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reed magazine logoWinter 2008

Environmental Studies Comes to Reed

Environmental studies has been approved as a major by the Reed faculty, with formal adoption in December of a new interdisciplinary program. Two new faculty members will be hired—one in chemistry and one in political science; they will serve environmental studies and their own departments. The college also hopes to add faculty in biology and history in the long term.

Similar to Reed’s American studies and international and comparative policy studies majors, students will be able to choose a major in environmental studies (ES) grounded in one of the following disciplines: economics, political science, biology, or chemistry. Students will be required to fulfill the coursework (including qualifying exams) for their home department’s major, with electives, additional required coursework, and the thesis geared toward environmental studies.

Interest in environmental issues has been growing at Reed for many years. A 3-2 program (where students attend Reed for three years and another institution for two) in forestry/environmental management has been offered since the 1950s; the student group Green Board has been active since at least 1994; and an effort to restore the Reed canyon began in 2000 (including a canyon study funded by trustee Laurel Wilkening ’66 and financial support for restoration work from trustee John Gray, who received an honorary doctorate of humane letters from Reed in 2006).


Professor Robert Kaplan with his introductory biology class doing fieldwork in Reed Canyon


In the spring of 2006, biology major Monika Wieland ’07 (who is now doing fieldwork with orcas in Washington State’s San Juan Islands) circulated a petition for “the creation of an environmental studies/science program at Reed College.” Of the 215 students who signed the petition, nearly half indicated that they would consider majoring in ES.

“The environmental studies major taps into student enthusiasm and channels it into true academic interest,” says David Dalton, professor of biology and chair of the ad hoc committee that examined the issue. “Environmental studies takes a wide scope—livability, sustainability, quality of life—and requires cross-disciplinary approaches. Along with Reed’s approach to the major, the college’s place in the world—situated in Oregon’s great forests and mountains, with its geologic and biological diversity—makes it a great fit for such an offering.”

A faculty committee was created in 2002 to assess how environmental studies might fit into Reed’s curriculum, which emphasizes a rigorous academic program based in the traditional disciplines. The committee invited prominent speakers to campus, including Oregon State University marine biologist Jane Lubchenco, Stanford historian Richard White, and Buck Parker, executive director of Earthjustice, an environmental legal defense fund. Reed trustee Jeff Kenner, an avid outdoorsman and trustee of the Alaska Wilderness League, provided funding for these efforts. “Reed is ideally suited to have an environmental studies program because of its strength in science and the concern of its students,” Kenner says.

Dean of the Faculty Peter Steinberger summed up the faculty committee’s findings: “We learned that environmental studies is not a conceptually and theoretically united discipline in the traditional sense, but is nonetheless an important field of study focusing on a distinctive subject matter, namely, the interaction of human society and the physical world. In order to deal intelligently with that subject matter, you need two kinds of people—well-trained social scientists and humanists who know a lot about physical and life science, and well-trained scientists who know a lot about social scientific and humanistic modes of inquiry. Producing such individuals at the undergraduate level is the goal of the program and determines its structure.”

Trustee Randy Labbe, who grew up fly-fishing and supports the Nature Conservancy and the Pacific Crest Outward Bound School, among other environmental causes, has pledged to fund summer research, special lectures, and other enhancements to the program. “I can see Reed students being interns for innovative local environmental policy-makers,” says Labbe. For instance, students in a Natural Resource Economics class taught by Noelwah Netusil, Reed’s Stanley H. Cohn Professor of Economics, recently undertook a project for the Oregon Water Trust (Labbe is president of the Trust’s board). Labbe also hopes the program will draw students to environmental pursuits after graduation. “My middle son Jim [Labbe ’95] is very active in the environmental community,” says Labbe. “He works for the Audubon Society, and I see how Reed influenced his thinking and motives, so that was a stimulant for my gift as well.”

The college is currently seeking $5 million in funding for the two additional tenure-track faculty positions in chemistry and political science that will launch the program, which will be offered once funding is secured and the new hires are in place.

Alex Montgomery, a political scientist who served on the faculty committee, explains the relevance of his discipline to environmental studies this way: “Political science uniquely combines normative analysis—what should be done about the environment; theoretical analysis—what structures of power help cause environmental problems; empirical analysis—what ways of improving the environment are most effective; and policy analysis —how environmental policies can be implemented.”

Chemistry professor Arthur Glasfeld says: “By adding a position in environmental chemistry, we will be able to bring a trained scientist to Reed who can teach our students about the chemical issues that underlie practically every critical environmental issue: global warming, ozone depletion, air and water pollution, tainted consumer products. Reed students will learn rigorous scientific methods for detecting and identifying environmental contaminants, and they will learn how natural processes, such as nutrient cycles and transport mechanisms, shape a substance’s environmental impact.”

Centennial Challenge Update

The Centennial Challenge, launched in July, has generated new gifts from 300 first-time alumni and parent donors, and increased gifts from 700 alumni and parents.

Alumni Challenge Met

By the end of December 2007, qualifying alumni gifts triggered the full $100,000 matching gift offered by trustee Linda Hammill Matthews í67. Thank you for making the alumni Centennial Challenge a remarkable success!

Parent Challenge Continues

In fall 2007, Reedís Parent Council, a group of 45 parents of current and recently graduated Reed students, extended the Centennial Challenge to parents. As of December 31, 2007, more than 180 parents had responded to the challenge, making almost $50,000 in qualifying gifts. Parents still have the opportunity to take advantage of the challenge. For more information, please visit

reed magazine logoWinter 2008