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  January 28, 2002

President's Column
Plans to enhance our capacity to address environmental issues are a logical next step to the progress of the past decade. These plans will ensure that UConn is a good neighbor, a responsible steward of natural resources and responsive organization.

An issue that has generated extensive discussion both within our own UConn community and beyond our borders is the manner in which the University of Connecticut, a major American institution of higher learning and research now in the midst of a massive construction program, anticipates and responds to environmental challenges.

Image: President Philip E. Austin

Last month Chancellor Petersen and I presented a plan for enhancing the University's capacity to address environmental concerns promptly, responsibly, and effectively.

Since the initiation of UConn 2000, in Storrs alone we have engaged in building or extensively renovating 10 teaching and research buildings, nine apartment/residence hall complexes for 6,500 students, two parking garages, a field house, an ice rink, and several administrative buildings.

In several cases, we worked with external partners on major projects: a private sector collaboration led to the Nathan Hale Inn; the generosity of Philip and Christine Lodewick produced a much-needed visitors' center; federal support helped fund the new Agriculture-Biotechnology Building. But whatever the source of funding, the achievements speak for themselves.

It is the nature of construction that every significant activity entails some disruption, in many cases temporary and, in a few cases, of longer duration. We recognize the intensity of feeling about this. We try to respond to all legitimate concerns. For the most part our efforts have been successful, thanks to the dedication of an excellent group of professional staff.

Given the magnitude of our construction program, our role as a center of research, and the level of activity involved in meeting the needs of thousands of students, faculty, and staff in ongoing operations, our overall record is exceptional.

As Chancellor Petersen and I have indicated, this is an appropriate time to take a logical next step: specifically, to implement an administrative structure to improve all environmental aspects of the University's operations at Storrs and the regional campuses. Our goal is to build on a strong foundation to establish a mechanism that will:

  • Help our staff do their job with maximum effectiveness.

  • Allay concerns that are well founded and respond promptly to correct misunderstandings and inaccuracies.

  • Address environmental issues expeditiously, while generating a closer sense of cooperation with the surrounding community.

  • Resolve some longstanding issues that have been a source of unnecessary controversy.

We are now beginning to implement four actions to reach these goals:

  1. We initiated a search for an experienced environmental manager who will work closely with all relevant aspects of our construction, operations, and research program. Reporting directly to the Chancellor, this individual will be charged not only with strengthening environmental performance but with proactively developing ways to enhance operations in such areas as water and sewer, energy, environmental health and safety, and agricultural operations. The environmental manager will also serve as a key point of contact and dialogue with the community.

  2. The University volunteered to take part in the United States Environmental Protection Administration's Region I environmental audit and disclosure program for colleges and universities. As part of our participation, we are retaining independent external auditors to assure that we are in compliance with all major EPA programs, including those related to clean air and water, resource conservation and recovery, and spill prevention and control.

  3. We will work closely with Mansfield's elected officials, state regulatory officials, and residents to identify ways to extend water service to residential areas immediately northwest of the University. Past difficulties have led to piecemeal and costly extensions of our water supply, pursuant to legal mandates; some residents' ongoing concerns about water quality have at times led to an adversarial relationship that is as unfortunate for the community as it is for the University. We want to work with all interested parties to bring this situation to an end.

  4. We will consider seriously the feasibility of relocating our hazardous waste transfer facility away from its present site on the campus to the general facility of our sewage treatment facility off North Eagleville Road. Our facility has been extensively reviewed by federal and state agencies and has been determined to be legal and safe. The waste stored there on a temporary basis, largely generated by our research program, poses no serious environmental threat. It is essential that we have such a facility in ready access to our laboratories and operational units. Nevertheless , in an effort to respond to community concerns, we are prepared to work cooperatively with the community to identify an alternative site that may be considered preferable, as long as it is both safe and cost-effective.

The ultimate goal of this four-part program is that UConn continue to be - and, increasingly, be seen as being - a good neighbor, a responsible steward of natural resources, and a responsive organization, even as we fulfill the promise of the past decade.

I recognize that there will always be a handful of people in this community whose real agenda is to limit the University's growth, primarily by keeping things as they are. No structure or outreach effort will satisfy this small group.

But the great majority of people in and around Mansfield support UConn's transformation. They want and deserve the assurance that we are responsive to legitimate concerns, and our program should meet this expectation.

People of good will know that there is no conflict between academic excellence and environmental responsibility. At an institution of the University of Connecticut's level of quality and aspiration, the two objectives must go hand in hand. We intend to make sure that continues to be the case, as we work toward accelerated progress in the years to come.