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Environmental Affairs Office is Students Legacy

November 18, 1999

Mark Miester

If Aaron Allen (T 99) ever abandons his plans for an academic career, he has a wonderful future as a salesman. Allen, president of the Green Club during his time at Tulane, spent much of his senior year selling administrators on a proposal to establish an Office of Environmental Affairs (OEA) at Tulane.

In July, Allen's efforts came to fruition with the hiring of Elizabeth Davey as Tulane's first environmental affairs coordinator. For Allen it was a long, laborious journey that began with an honors thesis. Titled "Greening the Campus: Institutional Environmental Change at Tulane University", Allen's 250-page paper used Tulane as a case study to examine the mechanics of institutional change.

After reviewing environmental change programs at various colleges and universities across the country, Allen concluded that in order to make Tulane an environmentally sustainable campus, it was necessary to hire an individual to act as an institutional leader on environmental issues. Not satisfied to limit his vision to the realm of theory, Allen began to lobby for such a position.

He first convinced the Associated Student Body to pass a resolution supporting the proposal and was in the process of introducing it to the University Senate when senior vice president for planning and administration Yvette Jones interceded. Jones told Allen that there simply wasn't central funding available for a new position.

But Jones made Allen a deal: "I told him, 'Look, heres what I can do. I can't give you any money, but if you get the money, I can make it happen.'" Allen took Jones at her word. Going door-to-door, he argued his case to deans and division heads and, one by one, lined up enough funding to support the position for two years. Jones gave the project the go-ahead, and a committee, comprising many of the deans and division heads canvassed by Allen, was established to recruit an environmental coordinator.

"In Aaron's thesis, the focus was on operations," says Doug Meffert, associate director for planning at the Center for Bioenvironmental Research and a member of the committee. "But as the concept grew and as more and more departments got involved in the process, it became clear that what Tulane needed was someone to serve as a shepherd on environmental issues, on everything from operations to administration to assisting in curriculum development and really to foster and promote an environmental conscience at Tulane."

The committee found an ideal candidate in Davey, who comes to Tulane from Michigan State University, where she spent the last two years working on an initiative to assess university environmental impacts and make policy recommendations.

With a PhD in American literature from Cornell, Davey's background as both an educator and leader in environmental issues struck a chord with the search committee. Davey says one of her first priorities will be to identify student research projects that allow students to gain valuable educational experience while working to improve the university's environmental performance. She hopes to have grants in place to fund projects that link university operations and the university's role as a learning institution.

"That was our whole message at Michigan State," Davey says. "When we work together to look at our environmental impacts, we save money and create better learning opportunities for students. We can model sustainable practices for the rest of the community."
 
Another project Davey hopes to launch is a plan to make Tulane the first campus in the country to be certified for ISO 14000, an international standard for environmental management in business.

Allen, meanwhile, is currently pursuing a PhD in music history at Harvard but plans to stay involved with his alma mater. "I'll be helping to raise funds for an endowment for the Green Club and OEA and advising the program," he says. "And in my career, I'll certainly continue to, politely, make trouble and do good work. And, yes, those two things are compatible."

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