Proposed fee may fund sustainability center

Senate Resolution 1703, sponsored and written by the chair of Academic Affairs committee, Jade Bleskey, has been passed through SGA senate and is one step closer to creating a UTM Center for Sustainability.

The next stage is for an approval from Chancellor Carver. If this happens, it will be voted on at the UT Board of Trustees meeting in June.

Should the board vote in favor, the resolution will establish a $5 student “green” fee to go towards creating a sustainability center on campus.

The center will serve as a resources hub for campus activities that advance the ecological, economical and sociocultural sustainability of the university and community. Examples as listed in a written proposal by Dr. Eric Pelren, professor of wildlife biology, include pursuing grants and partnerships to create green-roofs on campus; hosting Earth Day activities; publicizing community gardens; partnering with groups like the Women’s Center; and more.

“People think of it (sustainability) in a very nebulous way, but very specifically it’s living and operating in such a way that we can continue to do so indefinitely,” Pelren said.

In the first year, an oversight committee would be created to handle and award funds, as well as identify needs and goals. Members of the committee would include a representative from SGA, the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration and physical plant. It will also include a faculty and student representative from each college.

Also during this time, these individuals will search out potential grants and partnerships to cover or match larger sustainability projects.

Lastly, a website will be created for all communication and informational purposes. A location for the center will not be established within this first year of operation.

“The faculty on this relatively little campus are scrappy and they’ve done some awesome things,” Pelren said. “… All I would hope to do would be to enable resources to help them take what they’re capable of doing, and already have been doing, and to do more with what they have.”

Pelren began moving the bill forward when in September 2016, he and three students discussed creating a center on campus with then-chancellor, Dr. Robert Smith. Smith advised them to seek the funding through a fee and to speak to the SGA. The student government requested that they gather data on student opinion, so a survey of freshman studies was completed in December 2016 and one of the whole student body was done in March 2017. Their findings showed that students supported the fee and a bill was written in August.

“I’m an agriculture major, so I’m always looking for something that I can do for the agriculture department,” Bleskey said.

The concept of a sustainability center has grown to campuses around the country, including UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga.

“There’s so many things that we can be doing to help the environment around Martin and this $5 increase is just one small step towards that,” said Emily Wilson, Procedures Committee Chairwoman and communications major.

Should the bill be approved by the board in June, the fee will go into effect in the Fall 2018 semester.

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