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Stanford Report, October 15, 2003

New institute to provide 'united voice' on environmental research


President John Hennessy has announced the creation of a new interdisciplinary institute for the environment -- an independent center designed to serve as an umbrella organization for environmental research and education at Stanford.

"Our goal is simple," Hennessy told the Faculty Senate on Thursday. "We would like to create an institute that will help us build a program for teaching and research that is the equal -- or actually, the best -- of any environmental program in the country, and whose scholarship will potentially affect our environment in a positive manner."

The institute is the centerpiece of a broader environmental initiative proposed by the Provost's Committee on the Environment.

"The mission of the initiative is to promote an environmentally sound and sustainable world by identifying current and future environmental problems and challenges," said committee Chair Peter Vitousek, a professor of biological sciences. "We will develop creative solutions to these challenges through the integration of science, technology and policy -- and effectively communicate our findings beyond Stanford."


Environmental strengths

During the past two years, Vitousek and other members of the provost's committee have engaged faculty in a series of discussions on the best way to organize environmental research and teaching on campus.

"These discussions have reached several points of consensus," Hennessy said. "First of all, we have broad strengths in the area of environmental scholarship -- from biology and earth sciences to environmental engineering, to economic environmental policy and environmental law."

Second, he noted, programs such as Bio-X have demonstrated the importance of having multidisciplinary teams of faculty working together across different departments and schools.

"Having learned a great deal in the process of creating Bio-X, the provost and I feel that it's time to begin building a new multidisciplinary center in the environmental area," Hennessy told the senate. "Hence, we will be establishing this new institute, focused on the environment and sustainability, which will become a new independent lab, reporting to the dean of research and a council of deans from across the related schools."

Hennessy said that the provost's committee is in the process of finalizing plans for the institute, and that the provost has asked committee members to recommend a new director.

"To help catalyze new research collaborations, we will create an interdisciplinary seed research program, similar to the program we created for Bio-X," Hennessy added. "I will fund this program from the president's funds, initially for $500,000 in funding a year, and we will appoint a faculty committee to select the first awards for faculty proposals later this academic year."

Hennessy said that he and the provost will create and fund a new faculty position to help build new areas of environmental expertise.

"Departments will be able to nominate candidates for this position, which may well end up being housed in multiple departments or schools. We anticipate using a similar model for several future appointments in this institute," he noted, adding that as many as 100 current faculty members, representing all seven Stanford schools, could be involved in the institute.


United voice

In addition to Vitousek, the provost's committee includes Larry Goulder, senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies; Suki Hoagland, associate director of the Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources (IPER); Rob Dunbar, director of the Earth Systems interdisciplinary undergraduate program and co-director of IPER; Jeff Koseff, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Pam Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences; Roz Naylor, senior fellow at the Center for Environmental Science and Policy (CESP);  Lynn Orr, director of the Global Climate and Energy Project (GCEP); Steve Schneider, co-director of CESP and IPER; and Buzz Thompson of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law and Policy Program (ENRLP).

"Over time, we hope that the institute will help provide the campuswide community with research and fellowship support," said Matson. "It will serve as a coming together place for faculty, staff and students, and will be a home for interdisciplinary projects, programs and people."

GCEP, IPER, CESP, ENRLP and Earth Systems are among the programs that will be associated with the institute, she added, providing "a united voice" for environment, resource, and sustainability studies on campus.

"Much of this is about sustainability -- meeting the needs of people today and in the future, while at the same time protecting our life support systems: air, water, climate, species and ecosystems that provide so many services for us," Matson noted.


Broad support

"It's a terrific thing for Stanford, it's terrific for the students and it's terrific for the world," said Paul Ehrlich, chair of the Center for Conservation Biology. "There is no area that is going to be more important in the 21st century than interdisciplinary environmental science -- from education to policy."

That view was echoed by Donald Kennedy, university president emeritus and editor-in-chief of the journal Science: "It's a great idea. Stanford has wonderful people doing extraordinary work in the environment at scientific and policy levels, but they have not been sufficiently recognized because we've never really made it into an organization."

No other university in the country can boast as broad and distinguished an environmental faculty as Stanford, added Thompson.

"The institute will strengthen the interdisciplinary research that we have been doing for years and provide us with a more effective means of working with researchers and organizations outside Stanford," he observed.


President John Hennessy announced the creation of a new environmental
research institute at the first meeting of the Faculty Senate on Oct. 9. Photo: L.A. Cicero