The University of Washington Board of Regents on Thursday voted unanimously to create a new College of the Environment. The regents showed strong...

Share story

The University of Washington Board of Regents on Thursday voted unanimously to create a new College of the Environment. The regents showed strong support for the idea, in the face of opposition from some state legislators and faculty over recent weeks.

But the vote creates little more than an empty shell at this point. It will be up to President Mark Emmert and Provost Phyllis Wise to persuade faculty from various schools and departments to join the new college. Wise has pledged that no departments will be forced to join against their will.

“I know it is a very odd way to go about creating a new college,” Emmert said at the meeting. “But the notion of a shell — and how do we fill it? — is going to be a fun intellectual puzzle.”

Wise said she’s heard recently from respected people at both extremes of the debate, and many are “incredibly passionate.”

This week, save 90% on digital access.

Under Wise’s plan, six academic units would move from other colleges into the new environment college. That would mean the new college would be jump-started with about 100 faculty members, more than 1,100 students and a budget of $60 million. The UW would seek extra money from the state — $6 million in the next two-year budget — as well as grants and donations, to hire 20 new faculty and 10 new staff members.

As part of the college, the UW will launch an environment institute in the fall, using a $1 million gift from an anonymous donor.

Faculty in four out of the six schools and departments that would form the new college, including the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and the Department of Earth and Space Sciences, have rejected the idea in advisory votes. Some are concerned part of their research wouldn’t fit within the mandate of the new college.

But Wise believes she can win enough support among faculty to begin classes in the new college in the fall of 2009. She said existing departments could continue offering a full range of degrees within the new college structure.

Regent Craig Cole said the issues facing the planet today aren’t easily resolved in the academic structure and silos created 50 years ago. He said that sometimes it takes more than just analysis to make decisions — it also takes courage.

“This idea is neither novel, nor is it risky. It’s overdue,” he said. Cole said the vote was one of the most important actions that regents would take in their tenure. It establishes the UW’s first new college since 2001.

Eight regents, including the student member of the board, supported the motion during a committee meeting. Regents Fred Kiga and Jeff Brotman did not attend that meeting, although Chairman Stan Barer said they also supported the idea of creating the new college. Kiga voted in favor of the idea at a later meeting.

Dave Brown, president of the graduate-student senate, said students overwhelmingly back the idea. “This is absolutely the question of our time,” he said.

Regent Herb Simon predicted some critics will “get on board.” He summed up the mood: “This is a great day.”

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.comt.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.