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  • Getting to Green

    An administrator pushes, on a shoestring budget, to move his university and the world toward a more sustainable equilibrium.

Scarlet and brown and green
November 18, 2012 - 6:02pm

Let's be honest. Almost any color, when paired with white, makes an endurable combination. But in the never-ending quest for uniqueness in branding, some school teams sport color combinations only a colorblind alum could love. 

Of the many SLAC campuses I've been on, St. Lawrence U. sticks in my memory -- at least in part -- due to its scarlet and brown official colors.  Obviously chosen before McDonald's, Baskin-Robbins or even Howard Johnson came along, the pairing has always struck me as being a tad on the dull side.  Of course, some would say the same about upstate NY in general, but that's not my point.

My point is that St. Lawrence U. has done something Greenback's still working on (and, truth be told, not working on all that fast).  They're very possibly the first non-environmentally-focused college to revise its degree requirements to address not just environmental literacy, but the challenges of sustainability in a much broader context.

What their faculty and board have recently approved requires that all BA and BS candidates pass one course each in the arts, social sciences, natural sciences and humanities; one "diversity" course (a foreign language or some other approved course to push students beyond their cultural comfort zones), a quantitative/logical reasoning course, an integrated learning course (fostering synthetic understanding -- perhaps in some ways reminiscent of the capstone "moral philosophy" course college presidents once taught); and a course not just addressing environmental literacy, but awareness of the interactions and impacts between human society and the surrounding eco-sphere. 

The four-division distribution requirement is an admittedly traditional step toward creating well-rounded graduates, and I'd note that one semester of a foreign language isn't enough to shake up cultural stereotypes (although one semester in a significantly foreign culture might be).  But formal reasoning, synthetic understanding and human/ecosystem interactions -- put those all together, mix thoroughly, bake at 375 F until done and you've got a graduate probably ready and able (willingness still being an open issue) to comprehend and deal with a wide range of sustainability issues. 

Other schools will, no doubt, take other approaches.  But if a moderately traditional (St. Lawrence having always been a tad more liberal than some other SLACs) college can make this shift, most other US colleges and universities should be able to do so.  In relatively short order.


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