U-M to open new cross-disciplinary school for sustainability

The University of Michigan (U-M) is moving forward with plans to open a new college of sustainability by next fall. The school, to be named this year, replaces U-M's School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE) and will address global challenges to the environment and society through research, teaching, and civic engagement.

Plans for the school call for an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability with a new emphasis on cross-departmental collaboration, as well as action-based education on campus and in the local community.

U-M Provost Martha Pollack says the new school follows a university tradition of being at the forefront of environmental studies and also sets the stage to make U-M a sought-after university for research and education in environmental sustainability across disciplines.

"The study of natural resources and environmental problems has been part of the university for more than 100 years," Pollack says. "In 1950, the university established the School of Natural Resources, one of the first schools of its kind ... Today, programs exist in many disciplines, from engineering and architecture and urban planning to policy and public health."

An advisory committee appointed by Pollack is helping with the search for the new school's first dean, which is underway now. A faculty transition team charged with evaluating curriculum changes for the school, as well as recommendations to guide the new dean, has also been announced.

According to Pollack, the new school will continue offering its existing programs until faculty choose to change or replace those degrees. Current students can finish their programs.

Pollack says it's too early to know the school's physical infrastructure needs, but the assumption is that it will remain in the Dana Building, where the SNRE is now housed.

Pollack says there will be no immediate staff changes in the SNRE; the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts' Program in the Environment; or the Graham Sustainability Institute. But in the long term, there may be a focus on more coordination among the staff of these units.

Eric Gallippo is an Ypsilanti-based freelance writer.