Dickinson College Homepage Dickinson Magazine This issue of the Dickinson Magazine was mailed on Monday, April 2, 2007
From This Issue
Volume 84 • Number 4
Spring 2007

Bridging Study and Practice
Provost's Perspective
By Neil Weissman, provost and dean of the college

The new science complex now rising on campus has been years in the planning. Interestingly, the first meeting on the project that I attended had little to do with the biology, chemistry and psychology programs to be housed there. Instead, the session focused on achieving “silver” level LEED certification for the building.

LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certification, established by the U.S. Green Building Council, is a national benchmark for measuring environmentally sound construction. Such concern for the environment is not unusual at Dickinson. Nor is it new.

Higher-education circles recently have made the environment a hot issue on campuses, focusing especially on “sustainability” (roughly defined as reconciling human-development goals with the planet’s resources over time).

Long before this outburst of interest, Dickinson established a substantial environmental program. That program includes majors in environmental studies and environmental science, plus such nationally recognized co-curricular elements as ALLARM (the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring) and an organic garden.

In recent months, Dickinson has taken further steps toward a true “greening” of the college. Beyond adopting LEED building standards, these include:

  • renovation of a new model sustainability residence—the Center for Sustainable Living or, informally, the Treehouse—for students
  • development, with Luce Foundation funding, of a semesterlong, field-based program comparing the Chesapeake and lower Mississippi watersheds
  • a campus energy-conservation campaign that has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars; the award of a $250,000 state grant for a solar-panel array that will increase the college’s commitment to renewable sources for electricity generation to 13 percent of our total electricity consumption load profile
  • a commitment to new faculty positions; Jeremy Vetter, a specialist in environmental history and the history of science, joined our faculty this semester
  • a decision to convert 50 acres of the college-owned farm near Boiling Springs into an organic farm; the facility will supply Dickinson’s dining services and be used as a site for educational programs (see more on the farm, Page 4).

Leadership in environmental matters and sustainability comes naturally to liberal-arts colleges, especially Dickinson. Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences recently, policy specialists William Clark and Nancy Dickson argue, “Sustainability science is not yet an autonomous field or discipline, but rather a vibrant arena that is bringing together scholarship and practice, global and local perspectives from north and south, and disciplines across the natural and social sciences [to which, of course, we add the humanities], engineering, and medicine.”

Dickinson offers just such a “vibrant arena.”

Key elements of our strategic plan align precisely with the characteristics of sustainability science listed above. Study of the environment, with its focus on the complex web of interactions among human and natural systems, is by its nature interdisciplinary.

As one specialist has put it, the field needs “lateral rigor” across disciplines to match “vertical rigor” within them. Crossing disciplinary borders is a recognized Dickinson strength. Our new faculty position in environmental history underlines this wide reach across fields. Similarly, the college’s commitment to a global perspective encourages thinking in holistic terms. It adds an appreciation of the importance of place, a disposition integral to environmental study.

Most fundamentally, programming on the environment embodies Dickinson’s core mission. Ours is a college committed to “useful” education for engaged lives of service to society, to the application of liberal learning to the tasks of citizenship. The challenge of environmental sustainability demands just such a coupling of complex, multi-field reflection with action.

Environmental research projects, ALLARM, our Luce semester, the organic garden and our campus sustainability effort all exemplify the bridge between study and practice. As higher education engages environmental issues ever more actively, Dickinson will have much to contribute.


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