Efforts in Flux: Looking Back at Stetson’s Environmental Commitment

Your monthly dose of Stetson’s sustainability efforts.


Gaby Molina

Photo of Sampson Hall when it first opened in 1908 in front of Sampson Hall today. Photo courtesy of Stetson Archives.

Jay Stearman, Opinion Staff

While the exact moment the term sustainability entered the consciousness of Stetson can’t be traced down, you can view its legacy through the campus’ built environment or the vision of its leaders. For simplicity’s sake, let’s focus on exclusively this century.

         Only two presidents have presided since the new millennium, Doug Lee and Wendy Libby, Ph.D. The first served 22 years and was responsible for initiating not only key buildings on campus but also his dedication to diversity and social responsibility. Dr. Lee’s passion was exemplified through his adoption of what is now known as Stetson’s seven core values and his support for the native plant policy for landscaping, especially around University Village Apartments (UVA) which, before the Rinker Environmental Learning Center (RELC) and the Lynn Business Center (LBC) were constructed, was visible from the President’s Mansion. Laboratory Coordinator for Stetson’s Biology department, John Jett, remembers the late Doug Lee as believing that the “university had a responsibility to society to show what can happen when you do the right thing socially and environmentally.”

         Unfortunately several offices and employees were cut in a downsizing effort in response to the University’s financial hardships from 2003-2009. One of these was Dr. John Jett’s position as the first and only Director of Environmental Affairs. As books were balanced, sustainability efforts fell to the wayside. Stetson employee for more than 10 years now, Jackee Brame relates how environmentalism slowly lost its edge, “the conversation has been going on a while, but sometimes even the most driven people don’t know where to apply themselves.”

         Some may call it the golf course look or the Disneyland aesthetic, but President Libby’s administration focused on bringing more interest and students to Stetson. The physical face (i.e. visible landscape) was certainly a critical part of her plan for Stetson’s emergence from the rocky financial situation of the school she inherited. Senior studio arts major Solstice Backus-Little ‘20 relates how Stetson’s ‘Era of Growth’ was certainly successful but that the development and housing became more reactionary. While it may be hard for students to imagine how different Stetson could have been 5 years before they attended, the Libbyan aesthetic was a tangible example of how different the direction was. Dr. Jett calls the Native Plant Policy under Lee’s administration a “crowning achievement” diligently, however painfully arrived at, by dedicated staff, faculty, donors, and even students, “it really had the potential to be extraordinary.”

         However, new people inevitably end up bringing new ideas and priorities. With the nomination of Libby’s successor, Christopher Roellke, Ph.D. a new administration can provide new opportunities for sustainability to take precedence.

         A great way to start is the renewal of a Sustainability Office on campus, a captain’s headquarters for the ship towards a net-zero emissions campus. There is no shortage of environmentally driven people willing to put in time to help Stetson achieve a greater level of sustainability, but having a coordinator bringing their minds together, in the words of Dr. Jett “someone who wakes up everyday, who is being paid to move the University in a sustainable direction,” would really change the game. Brame expressed her support for a potential Sustainability Office, saying it’s a “very real need, something that we need to have addressed.”