Provost’s panel suggests new sustainability education structure


A new school of sustainability is among the key recommendations in a report by a faculty committee exploring ways to strengthen the University of Michigan’s position as a leader in interdisciplinary education that addresses sustainability challenges.

The committee recommends a School of Sustainability, Environment, and Society that would address global sustainability challenges at the intersection of environment and society through research, teaching and civic engagement.

It would replace the School of Natural Resources and the Environment and dramatically expand both its mission and the quality of its partnerships with the other schools and programs at U-M. Its faculty would include both full-time appointments and faculty who are jointly appointed with other U-M schools and colleges. The new school would organize itself around disciplinary clusters and flexible and dynamic themes.

“The report presents a vision for a more integrated, collaborative, innovative and dynamic set of programs that will magnify the impact of faculty, staff and student work in the sustainability area,” says Provost Martha Pollack.

“This vision creatively balances the need for a coordinated approach with the distributed strength of the university.”

The Provost’s Office will begin work immediately by carefully considering each of the committee’s recommendations and developing an implementation strategy and timeline for the recommendations chosen to move forward.

“Today’s environment and sustainability issues are extremely complex and require a spectrum of expertise to be addressed effectively,” says Dan Brown, interim dean of SNRE.

“I am thankful to the provost for recognizing the urgent need to facilitate our interdisciplinary work on these issues and to the president for making sustainability a campuswide priority. I am also deeply grateful to the faculty committee for their thoughtful, forward-looking recommendations.”

Last fall, Pollack invited an external committee of faculty to review the environment and sustainability programs at the university, including SNRE, the Graham Sustainability Institute, and the Program in the Environment within LSA.

That review identified strengths and enormous possibilities within the various programs, but also identified insufficient coordination and cooperation as key limits toward advancing U-M in this area.

Following the work of the external committee, Pollack charged a committee of 14 U-M faculty members from 10 different units to review the findings and explore a new structure that would include a significantly greater degree of integration of U-M’s academic programs.

The Committee on Academic Programs in Environment and Sustainability gathered feedback from faculty, staff, students and alumni through a variety of ways including meetings, town halls, surveys and email.

Other recommendations from the committee include:

• Undergraduate education in sustainability should be shared between multiple schools on campus.  

• At both the graduate and undergraduate levels, new instructional models should be promoted emphasizing engaged learning that uses the campus as a living laboratory.


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