At a recent President’s Council, the decision was made to suspend the Sustainability Fellow position. Though members of the administration noted the choice was one of a reallocation of limited resources, to some the suspension is a fundamental back-tracking on the College’s mission.
The Sustainability Fellow was started in 2008 as a one-year fellowship held by a recent graduate. Its duties include researching and implementing sustainability efforts on campus. According to Student Trustee Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, “The Sustainability Fellow is the only full-time position in the sustainability office. Their job is to do anything and everything possible to make this school more sustainable.” The past and current Sustainability Fellows (Lisa Neu, ‘10) have assisted and coordinated such sustainability efforts as the drafting, editing, and submission of the College’s Climate Action Plan, the phase-out of trays in the Great Room, and the Green St. Mary’s Revolving Loan Fund (GSMRF).
According to Ruthenberg-Marshall, the Sustainability Fellow position was suspended at a meeting of the President’s Council on April 8. After finding out about the position’s suspension, a number of students including Ruthenberg-Marshall drafted an appeal letter. Ruthenberg-Marshall brought this letter to the next President’s Council on April 22. He noted that the Council was favorable in principle, but ultimately rejected the appeal.
According to Dean of Faculty Laura Bayless, the position was suspended because of strategic choices the College had to make concerning its limited resources.
Bayless also pointed out that the College decided to use these resources instead on a new position in the Office of Financial Aid, meant to deal with the added pressures of new federal financial aid regulations and direct lending, and to hire a new Coordinator of Student Activities to relieve the dual duties of current Coordinator of Student Activities and Judicial Affairs Clint Neill.
According to Vice President of Business and Finance Tom Botzman, the Council is instead looking for another model for the position.
He added, “[The Sustainability Fellow position] came about as an experiment, and we’re still trying to find the best way to do it.”
Though tentative, Botzman suggested that the Fellowship may be split between three full-time students, which he said might open up new opportunities for students to work more directly with the faculty.
“[In] sustainability, more than any other [initiative], we’ve seen what students can do, and faculty say they can do more.”
Bayless said she envisioned something similar with a potential project focus instead of overall sustainability focus, depending on how Vice President of Planning and Facilities Chip Jackson and Facilities Planner and Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbray wish to split the money allocated to the new positions.
She added that she felt confident that students could juggle the position and their academics and said, “I don’t think it’s setting the institution back, and it doesn’t mean we’re not continuing to be sustainable.”
Both Botzman and Bayless noted that it was “absolutely“ likely that the position would be reinstated in the future if this new model is not successful.
Many students and faculty concerned with sustainability, however, see the status of this “experiment” far differently. For the past week, students concerned with the loss of the position have been sending emails and letters to members of the President’s Council, handing out fliers, and tabling in the campus center. According to Ruthenberg-Marshall, it is all part of a plan to “up the pressure” against administration and bring the case for a Sustainability Fellow to the Board of Trustees.
According to Ruthenberg-Marshall, the Sustainability Fellow position as it stands is advantageous specifically because it is full-time. “By the sheer fact that we are students we prioritize academics…a full-time position doesn’t have that conflict.”
Chandler echoed these sentiments, and said, “[students and faculty] can go to the Sustainability Fellow and get action. I don’t know if we can do that with a student.”
Chandler also noted that, though students often come up with sustainability ideas, the Sustainability Fellow has access to time and resources which allow them to facilitate these projects in ways students cannot.
Chandler also said that the loss of the position would especially negatively impact Mowbray. She said, “[Mowbray] is really good at his job, but…he was hired as half sustainability coordinator and half the planning office. His other responsibilities keep encroaching on his sustainability efforts, and that’s not his fault.”
Those who protest the suspension of the Sustainability Fellow, such as Ruthenberg-Marshall and Chandler, see its loss as a major blow to not only sustainability on campus but to the College’s larger mission.
Chandler said, “Sustainability is in our mission. It’s being emphasized in the new strategic plan, and my concern is that it’ll fall to the way-side…I feat that sustainability will just sort of melt away.”
Ruthenberg-Marshall said, “We’re hoping the administration sees reason, in a time where we are upping our commitment to sustainability.” He added, “While I’m still appreciate all this school has given me, I do not know if I can support a school that is back-tracking on one of the most important social issues of our time.”