Who We Listened To:

Materials Gathered:

index.html 04/10/96