Crane at the helm, F&ES forges ahead

Sir Peter Crane may have spent only eight months as dean of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies so far, but four faculty members and seven students interviewed said he is leading the school in the right direction — by collaborating with faculty to make difficult financial decisions and by restructuring the master’s degree curriculum.

Students and faculty cited Crane’s accessibility, his professionalism in handling the environment school’s recent budget cuts and his initiative to rework the distributional requirements for the masters in environmental management degree — the most popular program at the school — as reasons they have been pleased with his time so far as dean.

In a short span, Crane has set off good vibes at the environment school.
Eva Galvan
In a short span, Crane has set off good vibes at the environment school.

“Dean Crane hit the ground running,” said social ecology professor Michael Dove, who was a member of the search committee who helped to select Crane by March 2009.

Because the transition from former dean Gus Speth ’64 LAW ’69 to Crane came in the middle of the move-in process to Kroon Hall, the environment school’s new home as of last year, and the beginnings of the global financial crisis, Crane had to start navigating the school through difficult issues immediately, Dove said. Two weeks ago, Crane announced the school would lay off six staff members, close one of its research centers and combine the school’s library with the Kline Science Library to make up for a $2.4 million budget defect for the 2010-’11 school year.

Four faculty members interviewed said they have appreciated Crane’s transparency and accessibility throughout the budget-cutting process. Crane, they said, dealt with the issues proactively by holding meetings with the staff, students and faculty about the cuts.

“We have had a more democratic process than has been normal here for some time,” Dove said. “He has implanted a management style that is transparent and equitable.”

Although Crane said in an interview last week that it was difficult to begin his tenure in such difficult times, it has been better to have to deal with budgetary issues at the beginning of his time at the environment school than later on, as these issues have given him the immediate opportunity to consider the school’s priorities. The cuts should not have any impact on the school’s national or international standing, he added.

“I’m very proud of the way that the school has tackled these issues,” Crane said.

Faculty members also pointed several initiatives Crane has led, including the reworking of the masters in environmental management curriculum, despite the budget cuts. Crane has been working with hydrology professor James Saiers, the school’s associate dean of academic affairs, to overhaul the curriculum.

“He has engaged the faculty very creatively to give us the feeling that the school is growing even at the same time the economic downturn has affected us,” said John Grim, who holds a joint appointment at the environment school and at the Yale Divinity School.

Currently, the master’s curriculum requires completing seven distributional requirements, followed by identifying an advanced study program for further coursework and finishing a master’s degree project.

Students began filling out questionnaires about the curriculum during Speth’s tenure, and after reviewing those questionnaires and consulting with the faculty, Crane decided he wanted to start reworking the curriculum, Grim said.

Seth Zeren FES ’10, who founded a student group in the spring of 2009 to reform the master in environmental management curriculum, said he submitted a proposal to Crane on Oct. 1, and said he was impressed with how quickly Crane has begun to address the issue.

“He has a lot on his plate,” Zeren said. “But he came in with the objective of making [curriculum reform] one of his early priorities.”

Because students at the environment school come from diverse backgrounds, Crane said he hopes to create a curriculum that will bring students up to a common standard while giving them sufficient flexibility to design their own courses of study.

Carol Carpenter, a senior lecturer who has been at the environment school since 1998, said the restructuring of the master’s degree curriculum should give students more time to explore their research interests at a higher level. While Speth focused on making the school interdisciplinary, it was Crane’s idea to revamp the curriculum in this way, she said.

Grady O’Shaughnessy FES ’11 said fewer distributional requirements would allow him to focus on energy and climate policy, subject areas whose courses often fall outside basic requirements. He said it is important that Crane has addressed student concerns about the curriculum so quickly because environment school students in the master’s program only have two years of study.

Faculty members said Crane’s accessibility and collaborative management style have served him well in his first year. Dove said he is used to speaking his mind to Crane and often sends the dean unsolicited e-mails, which Crane has always replied to in less than 24 hours.

“Since I know he’s not going to sit on [my e-mails] but actually read them and respond, I’ve tried to cut back a little because I feel badly,” Dove said.

Crane has also been accessible to new members of the environment school, said environmental anthropology professor Karen Hébert ’96, who is finishing her first year teaching at the school. She said most of the faculty have already had at least one private meeting with him.

Crane’s emphasis on mentoring junior faculty has also been reassuring, she added. The dean, she said, has attended mentoring meetings where Hébert received guidance from him and two other senior faculty members.

David Keiser FES ’15 said Crane has also reached out to the environment school community through events such as town hall meetings.

“I definitely get the feeling that he’s one of us,” Keiser said.

Before coming to Yale, Crane was the John and Marion Sullivan University Professor in the Department of Geophysical Sciences at the University of Chicago.

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