President Donna Shalala’s career at the University of Miami has received largely positive reviews. Her many accomplishments over the last 14 years include impressive fundraising campaigns, new efficiency standards for university administration and even the addition of state-of-the-art facilities to the Coral Gables, Rosenstiel and medical campuses.
But the Shalala legacy also includes a glaring blemish: the management and recent sale of the pine rocklands ecosystem.
In case you missed it, in 2014 UM sold over 80 acres of protected pine rocklands to Palm Beach County developer Ram Realty Services. The land is just a fraction of the original pine rocklands, which once spanned 185,000 acres of Southeast Florida. Only 3,000 acres of the unique ecosystem remain intact outside of Everglades National Park.
The sudden sale threatens to further degrade the shrinking habitat and could tarnish the university’s reputation for sustainability. Shalala and her administration should have considered these potential impacts before selling the land.
And the price of destruction? A $22 million check from Ram.
The developer plans to build a Wal-Mart, LA Fitness, apartment complex and chain restaurants in the area. Though Ram and UM have included a 40-acre wildlife reserve in the sale negotiations, biologists are unsure this concession will save the many unique and endangered species that call the area home.
The costs – both literal and figurative – seem to outweigh the benefit.
The sale of the pine rocklands undermines the hard work of countless faculty, staff and students who are trying to make UM more environmentally focused. Programs like Green U, which President Shalala enacted in 2005, were meant to encourage sustainability at UM. The university also established an environmentally focused division of Student Government in 2012, known as the Energy Conservation and Organization (ECO) Agency. The ECO Agency focuses on environmental awareness and sustainable initiatives on campus.
Despite these efforts, it seems that the university chose profit over responsibility by selling the pine rocklands.
Not only does the management and sale of the pine rocklands contradict the values of on-campus environmental initiatives, but the sale also threatens the credibility of UM’s environmentally focused academic programs, like those offered by the Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy and RSMAS. With the pine rocklands sale, potential students may doubt the integrity of these programs.
Margot Winick, assistant vice president of University Communications, maintains that the university is “committed to the protection and preservation of our community’s natural and historic resources.”
Yet the decision to sell the area suggests the opposite.
Many opposers of the sale have admitted to feeling blindsided by the decision. Some have even accused Shalala and UM of negotiating the sale behind closed doors, ignoring potential community concerns.
In response to this accusation, Winick said that the university held several public meetings and hearings before finalizing the sale, and worked with the Department of Environmental Resource Management in a “transparent, public process.”
However, the university declined to comment on the locations, times and modes of advertising of these meetings to the public.
Despite several protests, petitions and even a request for buyback funds by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez, it is unlikely that the pine rocklands will be rescued from Ram’s bulldozers.
In an interview with The Miami Herald, Ram founder Peter Cummings asserted that his newly acquired pine rocklands property is not for sale.
The future of the pine rocklands may be settled, but the full impact on the UM community is unknown. The sale illustrates a lack of consideration for both the environment and the university’s own values.
Shalala neglected the students and faculty members working to build UM’s environmental reputation, and the vague responses from her administration fail to address their concerns.
Considering this, the protest slogan “Shame On U” seems more than appropriate.
Amanda Wood is a senior majoring in ecosystem science and policy.