School of the Earth

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School of the Earth is a vision for what the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University should be like in 2061, at Albert Gallatin’s three-hundredth birthday. The envisioned new school is designed with our planet in mind. It is a school designed to fit the local ecosystem. School of the Earth is about the necessity of connection, not only from human to human but between nature and people as well. The vision was developed in  Professor Peder Anker and Professor Mitchell Joachim’s Spring 2017 Interdisciplinary Seminar, “Designing for New Climates: Histories of Adaptation.”

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By Ryan Porter Andrewsen, Aliza Joy Blond, Brian Cash Callaghan, Danielle Margo Domsky, Juan Diego Galvez, Sophia Hampton, Michelle Lee Johnson, Laura Sejin Jung, Devansh Majithia, Annie S Pluimer, Cecilia Reid, Anna L Robertson, Arielle A Ross, Olivia Catherine Saber, Alejandro Santana, Sabrina A Santos, Joshua Jackson Shapiro, Cate Stitt Stern, Hanna Danielle Stern, Rachel N Stern, Celine Sutter, Leland R Sutton, Zoya Hannah Teirstein, and Jenna Hallie Zimmerman. Instructors Professor Peder Anker and Mitchell Joachim.

Why 2061

As a class, we knew that climate change would impact Gallatin at any given point in the future, but just how much, and the exact effects, become more and more unclear the further forward you look. So, we decided on a year that made sense for both climate change projections and for Gallatin as a school: 2061. 2061 is both the three-hundredth birthday of Albert Gallatin, the founder of our school, and still within the reach of current climate change predictions are still accurate. In 2061, the sea levels will have risen, but not yet to the point of making Gallatin a beachfront property; weather patterns will be increasingly erratic and damaging; and the Western world will be at a point in which it can no longer ignore the impacts. This is why the creation of School of the Earth for the year 2061 is perfect. It will stand a beacon of hope and innovation for the future of Gallatin, New York University, New York City and hopefully the world.

 

A School for the Environment

The entire world is an ecosystem; nothing is in isolation, and therefore, our education does not exist in a vacuum. In our new design of the Gallatin building, the historical context of the development of the university and a response climate change will be visible. This can come in many different forms: a permanent installation on Indigenous claims to the land, teaching about native environmental methods and habitats, photo essays on climate change installed around the building, regular screenings of documentaries on climate change, and guest speakers on the history of climate change. In 2061, Gallatin will have a renewed understanding of how humans have gotten to the point where we are affecting the climate and causing the problems that we are redesigning our school to combat. There must be environmental understanding and information woven into all education. Comprehension of climate change and the environment around us will not be relegated to environmental studies and science students; instead it will be incorporated into all education. Gallatin is full of creative students that are deeply involved in arts and humanities and will therefore have to find ways to incorporate environmental awareness into all aspects of education, not just the obvious choices. Possible ideas include green murals, climate-awareness performance art pieces, and other humanities-based understandings of climate change. Gallatin is an interdisciplinary school, and we should make climate and environmental awareness an active part of that interdisciplinary education.

Stopping Environmental Racism

Environmental racism is a historical and ongoing problem. Therefore, in our environmentally-minded university, we will make sure that Gallatin’s spaces are 100 percent inclusive to all types of people and that everyone has equal access to and control over their use. The university will be dedicated to bringing learning outside and offering more opportunities in the natural environment. This should include conducting field-based research and learning, utilizing the (natural) resources of New York City in learning and teaching, and beginning from a broader understanding of what education at NYU can entail. The niversity should work to actively close the gap between nature and city, by providing outdoor classroom spaces, green roofs more diverse parks, and forest space, and by increasing students’ understanding of their relationship to the environment around them. Education needs to be place based, with students learning about their surrounding environment, including and how to conserve and protect it. A key aspect in creating a dialogue between the students, city, and nature is making the building itself a message of sustainability. Any structure, system, or addition in the School of the Earth must have at its core an environmentally sound reason for being present. The point of the School of the Earth is to make not only the students but also the public aware of the current state of our planet and how humans are impacting it.

Adaptive and Innovative Environment

The School of the Earth transcends multiple disciplines, and we recognize that working in sustainability requires the effort of minds from across many specialties who are able to tackle challenges from multiple perspectives. We reject the notion that sacrifices made for the sake of future generations will hinder the experiences of the present. Every addition will be made with longer-term indicators used for assessment and decisions in order to ensure the greatest benefit and impact for the entire current and future NYU community. The School of the Earth is adaptive and innovative, and will continuously improve and challenge our business ethos wherever and however is necessary.

Sustainability and Environmental Health

Sustainability is fundamental to society and the university will push staff and student body to think about their impact on personal and social dimensions. Human health and environmental health should be and are inherently linked. The School of Earth will strive to reduce waste and consumption across all areas while generating 100 percent of its own renewable energy. Educators will actively and explicitly incorporate sustainable principles into their respective disciplines and professional practice. Installations will regulate water and energy consumption to ensure that there is no excessive or wasteful use of resources. There will be greater utilization of digital communications technology so as to diminish the need for travel, decrease paper waste, and cut the university’s carbon footprint. The building will utilize wind, solar, and geothermal energy to ensure a sufficient supply of energy year round. Although human impacts on our Earth have been historically negative, the School of the Earth is being created to demonstrate that humans have an opportunity to turn our impact into something positive. Our world is on the brink, on an environmental precipice where we have the power to change it for the better, and that is exactly what the School of the Earth strives for.

 

A Local, Community-Minded Gallatin

Gallatin as School of the Earth needs to set a precedent for NYU and other universities situated in cities by respecting and keeping in touch with the history of the neighborhood of the East Village, West Village, and Lower East Side, and New York City as a whole. NYU has a history and reputation of buying up real estate, transplanting students into historic neighborhoods, and attempting to rezone areas to facilitate expansion. This is destructive to the urban environment of the neighborhoods in which NYU operates. Not only Gallatin not participate in this, Gallatin must actively fight against it. Gallatin should be responsible for initiating programs that help to right the wrongs historically committed by NYU to the people and the planet.

Scaled Tuition and Fair Admissions

New York City is the most expensive city in the United States and one of the most expensive cities in the entire world. On top of having to pay for daily life within New York City, Gallatin students have to pay exorbitant private university fees to NYU. Gallatin needs to have a scaled-tuition model that allows students to pay what they can afford. The school also needs to provide services to students who struggle to pay for housing, food, and events in New York City. This also should incorporate investments into sustainable resource companies such as solar-power companies that can be used to offset the scaled-tuition and help to offer grants to students. Gallatin also must have a more transparent and fair admission process that does not discriminate by name, race, income, class, and gender.

Engaged Programs for Local Residents

There must be increased funding to programs that engage the wider New York communities, especially environmental programs. School of the Earth should be dedicated to community-based learning that pushes students to engage with populations outside of NYU and gain knowledge about how to interact with people from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. Additionally, the university must provide programs and active green space where students, faculty, and staff can pursue gardening, growing their own food, and decrease the amount of food sourced from far away from the university. The school will provide affordable, healthy food to people in the surrounding neighborhoods. Gallatin School of the Earth also must respect local plants and animals, and in the green spaces they provide, privilege native species over invasive ones. These local plants and animals are integral to the history of this neighborhood and surrounding region and have shaped the way that people have interacted with natural spaces over time.

Climate Refugees

We must look ahead and expect that by the year 2061, there will be a large influx of climate refugees from hard-hit areas and conflict associated with resource shortage in areas less affected by climate change. As a school, there must be funding and opportunities to work with refugees, and for students at the school to establish relationships with these refugees. We will facilitate an apprenticeship program for refugees that help them to get environmentally responsible jobs while making their agency our number one priority. This will be a way that Gallatin enacts awareness, social responsibility, and commitment to alleviating the effects of climate change.

 

Education

For millions of students today, education is about the uncritical acquisition of job skills meant to produce “more competitive workers in the labor market.” We reject the banking/transmission model of education, in which teachers are transmitters, who, rather communicate, transmit knowledge to students in hopes that they will become more “marketable.” In this traditional banking model of education, teachers are the subject, and students are passive absorbers who are relegated to receiving, filing, and storing deposits of information.

At Gallatin School of the Earth, we will embrace a cooperative problem-solving education model, in which students are encouraged to think about, engage with, and tackle problems on their own and in conjunction with other students and members of the community. Considering the future collective challenges facing human society, the educational model at Gallatin School of the Earth will emphasize critical engagement and hands-on approaches, cooperative problem-solving, and a lifelong love for learning and the Earth.

Makerspace and Vision Building

Gallatin is a school of individualized study, and opportunity for students to learn should reflect that. In addition to access to typical classrooms and study spaces, students will have the opportunity to build and create the ideas they have. Therefore, a makerspace will be created with any available equipment that a student might want to create their vision. This includes 3D printers, laser cutters, and other technologies. While Gallatin classes are often focused on texts and learning through reading and discussion, creating the physical ideas that students have should be of the highest priority. Rooms where students can create can teach them just as much as a book, teacher, or their peers can.

In addition to building a comprehensive makerspace, research spaces will also be available for students to explore precedents and expand their ideas. This research space will be similar to a study space, but with more tables (rather than furniture made for lounging) for people to work with all of their research materials.

Furthermore, many students often have ideas that formulate in class, startups that they wish to begin, or inspirations from the makerspace. Gallatin will have a “job incubator” for students to meet with one another, or to meet with professors or professionals, to discuss and expand these ideas. Having a location that facilitates thought, collaboration, and entrepreneurship will be highly beneficial for future startups, group projects, or any communal assignments.

 

Execution

We at Gallatin School of the Earth acknowledge the pivotal importance of education in bringing about a more just, equitable, and sustainable future. At such a critical moment in human history, when humanity is faced with the existential threat of anthropogenic climate change, education is profoundly important not only as a response to climate change but also as a way to illuminate a brighter path into a more sustainable biotic future for human society and the Earth. Education has the potential to be the spark that can ignite the desire for a transformation to this more just, equitable, and sustainable world for human society and the other inhabitants and ecosystems of the Earth; education must be the torch that can carry that vision into the future.

Producing the Future

Given the critical role of the university in producing the future, it is our assertion that universities must conceive of different futures and educate people to inhabit them. Thus, we envision Gallatin School of the Earth at NYU as an incubation center for the generations who will live in a future where human flourishing is symbiotically connected with ecological flourishing. But we cannot detach how something is being taught from why something is being taught. Therefore, we believe it is necessary to transform the organizational structure of the university. Our responsibility to the future must also take into consideration the kinds of people our university develops and the organizational arrangements that they make and that make them.

At the Gallatin School of the Earth, it is our contention that the current educational structures do not acknowledge or encourage responsibility for an economically or socially sustainable future for ourselves, for others, and for the planet; instead, the present model of higher education treats people and the planet as infinite resources which can be exploited for the short-term gain, according to the needs of the few. Why do a small handful of shareholders and board members have administrative votes, but not faculty, staff, or students who are the life-force of the university? The Gallatin School of the Earth is educating for a more just and democratic future.

A More Democratic Gallatin

A more democratic Gallatin education means practicing more democratic values throughout the university. The current exercise of top-down, authoritarian administration is not only incongruent with the democratic beliefs we espouse at Gallatin, but it is also anathema to the principles of social justice that we want to instill in our students. Because we believe in Gallatin’s responsibility to creating the conditions for our individual and collective flourishing, the administration itself will be disbanded and replaced with a democratic and transparent senate composed of an executive board as well as student, faculty, and staff representatives from every school and department, each with votes proportionally equal to their relative population at the school. There will also be a special council for traditionally repressed and underrepresented minorities, to ensure that their voices are heard in the decision-making processes at Gallatin. As such, the future of the organizational structure of Gallatin will be democratically open to everyone involved at the university, so that all stakeholders, not just shareholders, can have a say in future decisions made at School of the Earth.

 

Conclusion

Gallatin School of the Earth is designed with our planet in mind. It is a school for the Earth and of the Earth. We believe that humans have done enough talking and it is now time to start giving back, giving back to our planet and to one another. The world is more connected than ever before, and it is only going to become increasingly more intertwined and complicated, so we need to be prepared for these outcomes. Gallatin School of the Earth understands the necessity of connection, not only between humans, but between humans and nature as well. Our school is created to foster that connection and to educate students and the public that not only is it possible for humans to exist and learn while coexisting with nature, but that we can help make the planet a better, healthier place for the future as well.