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Student senate passes undergraduate sustainability requirement

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The ASUW Student Senate dedicated much of its Tuesday meeting to amending a long-overdue bill updating its rules, which hadn’t been changed since 2014 and didn’t reflect many current procedures followed in the senate. However, the most impactful piece of legislation to come out of the meeting during its second half was R-25-27: A Resolution Supporting Consideration of an Undergraduate Sustainability Requirement.

R-25-27 has been in the works since the end of February and is one of the most extensively researched bills to come out of the senate in recent weeks. The bill calls for a “sustainability credit” requirement for undergraduate students, which would expand upon the current “Areas of Knowledge” categories for general education credits including Natural World (NW), Individuals & Societies (I&S) and Diversity (DIV).

The bill even suggests making sustainability courses compatible with existing Areas of Knowledge credits to avoid increasing the total number of credits required for graduation.

The process of creating this system, the bill says, would hardly disrupt the UW’s current framework for distributing credit requirements; on the contrary, the bill argues that a sustainability credit would make coursework more consistent with the UW’s educational values.

The theme of sustainability permeates nearly all of the university’s policies and mission statements –– from its annual strategic action plans to an entire website devoted to keeping track of campus sustainability initiatives. Furthermore, the website’s sustainability timeline reveals a history of environmental education at the university going back to the 1890s.

Today, sustainability continues to have a ubiquitous presence at the UW. For one, there are at least 40 active environmental RSOs on campus. As for coursework, the bill claims that the UW has offered 961 “sustainability courses” and 2,338 courses that “include sustainability” over the last three years, and that over half of the total 448 academic departments on campus offer sustainability courses.

Based on these statistics, R-25-27’s sponsors believe that the UW already has more than enough resources to establish a sustainability credit requirement.

Additionally, a sustainability credit wouldn’t just make the UW’s academic programs internally consistent with the university’s goals, but also strengthen the university’s position as a leader in sustainability among higher education institutions worldwide.

The UW ranks fifth on a list of the greenest universities in North America, according to the Association for The Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The university’s sustainability efforts also rank in the top 10% of universities internationally. The bill also notes that many of the UW’s peer institutions have already adopted sustainability requirements, which means that having a sustainability credit is not without precedent.

During the senate’s debate on R-25-27, although virtually all senators supported the bill on an ideological level, some raised practical concerns with its implementation. One senator in particular questioned how it would affect coursework related to students’ majors and whether the bill would add to the core credits they must satisfy to graduate.

A sponsor for the bill admitted that there is “no clear answer” as to the extent to which students’ major requirements will be affected. While she expressed hope that students’ previously-satisfied credits could count toward their ongoing progress for the sustainability requirement, she conceded that it “won’t work out perfectly for everyone.”

Regardless, the bill received enough support within the senate for it to pass 56-6, a culmination of nearly two months of effort spent developing it.

However, the passage of R-25-27 is still an early step in the sponsors’ sustainability agenda. According to Jacob Slater, the chair of the senate’s committee on resolution follow-up, subsequent senate meetings will address future plans and potential legislation to supplement the objectives laid out by this bill. Slater later said the bill’s sponsors are working to establish an RSO based on their goals to expand sustainability education for undergraduates.

The ASUW Student Senate meets every Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. in Guggenheim 220.

Reach senate reporter Tejus Krishnan at Twitter: @tejusk100

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