The upcoming years are pivotal for Willamette to secure its future as a viable institution. One of the changes that is being implemented is the addition of more minors. This is a relatively easy and cost-effective way for the University to deal with the plethora of challenges, like budget cuts, it has faced in recent years.
Sustainability is the newest minor to be established in the College of Liberal Arts (CLA). Classes within the minor are offered from seven departments and both graduate schools. There are four fields: natural systems, economic and social sustainability, equity and community and graduate school offerings. Students must take five credits with classes in at least three of the four fields. No more than two classes can be taken within a single department.
Credited CLA classes come from the environmental science, economics, biology and communications and mass media departments, as well as classes that fall under the umbrella of interdisciplinary studies. Both the Atkinson School of Management and the College of Law offer credits for the sustainability minor. Although information about the minor is currently available on WU’s website, it will not be included in course catalogues until fall 2019.
Efforts to make the sustainability minor have been ongoing since 2004, and the latest inception of the program was discussed in fall 2017, according to environmental science professor Joe Bowersox. There will likely be changes to the program moving forward, as more classes will likely be added.
The biggest challenge when creating the minor was addressing the role of the graduate schools. Since the calendars between the graduate schools and the CLA differ, it poses a challenge for programs like the sustainability minor, which has classes in both. The University is currently discussing the option of implementing a common calendar among the three schools.
Being a liberal arts school lends itself to the creation of minors like this. Classes have a more interdisciplinary focus than non-liberal arts institutions, which Willamette boasts about on its website, saying, “Our commonwealth of learning includes nearly 50 academic programs with ample opportunities for interdisciplinary study. Rather than limit our students’ education to a specific major, we encourage them to actively engage in a wide range of conversations about everything from sustainability to social justice.”
Many classes have overlapping themes which offer different aspects and challenges of the same topic. When combined into one program, it offers students a more holistic view of different issues, in this case sustainability. For example, an environmentalist may have one understanding of how feasible sustainable practices are, but an economist may have a different perspective. Having minors like this creates better informed students upon graduation, which make for better workers when joining the workforce.
It is hard for Willamette to compete with large schools in terms of major and minor offerings, since its small size makes it harder to offer specific programs. However, adding minors for classes that are already offered showcases more options for studies to prospective students.
While budget cuts have been plaguing WU, like many other small liberal arts colleges, adding minors from existing classes is a way to make better use of limited resources. Besides the time spent initially organizing the minor, there will be minimal additional work for the University faculty and staff.
Further, the sustainability minor’s involvement with the graduate schools is a way for CLA students to engage with the other schools. Currently, the divide of Winter Street is a physical and mental barrier that separates the graduate and undergraduate parts of the University. The minor’s requirement for graduate classes allows greater integration among the different parts of the University.
The University would benefit from adding new minors for classes with overlapping topics that already exist. Additions like this will improve the longevity of the University, and the creation of the sustainability major is a step in the right direction.