Athens, Ga. – The University of Georgia plans to create a new school of ecology that would be named for the late Eugene P. Odum, the founder of ecosystem ecology who was affiliated with UGA for 60 years.
The school would be created by withdrawing the existing Institute of Ecology from the College of Environment and Design and turning it into an independent, stand-alone school with its own dean, faculty and administrative staff. It would be UGA’s 16th academic school or college and would be the first stand-alone ecology school in America.
A proposal to establish the Eugene P. Odum School of Ecology was approved by the University Council Feb. 8. President Michael F. Adams will send the proposal to the University System of Georgia Board of Regents for final approval.
Odum, the school’s namesake, joined the UGA faculty in 1940 and gained widespread fame for his research based on a holistic approach to ecosystem studies. Often called the “father of modern ecology,” he wrote a dozen books including Fundamentals of Ecology, considered a landmark in the field, and more than 200 scientific publications. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, served as president of the Ecological Society of America and received the world’s top prizes for ecological research. He died in 2002 at the age of 88.
The Institute of Ecology had its origins with a group of researchers Odum assembled in the early 1950s to understand the ecology of Sapelo Island. In 1958, he founded the Institute of Radiation Ecology at UGA and in 1967, its name was changed to the Institute of Ecology.
In 2001, the Institute of Ecology was joined with the School of Environmental Design to create the College of Environment and Design. Though part of the same college, the institute and the environmental design school still retained their own identities and faculties.
While the arrangement resulted in innovative ecological and environmental programs, time has shown that the ecology side of the college is more focused on research and teaching about the natural environment, while the environment and design side is oriented toward the built environment, according to the proposal for the school.
Scott Weinberg, interim dean of the College of Environment and Design, told the council that the faculties of both the Institute of Ecology and School of Environmental Design voted almost unanimously in favor of separating the two units and turning the institute into a school.
Weinberg said the cost of starting the school would be “revenue neutral”- only about $77,000 -because the school would use existing facilities for teaching, research and service and would incorporate the institute’s existing faculty, which includes 17 tenured or tenure-track faculty and six non-tenure track faculty, along with existing staff support.
John Gittleman, director of the Institute of Ecology, told the council the school would be an “appropriate way to recognize and celebrate the amazing legacy” of Odum and others who have made UGA an international leader in ecological studies.
The school would bring together scientists to collaborate on areas of ecological research the institute has not previously pursued, such as connections between ecosystems and disease, Gittleman said. The school would also foster research on major environmental problems facing the world such as global warming, he said.
According to the proposal, the National Research Council and the Ecological Society of America rank UGA’s ecological research program one of the top five in the country. UGA was one of the first universities in America to offer undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees in ecology.
While many universities have departments of ecology, and some have schools that focus on the broader field of environmental studies, no other university has an independent, stand-alone school devoted specifically to ecology.
The Odum School would offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in ecology and would encourage collaborative, interdisciplinary research among faculty throughout the university. Public service work would be conducted primarily through the River Basin Center.