NAU seeks interim sustainability director

NAU students and faculty are continuing to demand that the university hire a new full-time sustainability director.

The Office of Sustainability has been without management since Oct. 9 when the former director, Ellen Vaughan, departed for a position at the University of Californa Santa Cruz. In the meantime, university administration is making efforts to hire an interim director. NAU has now posted a listing for an Interim Sustainability Director, but it is only a part-time position.

Daniel Okoli, NAU’s vice president for capital planning and campus operations, explained the individual program managers within the Office of Sustainability have remained during their search for an interim director, but stressed that sustainability wasn’t just the office’s responsibility.

“That office cannot do this alone, and it is important that we create a culture of sustainability where all members of the campus community contribute to the effort,” said Okoli in an email.

He encouraged students that a new director was coming.

“Until then, students can get involved through the efforts of the many engaged green groups on campus,” Okoli said in an email.

Despite the vacancy of a director, he pointed out that many of the sustainability programs were still operating and students were picking up the mantle of responsibility.

“The Transportation Action Team created a multi-modal transportation study to assess the best forms of low-carbon transportation around campus,” Okoli said in an email. “The Green Fund has funded 60 projects totaling over $1 million on our campuses. The Green Jacks have focused on waste management this year, organizing the first Southside community cleanup with more than 100 participants and a tri-university student sustainability summit in Tucson this year.”

He also added that sustainability mentors are still available for students to get advice, and that ASNAU still has a sustainability director.

Environmental Caucus chair Caitlyn Burford doesn’t think these efforts are enough though. She points out that despite looking for an interim manager, the university has reduced the position from full-time to part-time, which is forcing the caucus to make more cuts within the Sustainability Program.

“The administration has told us that they are currently working on hiring a replacement position, but that position would be for 20 hours a week maximum.,” said Burford in an email. “So again, we had to go through yesterday and decide what we wanted to cut, as 20 hours a week in no way could cover Ellen’s full-time position.”

She was also concerned that with no director, many sustainability programs will regress due to neglect.

“We are already seeing it. There are virtually 23 student workers without staff supervision, and that likely cannot continue into another semester,” Burford said in an email. “Our student workers are running things like the Sustainable Citizen Program, recycling on campus, the Green Office Certification program, the Green Jacks, the Environmental Caucus, and the list goes on.”

Burford added that the students were doing a great job when they could, but with graduation approaching and some students leaving, many programs will look different next semester. In fact, she mentioned that cuts are already being made simply due to the lack of a sustainability director.

“At an environmental caucus meeting Nov. 7, we had to discuss what positions we wanted to cut. Not because we don’t have the money, but because we simply don’t have anyone to supervise student workers,” Burford said in an email. “That was Ellen’s job and we have yet to see a replacement. It’s a strange place to be in.”

As for the argument that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility at NAU, Burford believes it is just an excuse to withdraw support from workers, including reducing full-time sustainability positions within various programs.

“When I began working with Green NAU four years ago, there were four full-time positions and at least two part-time faculty positions for sustainability,” Burford said in an email. “As of right now, there are none. It makes me concerned for the Office of Sustainability, the student workers and NAU’s commitment to sustainability.”

Burford is aware that the NAU administration is keeping the university’s bottom line in mind and focusing on making NAU run as efficiently as possible, but in her opinion many of the sustainability programs already were efficient. Burford used Green NAU as an example, stating that with only one full-time staff member and some student interns, it is already responsible for cultivating a culture of sustainability on campus.

In her view, everyone at NAU already has taken on the mantle of sustainability and that the student body knows it is responsible for being environmentally aware.

“But, to continue doing that and to continue to uphold NAU’s mission of sustainability and stewardship, we need people steering the ship,” Burford said in an email. “We need a robust Office of Sustainability. We shouldn’t be fighting for one full-time position.”

She maintained it was imperative there is at least one full-time staff member dedicated to establishing sustainability goals and ensuring that NAU is achieving those goals.

Editors note: At press time on Wednesday, new information was brought to our attention indicating that President Cheng increased commitment maintaining the Office of Sustainability management position. We were unable to confirm this information by press time. Go to for updated information to this story.