Sustainability Fellow Position Vital to College Mission, Purpose

As our country and our state struggle to cope with the recession, we at St. Mary’s College of Maryland have seen a lot of cuts. We all know workers across the State are hurting and administrators at the College are worried. But as we tighten our belts and trim down our budgets, there are some things that we have to save— the things that make us who we are.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the College has suspended the office of Sustainability Fellow, and the full-time post, a one-year position filled by a newly graduated SMCM alumnus/a, will not be continued next year.

The College hopes that by taking on extra student interns they will be able to fill the hole left by the removal of the Fellowship position. History shows this will not be the case. Of all the things we’ve had to cut back on, sustainability should not be one of them.

Environmental consciousness and sustainability are part of who we are as an institution. Our commitment to the environment is right there in our Mission Statement. Sustainability makes up one of the six goals of our proposed Strategic Plan.

Moreover, we made a public commitment to sustainability when we finalized a Climate Action Plan earlier this year, part of our signing onto the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. That alone took three years of work from successive Sustainability Fellows. Now we have to implement it, it’s unrealistic to assume we can accomplish the goals we have set without a single full-time staff member dedicated to them.

The College plans to use a student intern to fill the position. Even two or three student interns would not be able to adequately fill the gaps. In the years before the Sustainability Fellow we did good things— buying renewable energy credits, getting fair trade coffee in the Green Bean and the Daily Grind— but comparing those achievements to what the Sustainability Fellow position has done in the past three years is like comparing an apple to an apple tree; one simply gives you a whole lot more.

With Sustainability Fellows we have accomplished much: the Climate Action Plan, Audubon International Sanctuary Certification, re-usable to-go boxes in the Great Room, the Campus Community Farm, and so much more.

The issues that we will face in the next few years are absolutely critical: the pilot program for our re-usable to-go boxes has been a success, but without a Sustainability Fellow to implement it its future is in jeopardy. Erosion along the Waterfront isn’t going to get any better and we have clear-cut many of the trees and plants that could stop it. Our recycling and composting rates are abysmal, and there are numerous projects that need to be completed to lower our carbon footprint. There is still major work to be done in terms of community outreach, and the same goes for incorporating green initiatives into educational opportunities for students, like at Chancellor’s Point— a place we have yet to tap the full potential of as an environmental sanctuary and a venue for student activities in coordination with Historic St. Mary’s City. Parking lot improvements, bike accommodations, modernizing the vehicle fleet, improving energy efficiency in all parts of the campus— I could fill this entire newspaper with projects the Sustainability Office has hoped to accomplish with its Fellowship position.

This isn’t a rank-and-file desk job. This is something incredibly important to who we are. We cannot simply pay lip service to sustainability and then cut back on our efforts to achieve it. We have to practice what we preach, or we’re just another school using the ‘green’ label to attract prospective students.

 

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