University receives D-plus in annual sustainability report

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    Even college officials hate it when they make bad grades.

    Coming off the heels of the 2008 U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings in which TCU fell five places, the university made a D-plus in the 2008 College Sustainability Report Card, up from last year’s D.

    The report was conducted by a nonprofit organization called the Sustainable Endowments Institute from June through September 2007. The report stated the criteria for the grades was independent research and publicly available information such as media reports from the institution’s Web site, as well as findings from the United States Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Green Building Council. Three research surveys were also sent to participating universities.

    The categories the university was graded on include “green” buildings, food and recycling programs, and administrative policies pushing for change.

    “You know, I don’t like to get a D-plus on anything,” said Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs.

    Keith Whitworth, professor of sociology and advocate of making campus eco-friendly, said the shift toward sustainability in the university’s culture won’t happen overnight, but TCU is improving with programs like the Theme Semester, which coordinates events that promote sustainability.

    “We’re making great strides in a variety of areas that indicate our culture is changing, so it’s just a matter of time,” Whitworth said.

    According to the report, the lowest performing categories were endowment transparency and shareholder engagement, both of which received failing marks. The report said the university doesn’t make any endowment holdings or statements about active ownership public.

    Mills said the university is not legally obligated to release that information.

    “We don’t release beyond our trustees the details of the endowment because strategically, we don’t think that’s wise,” Mills said.

    Mills said the university aims at getting the best return on its investment. He said if the university had the choice between two investments – an oil company and a wind power company, for example, the university would pick the more profitable investment, which is not necessarily the more environmentally friendly of the two.

    One of the report’s criticisms about the administration was the lack of a sustainability coordinator on campus. Mills said the administration debated hiring a sustainability coordinator but ultimately decided it would be too expensive after having to account for hiring a new staff and paying their salaries. Instead, the university created a sustainability committee of faculty, staff and students headed by Nowell Donovan, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. Donovan was unavailable for comment.

    The grades in all of the categories stayed the same for TCU except one. The university received a B in the new category entry for transportation, while the report said that the average grade colleges scored in that section was a C-plus.

    The report credits the Purple Bike Program and free transit passes for students. Whitworth, creator of the Purple Bike Program, said he is proud of the program’s inclusion and said the good grade is an indicator the other categories can see a positive change as well.

    Mills said there have been improvements such as adding more bike racks on campus within the next two weeks. When the Brown-Lupton Student Center was demolished, 90 percent of the materials such as the steel and wood were recycled, he said.

    The administration is trying to get all of the new facilities a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification given by the U.S. Green Building Council, Mills said. The university is still awaiting LEED certification on the new student union, he said.