Faculty Senate Calls for University to Seek 'Climate Neutrality'

March 12, 2008 — The Faculty Senate on Tuesday approved a resolution outlining several steps the University should take to address climate change.

Presented by Senators Malcolm Bell, an art history professor, and William Keene, a research professor in environmental sciences, the resolution – approved by a 27-5 vote — outlines five steps it says would enable the University to lead by example, educate students and demonstrate to the community "an affirmative response to broad scientific consensus."

The resolution calls on the president and the Board of Visitors to "issue a strong public statement that recognizes the gravity of the present situation"; lay out a vision of moving the University to "climate neutrality"; establish specific goals, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent over the next 10 years; and allocate resources to meet its goals.

The second step would entail creating a detailed energy audit and an inventory of greenhouse gases to create a baseline for measuring future progress, and the third step would be to implementing recommendations from the sustainability assessment of 2006, such as reducing energy use by turning off lights and curtailing thermostats.

The fourth step would be to appoint "a single, high-profile individual" to oversee and coordinate conservation initiatives and to commit more resources to them.

The resolution also requests the University consider signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.

In presenting the resolution, Keene cited a recent United Nations study on climate change and said the major impacts of global warming will be borne by the next generation. He suggested the University should create a "climate of conservation," and that the resolution was the faculty voice on the issue and not an effort to micromanage the University's energy policy.

Bell, in his presentation, praised the University's efforts in conservation so far, mentioned many of the people with whom he had talked about the University's energy use, and said the resolution was a "bottom-up proposal."

U.Va. has thus far declined to sign the ACUPCC commitment. University President John T. Casteen III said Tuesday that the document includes no definition of "climate neutrality"; and that there are legal issues surrounding signing it. He further added that carbon emissions are a federal responsibility, and said the text of the document is continually evolving; the current iteration calls for "climate neutrality" to be completely integrated into the curriculum.  [For the University of Virginia’s statement on sustainability in response to the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, go to http://www.virginia.edu/president/spch/07/sustainability.html]

Cheryl Gomez, the University's director of energy and utilities, said she is considering a plan to restructure some of her department's energy conservation jobs. She also highlighted the University's conservation successes to date, including holding energy use to 1990s levels despite adding 3.5 million square feet of space.

"By holding energy usage to 1990s levels, we saved 115 million kilowatt hours, which would have produced an additional 70,000 tons of carbon emissions," she said.

While reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 3 percent per year is "a noble goal," she said it would be difficult to do while the University is expanding.

She also said the University is recycling approximately 40 percent of its trash now, and she wants it to be at 50 percent within five years.

In its efforts to save energy, the University has upgraded its heating plant, adopted Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards for all new construction, begun replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, installed motion detector light switches, increased the efficiency of its heating and cooling operations and reduced water usage.

The senators also heard a report from Jennifer Harvey, chairwoman of the Senate's Faculty Recruitment, Retention and Welfare Committee, on a survey sent last year to 3,447 faculty members. Harvey said that 2,086 — 61 percent — responded.

Of the respondents, 77.7 percent agreed U.Va. is "collegial," though faculty members want more diversity and more transparent leadership.. The report recommends leadership training for deans and chairs, more feedback to deans and chairs about their leadership and faculty review by department chairs. 

The Charlottesville area is a strong draw for faculty, though faculty expressed some concern about housing prices. They also would like to see improved rail service linking Charlottesville to larger population centers.

Transparent administrative polices topped the faculty's list of priorities, and the report recommended more faculty involvement in decision making, faculty review of financial plans and clearly written policies on leave, salary and sabbatical. The highest research priorities were more support for graduate students and increased funding for travel and conferences, as well as additional resources for teacher and course development.

Faculty members reported satisfaction with their retirement programs, but also want increased dental and eye care benefits. The report recommends increased salaries, improved benefits and more child care facilities.

Faculty members were also concerned about parking and wellness benefits. The report recommended eliminating or subsidizing parking fees, or at a minimum scaling parking fees to salary.

"Parking is a huge issue," said one committee member. "Everybody is mad."

Some faculty members said they feel uncomfortable using the same exercise facilities as students. The report suggested a separate facility or specific hours for faculty, or making arrangements for faculty to use other facilities in the community.

According to the survey, assistant professors place more priority on housing costs, child care availability, proximity to metropolitan areas and support for teaching assistants. Senior faculty members are more concerned about graduate student support.

The survey report also recommends creation of a housing allowance or purchasing partnerships and a tuition benefit for faculty dependents.

Harvey said members of the general faculty evidenced less satisfaction, feeling they have fewer privileges and are held in lower regard than tenured/tenure-track faculty. The report suggests written administrative policies for general faculty outlining a performance review process, promotion criteria and an expectation of continued employment.

Harvey said that men are more satisfied with the University's diversity, mentoring, support for academic priorities and fairness than are women. Minorities are less satisfied with U.Va.'s diversity and non-discrimination practices. The report recommends creating an action plan to eliminate discrimination, developing achievable diversity goals and providing spousal/partner employment assistance.

In other business, Casteen gave a brief report on the state budget and Executive Vice President and Provost Arthur Garson Jr. updated the Senate on continuing dean searches. He reported that the searches for deans at the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine were being handled by external firms, and they should be named in a about a month. He said the dean for Continuing and Professional Studies, which is being handled internally, should be announced in about two months.