The Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University was founded in 1968 at a time of rising curiosity and concern about the environment. It was the first of its kind in North America and remains the largest. An interdisciplinary approach informs all its programs which include a Bachelor’s (BES), Master’s (MES) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Environmental Studies.
The Faculty’s pioneering spirit created a program that crossed boundaries, created supportive structures for student-centred learning, encouraged linkages between theory and practice, offered opportunities for experiential learning with communities and real life projects, encouraged a focus on environmental studies that combined the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and the profession of planning. It also offered students dedicated faculty who exemplified boundary crossing in their own research and teaching and who were appointed full-time within the Faculty rather than cross-appointed from other units.
It all started with the Master’s program. The sole program offered when the Faculty was born in 1968, our Master’s program originally hosted only a small group of students. Instead of a fixed curriculum for all, students, working closely with faculty advisors, devise their own program of study and the learning strategies that will allow them to meet their academic objectives. Within the MES program, students may also apply to do a joint MES-JD degree with Osgoode Hall Law School; pursue the MES planning program that leads to a master’s degree accredited by the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Ontario Professional Planners Institute or follow Diploma programs in Business & the Environment, Environmental Sustainability Education and Refugee & Migration Studies. The Master’s of Environmental Studies program is a central component of the Faculty and it is the second largest Master’s program at York University. Its alumni number over 2,800 and can be found in key positions within the public and private sectors of Canadian society and the global community.
The BES program was introduced in 1991 with approximately 100 students. It has since grown to an annual intake of 230 students and an overall enrolment of approximately 850 students. The program contains four theme areas: Environmental politics: development, globalization and justice; Urban & regional environments: analysis, planning and design; Environment & culture: philosophy, arts, technology and education; and Environmental management: policy, resources and conservation. Though most students are interested in the environmental management and applied aspects of the program, a central focus of the program is the development of theoretical inquiry, critical reading, writing and presentation skills. The program offers certificates in community arts practice, geographic information systems and remote sensing, and refugee and migration studies. Students can also pursue concurrent degrees with the Faculties of Arts, Education and Fine Arts.
The PhD program was also introduced in 1991. It is the only program of its kind in Canada. Six to eight students have, with some exceptions, been admitted to the program annually but that figure was increased to 12 in 2007. The PhD students form a substantial part of the teaching staff in the Faculty, serving both as teaching assistants and course instructors. Two identified key areas of focus are Nature, Culture and Society and Environments, Institutions and Interventions, but students are also encouraged to define their own area within the context of environmental studies. The majority of PhD graduates have become career academics in a variety of disciplines, including environmental design, environmental studies, political science, history, forestry, international development, sociology, and geography. Others are consultants, public servants, business people, or hold other professional positions.
The Faculty is well known for its training of various types of planners who can be found in the highest academic, government, and private consultant ranks nationally and internationally. The Faculty has also hosted major international development projects that generated research and research funds for large groups of students and faculty members. The Faculty is also internationally renowned for its work in environmental thought and philosophy. In recent years, the Faculty has emerged in the forefront of research on urban environmental issues and in cultural and environmental sustainability.