Thursday 17th April 2014,
The Transcript

“Tent City” demonstrates sustainability concerns

Spenser Hickey October 23, 2013 News No Comments

By Spenser Hickey and Breanne Reilly

News Editor and Transcript Correspondent

A student signs the petition for a new sustainability coordinator
By Spenser Hickey

 

 

Tent City demonstrators hold signs along the JAY walk By Spenser Hickey

Tent City demonstrators hold signs along the JAY walk
By Spenser Hickey

“It’s like a two-year-old putting on clown shoes.”

That’s senior Erika Kazi’s view on the effectiveness of the university’s current system of handling sustainability efforts; Kazi is one of two composting interns now working with concerned students and the Presidential Task Force on Campus Sustainability to carry out such efforts.

According to Professor Tom Wolber, current chair of the sustainability task force, its membership – comprised of faculty, students and staff – has not been decided yet, and they have yet to hold a meeting.

“The problem is that faculty, staff and students come and go and that we don’t know yet for sure who the representatives of the various campus entities will be for this academic year,” Wolber said in an email.

Professor Shari Stone-Mediatore, former chair of the task force, said that the university had made “some important advances in sustainability” including hiring Peter Schantz, the new director of Buildings and Grounds, who will also work to increase energy efficiency on campus.

These efforts were previously handled in part by sustainability coordinator Sean Kinghorn, who worked for the University from March 2011 to June 2013; his salary was paid for by a state grant on energy and conversation.

After the grant funds ran out, university administrators decided to rely on currently employed personnel and two student interns, rather than create a permanent coordinator position and allocate a salary for Kinghorn.

University President Rock Jones said that the Board of Trustees looks to the administration to prepare a budget for review, and so the Board had not taken a position on adding a new position at this time.

“Rather, the Board directed the administration to consider all possible avenues for addressing sustainability on campus as it develops budget models for the future, and to include in future budget reports to the Board an update on sustainability on campus,” Jones said.

Dissatisfied by the lack of a permanent coordinator, senior Karli Amstadt and sophomore Ellen Hughes led a protest last Thursday through Saturday, camping on the Corns lawn with Kazi and a number of other students.

University officials, including President Rock Jones and numerous trustees, said they were impressed by the students’ efforts and are interested in improving sustainability as the budget allows.

The Numbers Debate

While both the student demonstrators and members of the Board of Trustees said they valued improving the university’s sustainability efforts, the central matter they disagreed on was how the position could be funded.

President Jones said that the position could be funded with another grant or by reallocating university resources, but at the cost of defunding another existing staff position.

“We will explore all possibilities for advancing the sustainability agenda in the most robust way possible,” Jones said via email.

Gene Castelli, Senior Director of Dining Services, said he thinks someone from Buildings and Grounds should have responsibility over sustainability efforts so they can better communicate with the companies that handle composting. Castelli served on the sustainability task force last year and manages the two composting interns paid through Chartwells.

“Every small step gets you closer to the end of the journey,” he said. “So to that end we’re going to keep doing the small steps, we’re going to keep composting.”

Shari Stone-Mediatore, the former task force leader, said many members of the task force regret that the university doesn’t have the funds for a permanent coordinator.

“We believe that, if funds can be found to support the position, the position would be well worth the investment,” she said.

She listed advantages of it as including supporting and overseeing student-initiated projects, allow for visible sustainability activity to attract prospective students and allow for theory-practice grants on sustainability.

Cathleen Butt, ‘91, an Alumni Association representative on the Board of Trustees, said that while sustainability is important, funding and the university’s budget are the issue.

“Unfortunately, there are a lot of different demands for money, and that’s the reason we have committees, to work out budget issues like that,” said West Ohio Area trustee Robert Roach, ‘68. “It’s a tough issue, but I feel that we’ll address it. I’m just not sure how it’s going to be done.”

Roach said that the issue would be addressed by the Board’s Finance and Operations Committee.

Former trustee Katherine Comer, ‘76, agreed, saying that the issue is with funding and dividing available money between good causes and determining their priority.

Non-voting life trustee George Conrades, ‘61, said that he wasn’t sure that it would be an expensive endeavor to have a sustainability coordinator and unpaid student assistants.

“I think that’s the most powerful model of all, have someone to coordinate but instead of staff use students, cause then you’ll all learn more,” Conrades told the demonstrators.

Vice President for Finance and Administration Dan Hitchell said the sustainability coordinator position came up “quite often” during Trustee meetings throughout the week.

Hitchell, also treasurer for the Board, said that reinstating it did not come up during conversations he was in, but that he was not present for all conversations.

For the demonstrators, the financial issue was very clear – hiring a sustainability coordinator would save the university money in the long run.

As proof, they point to Kinghorn’s projected ten-year report, which detailed how the university’s costs on energy and waste disposal services, among other expenditures, would be reduced by sustainability efforts.

The projected savings totaled $1,633,430, not counting a planned program in Gordon Field House that was not implemented. After subtracting Kinghorn’s $60,000 per year salary, the protesters argued, the university would save around a million dollars or more.

“He saved the University more than he’s salaried, yeah, that’s absolutely correct,” senior Karli Amstadt said. “…(The 10-year projection is) just from the savings he generated in his first two years here, so if he was actually here getting more annual savings that number would be even higher.”

“I just think that there’s no counter argument,” said sophomore Ellen Hughes. “…There’s no way you can disagree with that, you know, those are the numbers and those are the facts and that would save the university a million dollars in ten years…It just doesn’t make sense, with all the great stuff that Sean Kinghorn did for us and all the money he saved and just how inspiring he was to students…it’s just really disappointing that he’s no longer here.”

She said that it would have cost the university money at first, like anything business-related, but would soon lead to savings.

“The thing about a green program, like composting for example, that costs money to start, but think about how much waste we’ve reduced already by having it,” Hughes said.

Amstadt, too, used the compost program in particular as an example of a green program that could save money.

“As far as the composting program, it can save the university money because we pay for trash pickup by weight, whereas our compost pickup is free,” Amstadt said. “If we had 100 percent compost that would be optimal.”

Jones said in an email that he was reviewing the data on projected savings, and that it will inform his thinking about the issue.

He also said the students “are articulate in making the case for these causes, and they are very good at gathering data to support the case.”

However, he also said that that he believes existing staff members can achieve the cost reductions Kinghorn was projected to.

“It is not accurate to say that these savings cannot be achieved without a sustainability coordinator,” Jones said in an email.

Amstadt, however, was skeptical that the savings could be maintained without a permanent coordinator.

“Sean invested so much time writing grants for programs, executing programs, and some things, like May Move-Out are simply not possible without a permanent sustainability coordinator,” she said in an email.

“Giving more faculty and staff members who are already extremely busy more responsibilities is not the answer and is not a sustainable model,” Amstadt added. “It is an issue of time, coordinating all of the sustainability work on campus is a full time job-if it wasn’t there wouldn’t be so many other GLCA colleges with a sustainability coordinator… If the administration does not see the necessity of a permanent sustainability coordinator then they need a wake up call because the facts support us.”

[Do you think putting this much of Amstadt’s quotes skews the section too far in her favor? I don’t want to over-represent her side, and there are a lot more critical things in the email that I didn’t include for that reason, like that the idea is “frankly ridiculous” and anyone who believes it is “living in fantasy land”.]

Standing in Solidarity for Sustainability

The high point of Amstadt and Hughes’ demonstration was their ‘stand of solidarity’, which they used to bring the issue to the Board’s attention.

While the trustees ate dinner in the Benes rooms Thursday night, the students gathered in a circle outside the window and held signs, first sitting and then standing to be more visible.

“I think it was by far the best event we planned,” Hughes said in an email.

She added that the event “brought the subject of sustainability to the forefront of their minds” and that this was the ultimate goal.

“(T)hey could not ignore us so our voices were heard but it was also respectful,” Amstadt said. “Many trustee members came out to talk to us so it also opened up the doors of communication between students and trustees.”

Their signs contained messages such as ‘Sustain OWU’, ‘Let’s not fall behind’ and ‘62 percent of prospective students consider sustainability.’

It wasn’t long into the stand before members of the board came out to talk to the students, voicing respect for their efforts and listening to the concerns.

“I wanted to commend you, actually, for your activism and the manner in which you’re doing it,” Chairperson of the Board Michael Long told them when he came out to address them.

“You’ve gotten the trustees’ attention, you’ve gotten my attention,” he said. “ We understand your cause and you’ve got some empathy on the Board for your cause. And Rock Jones is working on these issues, as you probably already know.”

Daniel Glaser, a trustee-at-large, joined the protesters for a photo. He said that his daughter, a senior in high school, was very interested in sustainability and he hoped seeing the event would persuade her to apply.

Glaser said that concerns over sustainability are taking place worldwide, so he wasn’t surprised by the demonstration.

“I actually find it encouraging, I certainly believe student activism is a positive rather than a negative,” he said. “…At the end of the day, do people have to be engaged with taking steps to make a more sustainable planet? Absolutely, and we have to do that not just as a school but in our home lives as well, you know, so ultimately I think it’s an issue for every citizen of the world.”

Trustee Chloe Williams, ‘11 and a representative of the Alumni Association, said she thought having a forum like this was “the coolest thing about OWU.”

“Students are so engaged and standing up for something they believe in,” she said.

Williams said that the university had taken a lot of important steps on sustainability recently and that was to be commended, but didn’t have a comment on she thought the protesters would consider the loss of the position a step back, as she was still learning about the issue on campus.

Freshman Haven Wallace, one of the protesters taking part in the stand of solidarity, said she was “definitely surprised” by the administration and trustees’ response.

“A lot of members were very supportive of our efforts and even came out to shake our hands and thank us for what we were doing,” Wallace said in an email. “I assumed there would be more tension and resistance.”

Senior Ashley Taylor, a protester, treasurer of Environmental and Wildlife Club and Tree House resident, said she thought the reactions were “super positive.”

“Protests don’t have to be violent or obnoxious to have our message be heard,” she said.

Freshman Reizo Prakash said the trustees were open to discussion and asked their own questions.

“(T)hey ensured that everyone knew what they were talking about and actually wanted it,” he said in an email.

Some protesters had initially worried the stand of solidarity would be seen as disrespectful by the trustees, but Chairperson Long assured them it was not.

“You’re not being disrespectful,” he told them. “You’re students and you’re trying to advocate a cause and there’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing.”

‘Tent City’

While it may have been the most noticeable part of the overall protest to the trustees, the stand of solidarity was only one part of the events.

They began at 7:30 that morning, setting up tents on the lawn between the Corns building and Beeghly library; and they slept there Thursday and Friday nights before taking them down Saturday after the Trustees left.

“I think (camping out overnight) makes a bigger impact,” Hughes said. She said that they weren’t sure they’d be able to sleep there overnight and considered staying there during the day, leaving at night, and coming back the next day at first.

Amstadt said she got the idea to sleep out in tents while reading old yearbooks in the library one night and read about a similar event aimed at persuading the trustees to divest funds from business operating in South Africa due to apartheid in the 1980s.

“Students did the same thing and students successfully won over the university so there’s no reason why we can’t do it again,” she said.

She added that she hoped the tents would show the trustees their strength in numbers.

“We’re hoping a lot of people will turn out, and I think it shows what a priority it is, that we have the commitment to put this whole protest together and stay out overnight,” Amstadt said. “I think that shows a lot of commitment to the issue and shows that’s it’s top on the students’ priority list.”

Senior Erika Kazi, E&W president  and Tree House resident, also said that students at other colleges had held similar events to put pressure on their administrations to create a sustainability coordinator position.

“The schools always respond really well, but the other schools have implemented full-time staff members,” she said.

Kazi and Amstadt started planning the event in the spring and then Hughes got involved during the summer.

“The idea started floating around last spring, but we decided that the timing wasn’t right,” Amstadt said. “So we tried to approach the issue by being more cooperative with the administration back then, but after those efforts seem to have failed and sustainability continues to be on the backburner, we decided it’s time to take more direct action.”

President Jones said that he was “impressed” by the students’ initiative and their positive expression of their convictions.

“Our students are passionate and committed to important causes that matter to them and that matter to our campus and to the larger world,” he said in an email. “…We need more civil dialogue about issues that matter greatly, and our students have offered a wonderful example of how to initiate such civil dialogue. I commend the leaders of this effort and all who participated in it.”

The ‘tent city’ aspect of the protest also attracted attention from trustees and students, as many came over to find out what was going on.

Thomas Tritton, ‘69, an at-large trustee and Vice Chair of the Board, was one of those trustees who came over to learn more, as was former trustee Kathy Comer.

Comer said she’d been unfamiliar with the issue, having missed the trustee’s May meeting, but thought the campout was a good start.

“Homecoming weekend and Trustee weekend is a great time to do it,” she said.

Tritton spoke to the students and said that “sustainability is an issue on a lot of college campuses, even for prospective students visiting (there).”

The Princeton Review’s 2012 survey on college admissions found that 62 percent of prospective students considered a school’s environmental commitment to some degree in their decision to apply; this finding was the basis of the protesters’ ‘62 percent’ sign.

In addition to and during their camp out, the protesters also gathered signatures on a petition in support of a permanent sustainability coordinator.

“(The petition) was a great idea to show that we have a lot of student interest in this even though we might not have as many (students camping out),” Hughes said.

They began circulating the petition two weeks before the demonstration began and gathered 300 signatures in the first 24 hours, according to Kazi.

By the time they presented the petition to President Jones outside the camp around 4 p.m. Thursday they had more than 900 signatures, just under half the student population.

Not all signers were students, though – life trustee Andres Duarte, ‘65, signed the petition after visiting the tents and talking to protesters.

Amstadt said before ‘Tent City’ began that their goal was to get 1,000 signatures but she didn’t know if they’d meet it.

When asked afterward if the petitioning worked well, Hughes replied “yes and no.”

“I think it would’ve gone better if we had had more time, but we got over 900 signatures in 2 weeks, so I’d say it was pretty well circulated.”

They will have time to gather more signatures, though – after reviewing the petition Thursday, President Jones returned it for them to continue circulating and gathering more support.

Freshman Miranda Wilde signed the petition in Welch as members of the protest went door to door seeking signatures.

She said she hadn’t heard about the petition beforehand but decided to sign because she liked the steps that Kinghorn had put in place and wanted them to continue.

‘A Bandage on the Situation’

During his two years at Ohio Wesleyan, Sean Kinghorn accomplished a number of successful green projects, according to many of the protesters.

Erika Kazi worked as a StAP (Student Assistantship Program) intern with Kinghorn last year and worked with him on a number of projects, including starting the composting program, OWU free store, ‘Green Week’, recycling and lighting surveys and installation of more-energy efficient lights around campus.

In addition to having Kazi as a StAP intern, Kinghorn also worked with two recycling interns, Sarah Alexander and Reed Callahan, both graduates.

The three intern positions also lost funding after the grant ran out and are no longer active, leaving only the two composting interns and the sustainability task force.

Amstadt also listed the hydration stations in Hamilton-Williams Campus Center, expanded recycling, installation of water-efficient toilets, and the controversial low-flow showerheads, which she said saved the university $75,000.

“You have to determine if it’s worth it, and I think the answer is yes,” she said.

Hughes said that in addition to his work spearheading projects around campus, Kinghorn was also “a great mentor” who listened to student’s ideas and helped act on them, and its hard now without someone filling that role full-time.

She said she wasn’t involved in these efforts as much as she wishes she was last year as a freshman.

“He (Kinghorn) did some great stuff and he started some awesome programs,” she said.

Amstadt and Kazi both echoed Hughes, saying Kinghorn had helped in classes as well.

“(He) worked with a lot of students on projects related to their classwork,” Amstadt said.

“He was a mentor,” Kazi said. “In my environmental geography class, he came in and he helped every single student – there was a class of like ten students – he helped every single student on their project that was designated to help make this campus more sustainable.”

She added that he also worked with all the Tree House projects and other SLU house projects focused on sustainable efforts and helped WCSA and the Service Learning Office in other efforts.

“He was a huge advocate of sustainability being more than just the techno-buzz of building, you know, a green building,” Kazi said. “…It’s more than just that, it’s about creating a community and educating people through conversation and through experience and through digging through compost together.”

Senior Ashley Taylor, a protester, E&W treasurer and Tree House resident, said that the coordinator position also “becomes the connection that students and faculty need to promote and actually make sustainable projects a reality.”

Kinghorn now works as a sustainability coordinator at Otterbein University. Despite this, the protesters still said that sustainability is an important thing to strive for, both in college and in the world.

“To me, and I feel like to a lot of other students and faculty, the position is the number one priority at this point,” Hughes said.

She said that in the absence of a full-time coordinator, many of the responsibilities were delegated to other personnel to balance with their official role.

Kazi said that not even 20 faculty, staff or students, handling sustainability efforts part-time in addition to full-time work, could fill Kinghorn’s role.

Amstadt said that the current group of students and staff are doing the best they can but are fighting an uphill battle.

“Does it make up for the loss of the position?” she asked. “Of course not and we never thought it would, but we’re just trying to basically put a bandage on the situation, (and) hope things will change for the future.”

‘You Have Not Seen the Last of Us’

Both Amstadt and Hughes said they considered the event a success at achieving awareness, but Amstadt said getting a coordinator would be a more long-term process.

“It will only be announced if they decide to get a sustainability coordinator position, which could be written into the budget in spring,” Amstadt said. “If they do not they will not announce it they will simply ignore the fact, that is why we have to hold the university accountable.”

She said that while the event started a conversation she is focused on results, and the result they want is the creation of a permanent sustainability coordinator.

“I am very pleased with how the protest went, in fact it couldn’t have gone much better, but I do not think we should start celebrating victories we haven’t achieved yet,” Amstadt said in an email.

Hughes said the sooner the position was written into the budget the better, but she didn’t know when that would be.

She said the protest still had the impact they wanted it to, showing that students consider sustainability a priority.

“The Board members were wonderfully impressed and told us how supportive they were of our efforts,” she said. “I don’t think that the Board of Trustees knew how much sustainability meant to the students of this school until now.”

Amstadt and Hughes also said that the event attracted increased numbers of student support. During the stand of solidarity, several students who were holding up signs had not been active in the events beforehand.

Freshman Reizo Prakash was one of those who joined in for the stand.

“I was returning to my dorm, eating dinner on the way when I saw the event,” he said in an email.

Prakash added that he decided to join because the university needs a coordinator to spread awareness and be a resource for information and management; he joined the campers after the stand of solidarity and slept there both nights.

Hughes said she was “totally swept away” by the amount of student involvement in the event.

“It was awesome because we actually recruited a few students who didn’t know about the sustainability coordinator before Tent City,” she said.

She said the tents were “a great visual message” because they got the attention of students walking by on the JAYwalk.

“Many students were unaware of how much money the position saves the school, what an asset he was for student’s academic pursuits, and the fact that an overwhelming number of GLCA schools have this position,” Amstadt added. “I would say it was extremely well received.”

Hughes said that she thought it would be better to work with the administration now that the event had raised awareness of the issue and the level of student support.

“They were fairly accommodating throughout the Tent City planning process and I think that they are feeling more pressure to improve our school’s sustainability efforts,” she said. “That said, if no progress is made whatsoever for this issue, I’m sure more direct action will be taken.”

Amstadt, however, was more insistent on keeping the possibility of direct action open. “(T)his is our university and as students we should have a voice,” she said in an email. “If we continue to be ignored then we have no choice but to take direct action. As soon as we take pressure off the university, the issue will fall into oblivion.”

She said they were still determining action moving forward.

“I can guarantee that you have not seen the last of us,” she said. “We won’t stop until we have a full time permanent sustainability coordinator and we will not settle for anything less.”

Hughes said that she, Amstadt and Kazi were heading up the protest but weren’t the only ones who wanted it to happen, and so Amstadt and Kazi’s graduation at the end of the academic year would not diminish efforts for “a greener and more sustainable school.”

“I’ll just say that we have plans to continue this if it doesn’t work, but again, I’m optimistic that it will,” she said.

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