Villanova Town Hall Calls For Sustainability

Peter Caffrey Staff Reporter

The town hall was composed of a panel made up of students, professors, faculty and administration. After, there was a Q and A portion. The goal was to discuss the need for sustainability on campus. Moreover, to ask the audience to sign a petition that urges sustainability to enter a great place of prominence, the University readies its new action plan for the coming decade. The panel’s proposal states, “sustainability must be woven into the fabric of our lives and thus our strategic plan.” 

On Friday afternoon, a panel of students, professors and faculty met for a town hall meeting to discuss the importance of climate change and why Villanova should be doing more to help the environment. Different panel members brought different expertise to the table: some shared experience, some shared research some shared data. The theme overall was how and why it is imperative that Villanova do more to address the threats and dangers of climate change: Encouraging students to sign a petition to have sustainably take a more significant role in the action plan.  

In 2007, University President Rev. Peter M. Donohue O.S.A, Ph.D. signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment which vows to be carbon neutral by 2050. Still, 14 years later, not a single light on this campus is powered by renewable energy according to the panel.

Dr. Jean Lutes of the English Department opened by saying that “my only qualification for being here is that I have seen the news” and she is not willing to “leave Evalyn [her daughter] a world less than the one I grew up in.” 

Dr. Amanda Grannas and her team of students and faculty are pioneering research in the field of snow and ice chemistry. She shared her findings from a research expedition to Barrow Alaska in 2009. Along with the impact on snow, she reports what the effects of climate change have had on the area. She also shared the human cost. In her field research, she worked and lived alongside the indigenous people in Alaska. Dr. Grannas shared that some “four million people live” in the arctic regions, and their lives are drastically changing as a result of climate change. So much so that the native people “can no longer read the ice.” Through her research, she calls for the need for better plans for sustainability.

Next, Dr. Samantha Chapman of the biology department shared her research with the audience. In one of the images of her research, she showed a picture of a swamp in northern Florida that has mangroves – a type of tree that grows in tropical climates out of the water. It should not be able to grow in a swamp in northern Florida; however, because of warmer waters, the swamp can now support these foreign trees.

From the University’s School of Business, Dr. Christopher Kilby stated that no faculty or course focuses solely on climate change. He advocated for campus change and offered suggestions regarding sustainability. According to Dr. Kilby, Villanova needs more majors, minors and programs funding student research in this area.

The final speaker was Todd Aagaard, a vice dean and professor at the law school. He discussed how laws regarding climate change and environmental sustainability are slow to change. Additionally, he added that Villanova does not just have to comply with sustainability, but has the opportunity to be a leader in this field.

The goal of the town hall was to urge students and the school community to have sustainability to take a more significant role in the school’s upcoming plans. The committee from the town hall has drafted a letter which was sent out Monday, January 28th. The letter also says that the carbon neutral date for the university should move to 2050 from 2030. 

Villanova University has a President’s Environmental Sustainability Committee as well as a Sustainability manager, Liesel Schwarz. There is also a sustainability newsletter. Its most recent issue only featured student profiles and sustainable job postings. According to the University, carbon emissions are down 8% since 2008. There is a minor in sustainability studies through the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences offers a Master of Science in Environmental Science, and the College of Engineering offers a Master of Science in Sustainable Engineering.

“The Villanova University Climate Action Plan: Executive Summary” offers locations for solar panel locations along with the costs of the projects. However, the plan does not give a timeline for when these projects will begin.