Sustainability program to continue at Mercyhurst

Mercyhurst faculty, staff and student government plan to continue the Sustainability program at the university after the elimination of Brittany Prischak’s position in November 2014.

The decision to cut Prischak’s position as sustainability officer presents a stumbling block to the university’s commitment to sustainability. The remaining members of the department are working to ensure the future of the sustainability program at Mercyhurst.

“Mercyhurst’s commitment to sustainability will endure. A number of dedicated faculty and students are working hard to make sure of that,” Chris Magoc, Ph.D., chair of the Sustainability Studies Department and associate dean of the School of Social Sciences, said.

Magoc said that the university’s interest in sustainability goes back to the spring of 1970, when the concept of Earth Day was initially introduced.

The president at that time, Sister Carolyn Herrmann, asked biology professor Sister Maura Smith, who established Mercyhurst’s first Environmental Studies program, to organize Earth Day events on campus. According to Magoc, even though the program she began waned throughout the years, Smith persevered.

“Sister Maura’s passion for environmental stewardship never waned and she continued to serve on the college Board of Trustees,” Magoc said.

When Magoc came to Mercyhurst in 1999, Smith and he partnered with some enthusiastic students to form the Mercyhurst College Green Team. The team’s numerous achievements, including the founding of the Office of Sustainability in 2010, earned Mercyhurst local, state and national recognition.

“Sister Carolyn and Sister Maura knew well, sustainability speaks to the heart and soul of the Mercy mission and our critical engagement in the community and the world,” Magoc said.

Magoc also said that there is a fundamental moral and ethical obligation to focus on sustainable practices in the midst of environmental crisis facing the planet.

While he and other faculty and staff members are planning to continue with the Sustainability program, the decision to terminate Prischak’s position has been quite devastating to the Sustainability Office, as her work was crucial to its mission, Magoc said.

Magoc outlined four main areas of focus that are essential to making this possible. The first is to ensure that the new president and administration of Mercyhurst is fully committed to sustainability as part of the university’s future.

Next, the university has to restore a full-time position to the task of overseeing sustainability studies and the sustainability program.

Third, the community must to prioritize student-led sustainability projects. And finally, the university must revise and strengthen the Mercyhurst Sustainability Plan, Magoc said

“Particularly now when we do not have a sustainability officer to coordinate our efforts full-time, all members of the Mercyhurst community who care about the issues of environmental stewardship should consider themselves members of the committee,” Magoc said.

Mercyhurst Student Government has been working to assist the sustainability program in its mission. Dylan Radtke, a junior MSG Senator, along with the MSG Sustainability Committee, has been focused on informing students and giving them the tools to practice sustainability on their own.

“Of course, it’s important to be ‘green’ as an institution,” said Radtke, “but students really need to be conscious of this as well.”

To help with this, MSG will be distributing recycling information, as well as clear and black garbage bags to upperclassmen housing. Additionally, they plan to create opportunities for students to donate any clothing or furniture they intended to throw away at the end of the year.

“We hope that by doing this we can create more interest in ‘green’ and sustainable practices,” Radtke said.

Representatives from MSG and the Sustainability Studies department said Mercyhurst as a sustainable university will be a goal for the foreseeable future.