Last Monday, September 26, at 4:15 p.m, a gathering of faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends could be seen around a seedling sugar maple tree, standing before the Lewis House.
The occasion? A particularly meaningful one, in the four-year history of the University’s Sustainability Committee. Its inaugural chairman, Professor of Economics , was to be honored on this day with the dedication of this maple tree on his behalf.
His is a familiar name to any student in Economics, Business or Environmental Studies and Sustainability. He was the recipient of the 2004-2005 Distinguished Teaching Award in the CLA, and in 2008, he was honored with the Student Recognition Award as Outstanding Faculty Member.
Having served as the Chair of the Sustainability Committee since its inception, he has recently stepped down from this position. To pay tribute to him for his contributions over the years, the Committee held a special ceremony last Monday with the tree dedication.
A year ago, when the Board of Trustees signed into effect the Climate Action Plan, the Sustainability Committee claimed a significant triumph.
The Plan served as their latest major accomplishment to achieve carbon neutrality at Drew, aimed primarily at reducing greenhouse gas emissions yet also at purchasing offsets for those that remain.
Such an ambitious feat was made possible, in large part, by Curtis’s steadfast efforts. Professor of Biology Sara Webb, current head of the Department of Environmental Studies & Sustainability and former Sustainability Committee member, commended the sort of wisdom and mindfulness that he brought to the table when negotiating difficult decisions. “His provocative scholarship on economic and social justice inspires the soul,” she said, citing the background and research Curtis brings to both the Committee and to his own classroom; from the economics of apartheid South Africa; to homelessness; to race, class, and capitalism; to pedagogy; and to peak oil, globalization, and consumption, all of which are key factors in the movement to combat climate change.
Nina Leone (C’11), a recent graduate and former student member of the Committee, recalls Curtis as an early inspirational figure during her college career towards her decision to engage in environmental activism.
She’d had her first-year seminar with him, and later served as his first peer mentor when the college seminar program began. “He really pulled me into the [ESS] major and environmental work—and into thinking about sustainability in critical ways,” she said, affirming the type of dedication towards the personal growth of his students for which Curtis is known.
When describing his role in the Committee, she said, “[He led the Committee as] a good space for all voices to be heard, especially since I applied as an undergrad. He went above and beyond what so many people would expect of someone so busy.”
Laurel Kearns, associate professor of Sociology of Religion and Environmental Studies at the Theological School, has also worked alongside Curtis in this Committee. “I can’t remember not knowing him while at Drew,” she said, referring to him as an important colleague whose thoroughly interdisciplinary concerns always lead him to reach out beyond the boundaries of the CLA.
She expressed her admiration of him as a “different kind of economist,” an intellectual who truly considers question of ethics, but who is also grounded in the everyday world. “A tree is understood for its unconditional giving…ask[ing] for so little. A tree pushes farther, higher, deeper,” she said at a poignant moment of the ceremony, tying in the presence of the sugar maple tree. These are the same qualities she identified in Curtis, in light of his hard work and ambitions with the Sustainability Committee.