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Transformation Produces School of Earth and Environmental Sciences
The new school will unite six campus units with the intent of giving greater visibility to earth and environmental science research and activities at the UA.
In a time when global climate change and the environment are top priorities worldwide, a new school at The University of Arizona is gearing up to become a leader in earth and environmental research.
The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences will unite six campus units from within the College of Science and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, bringing together top researchers from a variety of areas in the environmental sciences in their teaching, research and grant funding pursuits.The School of Earth and Environmental Sciences is one of a series of new units taking shape on campus as a result of the University's Transformation Plan, a campuswide reorganization process initiated in the fall.
The school will give new visibility to the important work the UA is doing in the earth and environmental sciences, said Karl Flessa, who will act as the new school's director.
The school will consist of six existing campus units. Five are in the College of Science: the departments of atmospheric sciences, geosciences, and hydrology and water resources, plus the Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research and the Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory. The sixth is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' department of soil, water and environmental science.
Uniting related units under the roof of one school will give the UA more visibility in the environmental sciences arena – both inside and outside the University – while encouraging greater collaboration between UA researchers and allowing the UA to be more competitive in applying for large environmental research grants, said Flessa, head of the department of geosciences. The school will have 85 faculty members.
The proposal for the new school, authored by Flessa, was one of approximately 75 white paper proposals submitted to the Office of the Provost by various campus units.
Gail Burd, vice provost for academic affairs, applauded the hard work and enthusiasm of those working to develop the new school.
"They're thinking about research grants; they're thinking about new ways of teaching that would be attractive to students; they're talking about efficiencies in teaching," Burd said. "These people are coming together to try and think of something bigger than what they have now."
At the April 6 Faculty Senate meeting, the senate approved several proposed changes to academic units and programs on campus, including the formation of the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences. (For a list of other approved reorganizations, see this article.)
Proposed changes must receive approval from the Arizona Board of Regents before they officially take effect in July. The board will vote on the reorganizations during its next meeting, which takes place April 30-May 1 on the UA campus, but leaders of the new School of Earth and Environmental Sciences are already hard at work planning for the future.
Heads of the affected departments are meeting weekly to discuss the new school's potential.
"One of the things that the transformation process made us do, which I think is a very positive thing, is have a lot more conversations among departments at a higher level than has usually occurred," Flessa said.
"We're talking about future directions – where the future of our field is and how we can work together on building interdisciplinary strength in those areas," he said.
Flessa said he used a "federation" model in his proposal for the new school, which does not merge or eliminate any programs.
Individual units will not see eliminations of positions or significant changes in daily operations as a result of the reorganization, and degree offerings will remain the same, Flessa said. However, there is discussion about developing a new interdepartmental undergraduate major focused on earth and environmental sciences as well.
Unique in that it includes units from two separate colleges, the new school will be managed by a director and executive council. The director, who serves a two-year term, must be a head of one of the school's units. The executive council will consist of all unit heads.
As school leaders plan for the coming year, Flessa said the school's ability to coordinate resources and share faculty between participating units will potentially allow for more efficiencies in course offerings at a general education level.
The school also plans to host a monthly speaker series, beginning in the fall, on earth and environmental topics across the different disciplines, Flessa said.