Why have we formed and Environmental Caucus?
Over the past several years, many of us have wrestled with the paradox of our campus strength in environmental and sustainability programs: we have tremendous breadth and depth of programs, yet they are literally buried in dozens of units on campus. At times, a structural solution has been proposed, or even implemented to try to unite these programs in a single administrative unit. Yet significant challenges exist: financial conflicts of interest (real or perceived), inability for one internal group to represent or manage others without the appropriate reporting authority, or the frustration of trying to capture an ever-evolving university structure that must accommodate multiple drivers and interests.
Likewise, this diffuse structure makes it difficult for the university’s internal and external partners to identify a particular person or resource. In the aggregate, we miss significant opportunities to highlight and promote the excellent work we are doing to prospective students, potential collaborators, and interested funders. While other universities have publicized their efforts and soared into the limelight, NAU’s long-standing accomplishments in the environmental arena have too often gone unrecognized.
In keeping with NAU’s Strategic Plan and its emphasis on global learning, discovery, and engagement, the caucus will advocate for the development and implementation of the strategic goal relating to “Sustainability and Stewardship of Place.” Active discussion and feedback from caucus members can identify the integral connections between areas emphasized in the strategic plan, e.g., the intertwining of the environment with cultural diversity and global engagement. These connections will be enhanced by a strong voice created through the Environmental Caucus.
Does the caucus have a mission statement?
Below is the mission statement and operating principles adopted by the caucus.
The Environmental Caucus facilitates creative and strategic communication across campus to advance the institutional commitment to sustainability and to promote education, research, and collaboration on the environment.
Focus: The scope and responsibilities of the caucus are defined by participants, with an overarching goal to add value to existing programs and to bring benefits to NAU’s many environmental programs and activities.
Participation: The Caucus is open to faculty, staff, students and environmental partners of NAU, and operates through consensus-based decision making. The Caucus has been constituted by the will of participants and is not directed by a particular university office or department.
Leadership: Our inter-disciplinary work is guided by the leadership of a steering committee, with members approved by Caucus participants for two-year staggered terms.
Implementation: Action Teams develop recommendations and oversee implementation of projects. Recommendations are reviewed by the Steering Committee and brought to the Caucus for approval at monthly meetings. (Current Action Teams are listed under “Initiatives” at www.nau.edu/envcaucus)
Diversity: We value multi-cultural perspectives and engagement from diverse cultural, social and economic communities, believing this to be critical to promoting and healing the environment. We welcome participation and leadership from all ages and levels of experience on campus. The Caucus also seeks broad representation across university departments and divisions.
What tangible goals might the Environmental Caucus accomplish?
The caucus will not duplicate ongoing work, but will provide additional support as appropriate to existing programs and projects. View the Environmental Caucus goals.
What structure will the caucus take?
The caucus is a voluntary association, not an administrative, academic or financial unit. Like an ecological system, the caucus is a set of components functioning together as a whole. Its informal structure allows flexibility to create efficient and effective linkages.
We meet once each month as a regular forum for communication. The Caucus has formed a Steering Committee with two year rotating terms to plan and coordinate meetings, set priorities, and support projects. View the Steering Committee roster.
Will students be involved?
Undergraduate and graduate students are involved in the Environmental Caucus. The Caucus is one of the few, if not the only, group on campus where students, faculty and staff interact as peers and work actively to brainstorm, share information, and put their ideas into action. In fact, one of the most effective and enjoyable aspects of the Caucus is its emphasis as a cross-disciplinary, non-hierarchical forum for communication. This structure seems to bring about a lot of creative energy, efficiency and optimism. From students to university vice presidents, from faculty to operations staff, everyone in the Caucus plays a critical role.
In addition, students formed a separate but related Student Environmental Caucus in 2009 to bring together the various student groups working on environmental concerns on campus. For more information on the Student Environmental Caucus, contact Kevin Ordean at Kevin.Ordean@nau.edu.
Why is it called a “caucus”?
The origin of the word caucus is unclear, but it likely originated from the Algonquian word for "counsel", 'cau´-cau-as´u'. While the term has particular uses in the political process, it is also used in mediation and facilitation to describe a retreat to a private setting for strategy development, information processing and to find breathing space. For a structure that differs from existing organizations on campus, this seemed fitting.