Not only that, but the university also applied for
the dorm to be certified by the U.S. Green Building Council under
its Leadership, Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) program. Certification
is given at the basic, silver, gold, and platinum levels. (There
are just two buildings in the United States that have earned platinum
certification.) "We think we're going to make LEED gold," Coull
When Coull started his academic career in the late '60s, he had
no idea that he would end up an environmental activist. He studied
biology at Moravian College and marine biology at Lehigh University,
which at the time had a field station in Bermuda. He then received
a postdoctoral fellowship from Duke University to study at its marine
laboratory in Beaufort, North Carolina.
His particular area of expertise is copepods, microscopic crustaceans
that occupy one of the lowest rungs on the food chain. He's discovered
and classified 50 new species of copepods, written more than 125
scientific articles about them, and edited four textbooks on marine
ecology. After a couple of years teaching at Clark University in
Massachusetts, he was hired by the University of South Carolina
as a professor in its Marine Sciences Department.
"It was a chance to work in one of the last pristine, unpolluted
marine estuaries on the East Coast," he says, "an opportunity to
study how a natural ecosystem works-and how we have altered it in
places like the Jersey shore and Baltimore Harbor." He spent 23
years in marine sciences (12 as department chair), setting up studies
of the biological index and calendar of the state's miles and miles
of shoreline; and he imagined he'd spend his life sloshing through
these coastal waterways, examining squiggly little creatures in
the lab, writing articles in scientific journals, and supervising
Ph.D. students. In 1981, he was a senior Fulbright fellow at Victoria
University, Wellington, New Zealand; and in 1994, he was a visiting
professor in marine sciences at the University of Queensland, Brisbane,
But the life and times of copepods led him in a direction he never
expected. As he learned how marine ecosystems work, he became aware
that they were but a condensed version of the ecosystem in general.
The crustaceans he studied acted "like earthworms in the soil. They
aerate the sediment and turn over the nutrients every 30 days."
In the warm climate of South Carolina, turnover can occur as often
as every 12 days.
For two reasons, he explains, these creatures are "early sentinels
of pollution." Because they process nutrients quickly as they aerate
river- and estuary beds, the pollutants they ingest are just as
quickly-and digestibly-passed along to fish and shellfish that eat
them, thence to land animals and humans. The other is that their
life cycle is accomplished in about three weeks, so it's easy to
see that "pollution changes their genetics." Coull calls this process
"unnatural selection." PCBs and mercury are mutagens, and as they
chemically alter the DNA of these myriad crustaceans, "it reduces
the genetic diversity and stresses the ecosystem."
"I was a science geek," he says, "but my area was pretty narrow.
In retrospect, even knowing how marine ecosystems work is fairly
narrow. Eventually, I learned that [my field] wasn't about little
bugs that live in sediment. That was only part of it.
"I knew what I was doing in salt marshes and estuaries. But I
finally realized that there was so much more to it: social aspects
of the environment, environmental economics, environmental ethics.
It was a steep learning curve, to realize how all this interacts."
In 1996, when he had thoughts of retirement from life as a marine
biologist, President Sorensen asked him to be dean of the newly
established School of the Environment. Coull agreed to lead the
school for a year. He's still there. (Though he does plan to retire
in perhaps three years.) Not only did he turn out to be an inventive
thinker, but he also had a knack for matching donors and projects.