Chico State provost Scott McNall can sustain a conversation, so it’s no wonder he’s passionate about sustainability and conservation. Next year, he will make the transition to a nascent position overseeing the campus’ efforts in the area of sustainable development. Seated in the provost office—with its shelves of books, comfortable discussion areas and nature-themed art works—McNall talked about efforts of the past, present and future in this eco-conscious community. He spoke eloquently, at times academically; as such, the 15-minute interview has been condensed just a little …
Why is sustainability such a hot topic?
This community has been involved in issues related to sustainability and environmental education for decades. People recognize that the quality of life that they value, and the quality of life for which they moved here, can be threatened. As the city grows and as the county grows, people are in deep conversations about quality of life, water resources, public policy. … There’s been a deep structure built on campus to support interest in the environment. And then we have been working systematically over the past 10 years to expand the capacity to do research on the environment in the Northstate, to focus on issues related to our watershed; and now a number of faculty have come forward in concert with the students to help with this general effort of sustainability.
Why do you think that is? Was there a watershed moment?
There is a watershed moment. We have student leaders now who said, “We really care about the environment, we really care about the future, and this is an area where we can make a difference.” … We’ve probably got 40 or 50 faculty members who are interested in the larger issue of sustainability. There are people all over campus committed to this. Energy costs are really high, so we have to on campus work to reduce energy consumption, and that really brings our staff into play in a way they might not have been before. They can see they are making a contribution to the overall welfare of the university community. It’s about hope and it’s about building community. And those are two things that can galvanize people and are galvanizing people right now.
What do you hope to accomplish or facilitate in your role spearheading sustainability on campus?
One of the things we’re missing right now are opportunities to respond to institutional grants. Other universities who are far less advanced than we in terms of work on the environment are receiving grants from national agencies. I just need the time to focus on writing grants to support the efforts of the faculty and to assist the students in accomplishing their goals.
So the position is really one of oversight. There are a lot of things to coordinate and pull together, and the president [Paul Zingg] and I are in the process of trying to figure out what’s the best way to do that.
When you transition to your new job, what you miss about being provost? Is it this office?
It is a pretty nice office. [Laughs] Right now it’s hard to think about what I’m going to miss. Actually, what I’m going to get to do is what I wanted to do as provost, which is work with faculty, students and staff on projects about which they care and be able to devote all my energies to help the university achieve distinction nationally in this area.