Professor of Natural Studies Nathaniel Wheelwright is leading the charge to add an environmental studies distribution requirement to the College’s academic regulation. Wheelwright has repeatedly raised the idea at several faculty meetings this year. 

“We aren’t fully educating our students,” said Wheelwright. “Climate change is primarily driven by pollution, but there are many different types of pollution. That’s missing from the conversation.” 

Wheelwright noted the large attendance at Tuesday’s “Reaching Day Zero: Living Sustainably at Bowdoin and Beyond” discussion that was led by faculty outside of the environmental studies and biology departments. He sees this as evidence that, “we’re entering a new phase where the seriousness of environmental problems is becoming apparent to everyone.”

“It’s going to take a heck of a lot more than recycling and biking to work—that’s what I was told when I was in college,” Wheelwright said. “It’s the same conversation we had.”

“We’re being too cautious, we need radical, bold thinking” he said. “A distribution requirement makes a statement about the College’s values—a statement of the values of higher educational institutions

“We’re losing the game to Middlebury, Oberlin, Unity,” Wheelwright said, referencing their movements to divest from fossil fuels—a movement he supports

Lightheartedly paraphrasing a colleague, Wheelwright romanced, “Bowdoin has a tradition of being a hotbed of social rest.

“Sometimes you need to shake things up. Bowdoin isn’t known to have a hard edge,” he said. 
Wheelwright stressed that the requirement would be in environmental studies and not environmental science, and the requirement would cover population growth, food development, species extinction, and other environmental issues. 

“The shared learning experience would create a conversation that we aren’t having now,” said Wheelwright. “If all students had exposure, we could make change.”

Regarding the informal reactions to the idea, Wheelwright regarded them as “more positive today than 10 years ago, or even six months ago.”

Dean of Academic Affairs Cristle Collins Judd explained that “the process for revising, altering, adding, or removing distribution requirements would first be a proposal to the CEP—Curriculum Educational Policy Committee.”

Judd explained that if the CEP were to look favorably upon the proposed requirement, it would then move on to be voted upon by the Bowdoin faculty.

“The CEP would try to look holistically at what [the] requirements are and how they fit together,” she said “How are we going to provide courses for them? What’s the philosophical reason for all of our students to do this as a requirement?” 

Judd explained that there is a rationale behind the current distribution requirements, and that each one has a symbolic relationship to “The Offer of the College” by William DeWitt Hyde. For example, the Exploring Social Differences requirment  relates to being “at home in all lands and ages,” and the first year seminars are the students’ “keys of the world’s library.”

Judd further explained that there are other logistical difficulties that could arise from a change in the distribution requirements.

If a new proposal does get approved in the near future, current Bowdoin students would not be affected, according to Judd.

“You entered under a contract,” she said. 

Implementing a new distribution requirement means developing and maintaining two sets of curricula simultaneously. 

 “While in principle, I am behind this, there are real logistical issues,” said Director of Environmental Studies John Lichter.

Lichter explained that the Environmental Studies department is already working at full capacity and it would be difficult to take on this requirement without recieving more resources. 

“We are having trouble meeting the demand as is,” explained Lichter. “We haven’t really had this discussion.”

Despite the logistical difficulties, Lichter said that the department will meet and consider the idea and discuss the idea’s feasibility.