Academic Program Review of the

Environmental Studies Minor

February 2010

 

Prepared by Academic Program Review Subcommittee:

Linda B. Dickmeyer

Heather Mortell

Kristi Nelson

 

BACKGROUND:  The Environmental Studies minor resides in the College of Liberal Studies. This minor is a 24-credit interdisciplinary program intended to showcase the non-science aspects of the Environmental Studies discipline. Specifically, it focuses on the Humanities, Social Sciences and Natural Sciences aspects of environmental issues. According to the 2007 Self-Study, the minor averages around 8 graduates per year.

 

Since the Self-Study was originally submitted in 2007 and not reviewed by the Academic Program Review Committee at that time, the content of the report is outdated and does not reflect recent happenings in the minor. As a result, the current sub-committee contacted the program director, Keith Beyer, who provided updated figures, current syllabi and historical information. The sub-committee also researched current information about the minor as it appeared on the UWL website. Our additional research is reflected in the following review.

 

There was no external review of this program.

 

SUMMARY OF THE SELF-STUDY:

Summary of Program Goals and Objectives:

According to the 2007 Self-Study, there are six goals of the minor: (condensed here by APR for space)

  • Provide a comprehensive, broad-view study of environmental concepts and issues
  • Incorporate interdisciplinary studies
  • Enhance decision-making skills using values and reflection
  • Provide experiential learning
  • Create awareness of environmental protection efforts
  • Become advocates and leaders for social change

 

Summary of Curriculum:

According to the 2007 Self-Study, Environmental Studies is a 24-credit minor open to all students in all schools and colleges. There are three core classes: ENV 201, ENV 303, and ENV 496. In addition, students are required to complete one course in each of the following areas: natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. This ensures both a technical foundation and coverage of ethical, economic and aesthetic dimensions.  The remaining credits are in the form of electives within the three areas and/or internships and independent studies.

 

APR reviewers note through the Environmental Studies website and an informational pamphlet about the program that coursework includes offerings from the following departments: Humanities (3 credits) APH, CST, ENG, HIS, HIS/W-S, PHL; Natural Sciences (3 credits) BIO, CHM, GEO, ESC; Social Sciences (3 credits) ARC, C-I, ECO, HED, POL, REC, SOC, SOC/ANT, SOC/ERS.

NOTABLE STRENGTHS OF THE PROGRAM:

  • The Self-Study suggested a decrease in the number of minors in the program from 13 in -03-’04 to 7 in ’05-’06. However, the APR sub-committee has learned that currently, the Environmental Studies minor includes 43 students. This growth is impressive and exciting.
  • The program contributes to the achievements of the Environmental Council and plays an important part in “green” initiatives on campus. Specific examples noted in the 2007 Self-Study include implementation of the U-Pass program, “Green is Sexy” calendar, recycling efforts on campus and involvement with the nationwide Campus Climate Challenge.
  • The program appears to address a vital but underserved “grey area” between the natural sciences and humanities/social sciences. As such, it is a valuable complement to existing emphases in natural science majors.
  • In the time since the initial report was prepared (2007), the minor has continued to expand its course offerings. This enables students to select from a broader base of courses and with a more flexible course sequence than available in the past.

 

NOTABLE WEAKNESSES OF THE PROGRAM:

The report does not match Faculty Senate’s “Format for Reports from Free-Standing Minors.” The comments provided below are more a weakness of the report received rather than suggested weaknesses of the program itself. The reviewers are not able to adequately evaluate the following areas:

  • Curriculum: The Self-Study does not address expertise and infrastructure sufficient for judging the academic rigor of the minor. While the reviewers assume good judgment and pedagogical decisions in curricular development, the Self-Study does not provide clear explanation of the collaborative work among departments to explain and justify the relevancy of the minor.
  • Degree of Program Success: No information is provided that addresses the extent to which the program goals are met, measurements of this extent, and how students are attracted to the minor. “Learning activities” (class discussion, reflective writing, etc) are listed as assessment rather than a clear programmatic measure of student outcome or direct/indirect measures of success. It remains unclear how the goals and objectives of the minor are being assessed.
  • The reviewers feel the minor may be underpublicized. While students may hear about it through word of mouth and when enrolled in ENV 201, internal and external communication about the program and its success may be lacking.
  • As noted by the Dean, there is no clear “home” for the Environmental Studies minor. As director, Keith Beyer’s office is the point of contact. This lack of space further diminishes the communication about this exciting minor. Further, the APR committee is curious about contact specifically for Humanities and Social Sciences. Are these interdisciplinary departments informed? Do they recruit? Should they have a contact person appointed so perceptually, there is more of an interdisciplinary spirit to the minor?
  • The Self-Study does not provide a rotation of courses. Instead, a list of possible electives is provided. We are curious if this makes the minor difficult for students to plan. Are students strategic with their choices or do they develop their minor in a haphazard way, according to what electives are available per semester?

 

 

 

 

APR COMMENTS ON PARTICULAR COMPONENTS OF THE SELF-STUDY:

Purposes of the Minor

The Environmental Studies minor currently provides an opportunity for students to explore philosophical, social, political and scientific aspects of environmental issues. This is a necessary and timely opportunity for UWL students. While the first core course (ENV 201) remains a high-demand course on campus, the report suggests that numbers in this course measure success of the minor. The APR committee notes that ENV 201 is a high demand general education offering and feels there is a better way to report success with numbers than the demand for this particular course on campus. We do recognize that ENV 201 is likely a recruiting course for the minor and find the increase in minors more recently reported is indeed impressive and noteworthy. In addition, a more coherent list of goals and objectives is suggested; the goals in the report are cumbersome and double-barreled. However, recent promotional material on the minor is more clear and persuasive in tone.

 

Assessment of Student Learning and Degree of Program Success

A formal report of assessment is not included. However, the degree of program success may be noted through recent numbers/increase in students that have declared Environmental Studies as a minor.

 

Previous Academic Program Review

NA

 

Personnel

As director of the Environmental Studies minor, Keith Beyer is enthusiastic, professional and accessible. APR committee members note that the author of the Self-Study was not Dr. Beyer and his is currently doing a lot of work on his own as the current director. While other faculty members appear on the Environmental Studies website, it is unclear what their role is in regard to the minor. The APR committee notes that students who are looking for more information or classes may be well-served to see a list of faculty members who teach the courses listed for the minor.

 

The APR sub-committee has since learned that the three faculty members who teach ENV 201 include adjunct faculty members funded by the CLS Dean’s office. They share space in Morris Hall, also provided by the College of Liberal Studies. Their contact information does not appear in the UWL directory and is limited to their individual syllabi.

 

Comments on Dean’s Letter

When this letter was written, Dr. Ruthann Benson was Interim Dean of the College of Liberal Studies. She speaks favorably of the Environmental Studies minor and notes “The global issues that students confront in this interdisciplinary minor are ones where they must effectively think across disciplines and use the knowledge, skills and attitudes that each teaches to solve problems.” We echo her concerns about limitations of the program due to budget and space issues and overcrowding in ENV 201. Her suggestions for increased funding were dependent upon contributions from other colleges.

 

Recent information from Keith Beyer reveals that funding has been secured to assure seven sections of ENV 201 for fall semester 2010. The CLS Dean continues to provide limited but sole support to this interdisciplinary minor.  

 

 

 

APR’S RECOMMENDATIONS

Summary of Recommendations

Programmatic Changes

  • Faculty Senate should assign an Ad-Hoc Committee to further review and suggest direction for the development of the Environmental Studies minor. This committee will work closely with the current director to address the following:
    • All concerns found in the APR report, communicating both internally (with affected Environmental Studies faculty and staff) and externally (campus at-large and to Senate) about these concerns.
    • Ensure that ENV 201 becomes compliant with the campus-wide general education assessment requirements, beginning with the 2010-2011 academic year. This requires meeting all GEAC deadlines and submissions.
    • A plan to move forward with programmatic assessment, as required for all programs on campus. This is particularly important for determining success and outcomes of the Environmental Studies minor based on the current APR report. This should not be confused with the campus-wide General Education assessment requirement also recommended.
    • Consider similar or related campus-wide initiatives to develop Environmental programs to determine if these programs should be combined and/or are mutually exclusive of one another. This will include consultation of other programs/colleges/departments who are considering related Environmental programs.
    • Consider the current office or “home base” situation for the director and the faculty who teach in the Environmental Studies program. Is it sufficient, should it remain exclusively in CLS, etc.
    • Consider representation from each UWL college on the Ad-Hoc committee and invite student input and representation.
  • Appropriate release time should be provided for the director of this minor, with a minimum of ¼ reduction of teaching load. Additional release time may be suggested by the ad-hoc committee.
  • Contact information specific to this minor should be more available/accessible to students and might even include a point-person from each college on campus. A stronger presence is critical to the success and development of the minor.

 

Improvements based on Current Report

  • A clear list of goals and objectives that collapse and/or combine the goals from the Self-Study with more recent promotional material and other changes that result from the previous suggestions.
  • Detailed information about ENV 201 and the other core courses within the minor.
  • A discussion that shows how the independent sections of ENV 201 are consistent in content and evidence of how the instructors ensure that consistency.
  • A clear discussion of curricular decisions and coursework and how it is relevant to the program goals and objectives; this may include information on timing/scheduling of electives.
  • Provide a complete list of course offerings for the minor, course descriptions and fit in the program, syllabi and/or specific course documentation to provide more information about the curriculum.
  • Deemphasize the extent to which the program meets General Education goals and instead add information about the content, fit and rigor of courses within the minor.
  • Explain how programmatic information is communicated to advisors across campus, including contacts from Humanities, Social Sciences, and Natural Sciences.
  • Highlight unique strengths of the minor, such as more explanation on campus contributions, Environmental Council, internships and independent studies.
  • Information about the faculty/staff who are involved with the minor.
  • Clear trends and tracking of enrollment within the minor.

 

The Academic Program Review Committee recommends the following:

 

                       No serious areas to address – review in 7 years

                       Some areas to address – review in 7 years

  Some areas to address – department should submit short report on progress to Faculty  

                     Senate/Provost’s Office in 3 years