By Phoebe Duvall
A proposal to add an environmental emphasis into Pitzer College’s social responsibility requirement failed to pass a Student Senate vote on Sunday, Sept. 23rd.The proposed addition is the latest development in an ongoing student-led effort to incorporate an environmental element in the Pitzer College’s graduation requirements.
Under the proposal, the requirement would be renamed “social and/or environmental responsibility.” This would broaden the credit and non-credit fulfillment options, but would not introduce new requirements. The expanded choices could include environmental analysis courses, environmentally focused internships, or leadership positions in environmentally focused clubs.
Paul Faulstich, an Environmental Analysis Professor at Pitzer, has been instrumental advising the students involved with the proposal since its inception. “Environmental stewardship is in our mission statement, it’s highlighted in our core values, we have a separate statement of environmental policy and principles” he said. Faulstich continued, “It’s what we say we do, and yet we don’t have a way of ensuring that we do it in a curricular sense.”
The proposal must pass Student Senate and then be approved by the Academic Planning Committee (APC) to become a graduation requirement. From there, it would proceed to the Faculty Committee then College Council for final ratification. If the proposal successfully passes, it will be grandfathered in for the upcoming 2013/2014 academic term and it would not apply to any students currently enrolled.
Yet, many senators were not satisfied with the proposal, and the nays outweighed the yeas when it finally came to a vote on Sept. 23rd. Several senators expressed concern that adding the environmental option would weaken the social responsibility requirement: By increasing the number of ways students can fulfill it, it would make the requirement easier to complete. Other senators said that the language regarding the environmental credit and non-credit options for fulfilling the requirement was too vague.
This was not the first time students brought the proposal to the Senate floor. Lindon Pronto, a 2012 alumnus and last year’s Environmental Senator, drafted a proposal to institute a separate environmental responsibility requirement similar to the social responsibility requirement. When faculty members told Pronto that the Environmental Analysis department would not be able handle the influx of students as a result of the requirement, Pronto revised the proposal into its current form. Last year, Student Senate passed the new version, but College Council tabled it, therefore halting the process.
This year, senior Emily Haynes, the current Environmental Senator, took over the project. She reintroduced the proposal to Senate, seeking the approval of the new body before passing it on to the APC. Haynes believes that the changes would augment the current requirement and strengthen the school’s commitment to environmental awareness and sustainability. She also notes that the amendment would not compel anyone to complete the requirement with an environmental option unless they chose to do so.
“Environmental issues are very much a part of social justice,” Haynes said. “A healthy community cannot exist outside of a healthy environment. American society forgets that a lot, so this is an awesome opportunity to bring the environment back to the community. I don’t think this proposal would weaken our commitment to the society side, I think it would strengthen it.”
Some senators, including junior Braden Holstege, a member of the Faculty Executive Committee, disagree. He believes that the amendment is purely a change of semantics, opposed to policy. “Having a weak requirement that doesn’t really do anything is worse than doing nothing at all because there’s no change. It tells people that we care about the environment without actually doing anything for it.”
Holstege also does not support the establishment of a separate environmental requirement such as the original that Pronto drafted. “It gives the impression that Pitzer views environmental responsibility as more important than any of the other areas of social activism,” he said.
At the Senate meeting on Sept. 30th, Environmental Analysis Professor Melinda Herrold-Menzies spoke to the group about the proposal, not in support the bill but as an authority on the subject. She said that society and the environment are inextricably linked and that the only change to the existing requirement would be the language. No vote was taken.
Despite the opposition to the proposal, Haynes plans to revise the draft with the help of Professors like Faulstich and Herrold-Menzies within the next few weeks. It is likely to be a lengthy process and the Pitzer community may not know the verdict until the spring.