New Environment And Society Institute Will Foster Cross-Disciplinary Ties

Release Date: January 26, 1998 This content is archived.


BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The University at Buffalo has created the Environment and Society Institute to serve as a university-wide vehicle for strengthening and promoting interdisciplinary, environmental research.

The institute will conduct selected, interdisciplinary, public-service projects addressing important environmental issues in Western New York; boost support for graduate students in departments engaged in environmental research, and strengthen communications among faculty and students involved in environmental research at UB and at other institutions and organizations.

A national panel of evaluators last fall reviewed and strongly supported the proposal to establish the institute, which was developed by a steering committee of 12 UB faculty members. It was approved in December by Provost Thomas E. Headrick.

"The Institute will provide a cohesive base for faculty drawn from at least five schools or faculties to collaborate on research and graduate education in the environmental field, and to advance UB's extensive but uncoordinated efforts in this field for greater regional impact and national prominence," Headrick said.

"As provost, I recognize the importance of supporting the interdisciplinary initiative of faculty through a start-up period, even though the resources available for this support are extremely scarce."

The institute will report to David Triggle, Ph.D., vice provost for graduate education and dean of the Graduate School.

Approximately 100 UB faculty members have been identified as having expertise in some area of the environment.

At the same time, according to the steering committee, UB's geographic location near the Great Lakes and the industrial areas that have developed along their shores puts it in a unique position to make significant contributions to environmental research.

"UB clearly has the potential to be one of the top universities in New York State with respect to the environment," said Errol Meidinger, J.D., Ph.D., professor of law and chair of the

steering committee, who has been named the institute's first director.

"Not enough interdisciplinary environmental research gets done at UB because of the traditional boundaries that exist between departments and because of the difficulties involved in producing major proposals," he said.

"The belief of the steering committee is that there is a lot of untapped potential in environmental research at UB and the institute is designed to catalyze that potential."

Between the university's programs in fundamental science and social sciences and its professional schools in law, medicine, engineering, and architecture and planning, UB's overall strengths in many areas are unmatched in the State University of New York system, he added.

A critical focus for the institute will be the development of the Environmental Management Alternatives Program (EMAP), which will provide a means of integrating knowledge from numerous disciplines and from various stakeholders -- both inside and outside the university -- and bring it to bear on specific problems in the region.

EMAP will look at local and regional environmental problems from alternative perspectives, and use the independent research and analytic expertise of the university to define potential solutions and their likely technical and social impacts.

The types of issues likely to be addressed through EMAP include those that have significant scientific or analytic components that can be tested, such as the Town of Amherst's deer problem or redevelopment of brownfields in Buffalo.

In its first year, the institute will select two issues to address by providing modest funding and by convening working groups with academic and policymaking components. The groups will gather as much relevant information as possible, define and evaluate alternatives and attempt to reach consensus on appropriate solutions.

The steering committee hopes to begin considering proposals from faculty in February.

Planning for the institute began more than two years ago, under the guidance of Ralph Rumer, emeritus professor of civil, structural and environmental engineering, and former director of the New York State Center for Hazardous Waste Management.

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