University News

Environmental studies program changes face protest

Concentrators expressed concerns about new required courses in a forum Friday

Staff Writer
Monday, March 18, 2013

About 40 students attended the public forum, and those who opposed curricular changes voiced their opinions through a pre-written statement.

Students voiced sharp disagreement against proposed changes to the environmental studies concentration at a public forum Friday. Approximately 40 students and three of the 10 faculty members who served on the Committee to Review the Environmental Studies Concentration attended the forum, which was held at the Urban Environmental Laboratory to solicit student feedback on the changes.

The recommendations would reshape the concentration by establishing a new core of four required courses and creating four possible tracks, according to the report. If approved by the College Curriculum Council, the changes would affect the class of 2017 and beyond.

The report’s proposed tracks are: land and coast, conservation science and policy, sustainable development and climate and energy. Students at the forum said their primary objection to the recommendations is the failure to include a food and health track, which would encompass topics like sustainable food and agriculture.

The recommendations will go before the College Curriculum Council’s Executive Committee Tuesday. If approved by the Executive Committee, the changes will then be voted on by the full CCC at a later time.

Food-related courses have been consistently enrolled to capacity, students said, adding that almost half of the Bachelor of Arts theses for environmental studies concentrators over the past three years have pertained to food and health topics. The students opposed to the changes voiced their concerns via a drafted statement they wrote before the forum.

Students cited Yale’s environmental studies undergraduate program, which has concentrations in food and agriculture and human health, as a model for the track they would like to see the Center for Environmental Studies adopt.

Dov Sax, assistant professor of biology and a member of the review committee, said a food and health track was originally included in the report but was removed due to limited financial and human resources. The committee decided a food and health track would be unfeasible given how few faculty members specialize in this area, he said.

Students responded to Sax by asking why the report did not endorse recruiting the faculty necessary to support a food and health track. Amanda Lynch, professor of geological sciences and a review committee member, said hiring recommendations initially included in the report had to be taken out. Because the environmental studies program does not belong in a single department, the Center for Environmental Studies is not allowed to make hiring recommendations, she said.

Students also voiced opposition to the inclusion of ECON 0110: “Principles of Economics” as a newly required core course. The inclusion of ECON 0110 prioritizes economic analysis over other disciplines, students opposing the change said.

The proposed removal of ENVS 0110: “Humans, Nature and the Environment: Addressing Environmental Change in the 21st Century” from the core of the concentration also drew criticism, as students described the course as vital to attracting concentrators.

Janet Blume, interim director of the Center for Environmental Studies and associate dean of the faculty, said Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, who co-chaired the review committee and leads the University’s efforts to revamp concentrations, supported requiring environmental studies concentrators to take ECON 0110.

Sax said the committee included ECON 0110 as a newly required course because members agreed it was necessary for understanding all four proposed tracks of the concentration.

Blume, who also served as co-chair of the review committee, said she hopes a new environmental economics course will be developed in the future to replace ECON 0110 as a core requirement. Though not required, ENVS 0110 would still be highly encouraged for concentrators, Blume said.

Students said the fast-paced timing of the proposed changes caught them off-guard, adding that there was no opportunity for the report to be altered in response to student feedback before the Executive Committee vote Tuesday.

If the report is presented to the committee without changes, “Everyone that spoke today is going to have been left out of the process,” said David Granberg ’13, one of two students who served on the review committee.

Katie Parker ’14, an environmental studies concentrator, said she felt the review committee did not properly solicit input from students. The committee created a written form to encourage student responses, but Parker said she did not think those responses were incorporated in the report.

Blume told The Herald after the forum she thought the implication that student input was ignored is inaccurate. She noted that she took the initiative of organizing the forum specifically to hear student responses and set up the online feedback form, adding that only three students filled it out.

“We really want to serve students,” Blume wrote in an email to The Herald. “That’s what it’s all about. That’s why we are here.”


  1. “Dean of the College Katherine Bergeron, who co-chaired the review committee and leads the University’s efforts to revamp concentrations, supported requiring environmental studies concentrators to take ECON 0110.” Berge is behind this. Shocker.

  2. What’s wrong with mastering basic economics? It’s a requirement that will enhance the technical expertise of graduates interested in how environments are affected by human activity. Unagi futomaki. Yum! Edamame. Meh.

  3. Economics is only one specific framework out of many academic approaches. Economics in the way that it is taught at Brown is one specific framework out of many approaches to the discipline of economics–it is a completely arbitrary requirement for Economics concentrators let alone Environmental Studies students. It is academically irresponsible to privilege it over all other frameworks of environmental analysis. Are all Econ concentrators required to take Intro to Environmental Studies? No. And it is too late to change that because Brown is not offering Intro to Environmental Studies anymore…

  4. Also, the idea that Blume “really want[s] to serve students” is clearly not true. There is pretty much consensus among students and faculty affiliated with the Center that certain proposed changes do not align with the mission of the Center for Environmental Studies, and furthermore that these changes will mean that Brown will no longer be a leader in the discipline of Environmental Studies. If Blume, Bergeron, and the Committee really want to “serve students” they would listen to the very loud, clear, and united Brown community voice that opposes many of the recommendations.

  5. cyclo1:1-1:11 says:

    I’m an Environmental Science major in energy and climate and, quite frankly, I see the importance of taking econ 11 for the concentration. In topics like environmental justice and energy policy, economics and businesses are vital to make valid arguments and propositions. Dropping ES 11 and a food track, though, is a direct response of Kathy DeMasters leaving. She was an amazing ES11 professor and she was the expert on food justice. I do not see why another one of the great ES professors can’t to teach ES 11 (HELLO IT’S INTRO ES!!) and not offer food-related track, seeing as food justice is probably the biggest and most popular field of ES that graduates do after they graduate. So, as much as I believe the board is generally restricting graduates from pursuing their goals by excluding a food track, I don’t think it was as intentional as some students think it was and the addition of econ is unfortunately a great addition to the requirements.

  6. ECON11 was the most frustrating course I took at Brown, though I’m glad I took it. It helped me see that the way economics is taught – and the way our economy is run – largely ignores the great human and environmental costs of rapid & unchecked economic growth. I wish there were a course at Brown that captured these flaws in our prevailing economic system (is there?). In the words of an economist I heard speak a few weeks ago at a climate change conference, “We have to stop teaching our kids bullshit economics!”

  7. Nothing wrong with requiring Economics, as it is relevant to most environmental issues, but dropping ES 11 is a loss to the university, not just Environmental Studies. Many non-concentrators took it and received a basic education in critical issues like climate change. The administration is not only not considering the needs of students, it is making the program increasingly irrelevant in an era in which food security is one of the most pressing environmental issues of our time and cutting edge programs around the country are adding food systems programs everywhere.

  8. Having graduated from the CES 28 years ago, I remember the fight over whether to require a basic economics course was as alive then as now. CES founder Harold Ward defended the economics requirement by observing that it is the least popular course among students but one of the most valued among graduates. He was right: a firm grasp of economics is a prerequisite to working well in this field.

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