Students pitch sustainability grad requirement

April 5, 2010, 1:09 a.m.

A group of students is arguing that a part of Stanford’s graduation requirements known as “Education for Citizenship,” which includes classes in ethics, culture and gender, lacks an important topic area: sustainability.

The “Education for Citizenship” (EC) component of general education requirements (GERs) mandates that undergraduates take classes in two of four designated areas: ethical reasoning, global community, American cultures and gender studies.

Now, a student-driven initiative has emerged to add sustainability as another topic area whose classes would fulfill the EC requirement.

Noel Crisostomo ’10 is a member of Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS) and has helped develop the initiative. Crisostomo said the proposal for a new EC came from his feeling that, despite efforts to create informed future citizens, there was a significant absence in the Stanford Bulletin and its current GERs.

“The lack of sustainability education was pretty appalling,” he said. “We wanted to fix that, and thought that…Stanford graduates wouldn’t sufficiently be prepared without this education requirement.”

While serving as the ASSU executive chair of sustainability last year, Elaine Albertson ’11 was one of the students to come up with the idea.

“One day, the idea occurred to us that it might be a good thing to encourage Stanford to more explicitly incorporate ‘sustainability,’ or at least ‘environmental education,’ into their curriculum,” Albertson wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

“An educated citizen in today’s world knows about sustainability and has grappled with it on an academic level, which is why we are proposing that a new sustainability-focused ‘education for citizenship’ GER category be introduced,” she added.

Students have since been developing a proposal and presenting it to faculty for feedback. Philippe Buc, a history professor, is the chair of the Committee on Undergraduate Standards and Policy (C-USP), which will vote on the proposal. He said one consideration the committee will make is the availability of sustainability classes.

“A key issue is whether there will be enough quality classes to provide to interested students,” Buc wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. Buc said any prediction on his part about the fate of the proposal would be premature, but did seem receptive to the students’ idea.

“I am personally favorable, as long as the environment is viewed both in the light of service to nature but also preserving the world for future human beings,” he said.

Students involved with the proposal have identified some currently offered courses, including ones in anthropology, civil engineering, human biology and English, that would meet their criteria for a sustainability requirement.

“We tried to come up with a clear, holistic idea about what sustainability is so we could figure out what these classes were going to look like,” said Eli Pollak ’12, another SSS member spearheading the project.

Crisostomo agreed with the importance of a broad conceptualization of sustainability. “We believe sustainability is more than environmental sustainability…it’s a balance between environmental, social and economic considerations.”

The addition of a sustainability EC would only provide an additional option for the requirement. Currently, students must choose at least two of four EC areas in which to take a course. If the proposal is implemented, students would choose among five areas.

Both UC-Santa Barbara and UC-Berkeley have begun efforts to include sustainability in their educational program, but nothing has been officially implemented.

“I think that having this education requirement here at Stanford speaks to the idea of thinking about how we interact with our resource base as part of our education as a global citizen,” said Theo Gibbs ’11, the co-president of SSS. Gibbs is currently working with Pollak and Crisostomo on the proposal.

Albertson agreed.

“Sustainability is a concept that falls directly under the umbrella of Stanford’s intent to value the future, yet is not explicitly addressed in our school’s curriculum — its educational core,” she said.

The committee is set to vote on the proposal on April 9.

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