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Opinion

Budget debates risk sustainability

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May 1, 2014

The UW-River Falls budget talk has been hot as of late. Although UW-River Falls is in a surplus, a $1.7 million cut had to be endured due to the state mandated budget cuts. The cuts hurt for many programs on campus, but few organizations and initiatives were hit harder than those regarding sustainability.

The budget cuts removed the Office of Sustainability (OOS) and the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development (SCISCD) from campus. The Environmental Corps of Sustainability (ECOS) Club, the Sustainability Working Group (SWG), and Sustainable Faculty Fellows are fighting to salvage a few of the sustainability initiatives, such as calculating our Carbon Footprint, which started in 1990.

The SCISCD was founded and directed by professor Kelly Cain in 2007. The SCISCD worked on numerous projects: the planning of the U.C., data collection for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education STARS rating system, Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory and also created the 2018 Climate Action Plan. The UWRF Climate Action Plan far surpasses over 700 campus plans; it is the only plan in the United States with a goal of being carbon negative. Chancellor Dean Van Galen summed up the work and importance of the SCISCD and OOS on campus when speaking about the STARS Silver rating received by UWRF in 2012: “Sustainability is an integral part of our mission, vision and values at UWRF. Our commitment is evident through such efforts as our participation in the American Colleges and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, participation in STARS, the development of the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, and the continued development of sustainability curriculum and programs to educate tomorrow’s leaders in state-of-the-art sustainability values, principles, and practices.” Only two years later, the University’s sustainability efforts are in dire jeopardy.

The University decided to cut the St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development and the Office of Sustainability this spring. Cain has since taken the SCISCD to the private market as a consultant. The SCISCD remains a primary resource for regional, county, town and municipal leaders seeking assistance with sustainable community development–but no longer on the UWRF campus. Since 2005–the base year for the Climate Action Plan–the organizing done by the SCISCD to work alongside many other offices on campus have helped drop UWRF’s energy usage by 9.3 percent, effectively saving the UW System $249,747.00 in 2012 alone.

In 2013, the Office of Sustainability was formed in anticipation for the state-mandated budget cuts. Uncertainty surrounding the tenure of the SCISCD grew last year, making a good opportunity for the SCISCD to foster a newer, leaner Office of Sustainability. To some sustainability advocates, the departure of SCISCD was somewhat expected. What shocked many was the end of the Office of Sustainability, which left nothing in the wake for UWRF to continue its annual projects and pursue its goal of being carbon negative by the year 2018.

Many sustainability advocates across campus have accepted the fact that the Office of Sustainability and St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development will no longer remain at UWRF, what they are now fighting for is funding for a single sustainability coordinator to fill the large shoes of the OOS and SCISCD. The sustainability coordinator is the backbone needed to maintain tasks and keep UWRF on the map as a national leader in sustainability. Professor Charles Rader, the sitting chair of the Sustainable Working Group and a professor with the geography department at UWRF for 21 years said, “The thought that we can maintain a viable focus on sustainability without a fully functional Office of Sustainability and sustainability coordinator is folly.” When ECOS, the Sustainable Working Group and Sustainable Faculty Fellows heard about the budget cuts, the three groups worked together to gather support for a fulltime sustainability coordinator position.

On April 9, 2014, the UWRF Faculty Senate passed a resolution to support having a sustainability coordinator on campus by a margin of 18-1. The same resolution was brought up to the Student Senate on April 22, with a different result. The resolution was tabled and a motion was passed for it be discussed the following week during the April 29 Senate meeting. The end result of the Senate’s discussion for the support of a sustainability coordinator was to refer the resolution to the Green Fee Proposal Committee, a committee that was created by President Anthony Sumnicht at the beginning of said meeting. When talking with many long-term members of campus, budgetary problems are not a rare occurrence. An unnamed source says he has been at UWRF for 15 years, and not once has he experienced a year without drama surrounding the budget. Prior budget cuts did not end the presence of sustainability on campus, yet it has come to this with the recent cuts of both the OOS and SCISCD. If the cuts are final, and UWRF does not have a sustainability coordinator this upcoming fall, a valid question would be, “How will the University pursue its 2018 Carbon Negative Climate Action Plan without the Office of Sustainability, St. Croix Institute for Sustainable Community Development, or a campus sustainability coordinator?”

Daniel Saunders is a student at UW-River Falls.Jack Haren is a journalism student with a political science minor. His free time is spent snowboarding, skateboarding, reading, writing, designing, listening, experimenting and living minimally. In the future he wishes to freelance and travel the world.