Stanford and Beyond

Organizing Universities Around Sustainability

In May, Stanford grabbed headlines by announcing a billion dollar gift to launch a new School of Sustainability. There hasn’t been much written about the details of Stanford’s effort, or about what other schools are doing along similar lines. There’s little in the way of systematic information, but there does seem to be a lot of ferment in the area.

I want to begin by lamenting the lack of systematic information. A lot has been written about the efforts of universities to clean up their own carbon emissions. There’s also extensive writing about how to design sustainability curriculums. I couldn’t find anything that simply listed sustainability or environmental studies colleges, let alone assessing them in a systematic way. More surprisingly, our research librarians found a lot on teaching of sustainability but nothing that really filled this gap. As a result, I’m limited to some impressionistic observations.

Arizona State University launched the first U.S. school of sustainability in 2006.  The website isn’t very informative about the sustainability school, but it seems to be akin to a medium-sized department, with something around thirty of its own faculty.  Notably, other departments like Ecology remain separate. For example, the Department of Conservation Biology and Ecology is in the School of Life Sciences.

Stanford’s effort is much more ambitious. Of course, ASU’s would undoubtedly be too if someone had given them a billion dollars. That being said — and for someone at Berkeley, saying this is painful — Stanford’s plans are really impressive. The School will incorporate the existing departments that cover geology, environmental engineering, and energy science and engineering. It will add new departments in oceans and  environmental behavior, environment & ecosystems, climate science, and global environmental policy. The School will also include the Woods Institute for the Environment and some other existing programs.

According to the Washington Post, the School ”will be housed in multiple buildings with rooftop gardens on a new Sustainability Commons area on the west side of campus, with 90 existing faculty members expected to be joined by an additional 60 new professors over the next decade.” Even though it sounds like a fair chunk of the money will go for posh new buildings rather than academic substance, Stanford’s hiring plans have real significance.

Other leading private universities seem to be making efforts of their own. Columbia has established a new Climate School. The website is pretty uninformative about what exactly the School does. However, a description of the School stresses its leadership role on campus:

“If climate is part of the curricula and research programs of so many parts of Columbia, you might ask ‘Why do we need a climate school?’ At present, we do not have central, strategically focused coordinating structures and mechanisms for developing education, research, technology and policy hubs linked to climate. The Climate School will provide that. Different schools contribute in their own very significant way but the university needs to strategize about what we should do next, how to develop a new initiative, what degrees will be needed and who we should recruit.”

Harvard has taken a different approach to this leadership function. It has established a new Vice Provost for Climate and Sustainability. It remains to be seen how successful that effort will be.

For better or worse, Berkeley and undoubtedly many other schools have relied much more on bottom-up initiatives within existing academic structures, with the leadership role being taken by individual faculty, departments, and deans. In my next post, I’ll talk about the possible advantages of creating new academic units.

In the meantime, all I can say is, “Congratulations, Stanford. I hate you.”

 

, , ,

Reader Comments

14 Replies to “Stanford and Beyond”

  1. Dan, this admission explains a lot about Berkeley’s need to catch up at a time when climate changes are already out of control and destroying our environment worldwide? Haven’t you people been reading the news: https://www.cnn.com/weather

    This means that we have already run out of time and we shouldn’t desperately need to catch up like Stanford is doing finally. It’s as if you just realized reality.

    Good Grief! The IPCC and John Kerry have been pleading with environmentalists for over a year with exhotations like:

    “The world must come together before the ability to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is out of reach —- What the world requires now is real action. We can get to the low carbon economy we urgently need, but time is not on our side.”

    And all you can do is pathically cry out that Stanford is beating Berkeley because Berkeley really isn’t well organized with your environmental efforts yet.

    Why have you finally come to the conclusion: “For better or worse, Berkeley and undoubtedly many other schools have relied much more on bottom-up initiatives within existing academic structures, with the leadership role being taken by individual faculty, departments, and deans. In my next post, I’ll talk about the possible advantages of creating new academic units.”!!!

    In the meantime, all you can say is, “Congratulations, Stanford. I hate you.”!!!

    1. P.S. Please focus first and foremost on protecting our environment because you cannot have acceptable sustainability without protecting the environment as the paramout priority. Instead we keep diverting our attention to the point where we have jeopardized fixing the environmental problems first, which is critically important for our youngest generations today and all future generations that deserve highest priority for providing and perpetuating an acceptable quality of life.

      So please, focus first on IPCC/Kerry exhortations like: “The world must come together before the ability to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is out of reach —- What the world requires now is real action. We can get to the low carbon economy we urgently need, but time is not on our side.”

  2. We definitely do not hate you back!!! Berkeley is a valued partner in sustainability work and while the UCs haven’t taken the step that Stanford has, there can be no doubt about the contributions that thousands of UC-based scholars make in the sustainability space.

  3. Dan: You give not even short, but no shrift at all to BekeleyLaw’s own Center for Law, Energy & the Environment (CLEE). To quoute CLEE’s own website, CLEE “channels the expertise of the BerkeleyLaw community – faculty, staff, and students – into pragmatic, creative policy solutions to critical environmental and energy challenges.” True, in comparison to the announced Stanford effort, CLEE might be percieved as casting buckets against the tide, but we must start somewhere. When I was a student at BerkeleyLaw (then Boalt Hall) from 1968 thru 1971 we didn’t even have a course called “Environmental Law.” The closest classes were Sho Sato’s on natural resources and “water law.” Having spent a >50 year career primarily as an environmental lawyer I have witnessed the growth of EL as both an academic and professional discipline and am confident that Stanford’s splendid example will both succeed and be emulated by those schools that can afford to do so. Let’s hope that BerkeleyLaw will be one of the first to do so. I for one, hope to be able to help it do so, as modest as my puny resources may allow. Right now I’m looking forward to participating as a student next month at the Berkeley Law Executive Education > Online Program on “Sustainable Capitalism and ESG.”

  4. The lack of a sense of humor among those concerned about environmental issues is sometimes rather sad. It is true that CLEE is a providing a start toward sustainability at Berkeley Law, but I’m sure Professor Farber knows that, since he serves as CLEE’s Faculty Director.

  5. Humor is definitely risky online. I’m proud of the work we do at CLEE and of the work other colleagues are doing across campus. Where Berkeley falls short, in my view, is that there’s little leadership from the top and little structure at the campus level to organize climate efforts. We do everything we can at CLEE, but it’s not the same as having a Climate or Sustainability School (like Stanford or Columbia), or a top level campus official charged with leadership (like Harvard).

    1. Thank You Dan: “Where Berkeley falls short, in my view, is that there’s little leadership from the top and little structure at the campus level to organize climate efforts.”

      It’s time for our leaders to save an acceptable quality of life future for our youngest with the greatest sense of urgency ever because the IPCC has warned us that time may have already run out.

      Will and Ariel Durant warned us that when leadership fails, civilizations fail and we shouldn’t have to learn that lesson of history again the hard way.

  6. Dan, I find it to be outrageous that there have been no continuing conversations to this post which is most certainly our MOST IMPORTANT ENVIRONMENTAL EFFORT TODAY.

    I Thank You for your initiative to fix the greatest failure mode in Berkeley (and UC) environmental efforts to control our totally out of control climate changes, such as: https://www.cnn.com/weather

    Our most unforgiveable failures to protect Generation Z from increasingly out of control global warming disasters such as heat waves, droughts, forest fires and other disasters is destroying our last chance, as COP27 is proving.

    As the history books teach us, we most desperately need leadership to prevent the destruction of our environment/civilization today. Liz Cheney said ‘men are running the world and it is really not going that well’ in a recent Reagan Library speech, and she has proven to be the best leader in the America today with her efforts to save our democracy. There is most certainly a lesson here, that we must learn immediately or there won’t even be any history books to document it once our environmental system collapses.

    Dan, I wish to Thank You for your initiative: “creating new academic units” and wish you the Best, and it might be useful to include Stanford in this effort because we are out of time.

  7. Comprehensive problems like our climate, pollution and biodiversity emergencies require comprehensive solutions. I invite all readers and commentators to check out a petition at change.org and search for Declare a Climate and Ecological Emergency Mr. President! It’s below a photo of four children and a big globe. After all, it’s all for the Sake of Our Children.

  8. Thank You Tom, for keeping this most important conversation going.

    Again, TIME HAS RUN OUT AND WE DO NOT KNOW HOW MUCH IS LEFT THAT WILL ALLOW OUR NEWEST GENERATIONS TO HAVE AN ACCEPTABLE QUALITY OF LIFE BECAUSE MANY COUNTRIES, INCLUDING PARTS OF THE UNITED STATES TODAY, ALREADY HAVE UNACCEPTABLE LIVING CONDITIONS!!!!!

    UC MUST IMPLEMENT PROF. FARBER’S REORGANIZATION RECOMMENDATION WITH THE GREATEST SENSE OF URGENCY!!!!!

  9. Dan, in conclusion, I most gravely regret that institutions like UC are our last resort to save and protect an acceptable quality of life for our newest and future generations, but experts like the Durants, Eisenhower and Hofstadter have already warned us, proven and documented the fact of life that this is the ultimate Impossible Dream.

    I Thank You with greatest respect for your efforts to save the human race by reorganizing the environmental experts at UC with the required sense of urgency, like TODAY, to make the right things happen, but that is most obviously not going to happen, as the lessons of history have already warned us because of our mental limitations and the power of money.

    The IPCC has already warned us that time may have already run out, while current events/disasters are proving that time has run out, unless we can miraculously find a leader like Churchill and/or FDR who saved us from WWII.

Comments are closed.

About Dan

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

READ more

POSTS BY Dan