Stanford Faculty Supports Proposals for New Climate & Sustainability School

Stanford faculties assembled over the weekend to discuss the new climate and sustainability-focused school. The six-hour discussion included 20 proposals for new school-related challenges, such as the disciplines that should be included and whether the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy should be incorporated into the school.

According to Erudera.com, following the Long-Range Vision proposals that elaborated the University’s contribution to research, education, and impact on climate and sustainability, University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne announced the new school back in May 2020.

“I’m so grateful for the time faculty spent carefully considering these proposals,” said Kathryn Moler, vice provost and dean of research, who is leading the effort to create the school in collaboration with the dean of the School of Earth Sciences, Stephan Graham.

The event used Deliberative Polling, a method developed in 1988 by James Fishkin, professor of communication, to gather informed opinions from a representative sample of people.

Before the event, the respondents read briefing materials on the subject and then filled out a survey that determines their support level for the initiative. Participants were asked to respond to the same questionnaire after discussing in a group, and two-panel experts answered their questions.

Many of the dialogues were energetic, and the issues contested. But most of the proposals came out with very strong support after all the counter-arguments were considered and all the questions from the small groups were answered,” Fishkin said.

Professor Fishkin and Alice Siu, associate Director of the CCD, published a detailed report with the event’s findings. They divided each question’s responses into those from affected faculty – people in departments related to climate and sustainability – and unaffected faculty. They observed how opinions differed before and after deliberation.

Fishkin clarified that even if opinions remained the same, the second answer is a considered judgment informed by discussion.

Survey results represent the proposals and levels of agreement on a scale of zero to ten, where ten stands for strong support. Recommendations that scored the highest on the second survey included questions about whether the school should consist of faculty members whose research focuses on climate science (9.5) and energy (9.2) and if the school should contain shared resources disposable for the Stanford community (9.1).

According to the survey’s findings, participants have shown great support for Stanford administration accommodating faculty members who decide to join the new school (8.5) and the faculty who become part of the new school being involved in completing the structure (8.4).

Although all proposals had scored over 6.5, some generated significant debate in the small group discussions. The recommendations discussed most were whether Stanford should emerge from the transition with seven schools, in which case a participant said that Stanford needed to add the 8th school.

Another added that the new school’s topics could easily be found in other schools, so there is no need for an 8th one. The third responded that it doesn’t make sense to have this many schools.

Following the Deliberative Polling event, Moler and Graham have attained town halls with faculty and staff. They are planning to expand town halls and a Deliberative Polling event with students in the coming weeks. They expect the new school to open after a dean is appointed and begin offering some classes in 2021-22.

The first country in the world that offers a climate study degree is Australia, by Bond University’s law school that offered its first undergraduate degree in climate law in 2020. The University foresaw a significant increase in compensation claims, class actions as well as issues related to human rights as a result of changes in weather.

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