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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.

Counting (on) chickens
February 2, 2009 - 9:50pm

Like every other college and university in the country -- probably the world -- Greenback is pinching pennies. Hard. Discretionary purchases are out, deferrable maintenance is deferred, raises are even more illusory than usual. Hiring is generally frozen ( de facto if not de jure), but there are a few exceptions. Filling key faculty vacancies is one of them. And Greenback's lack of a professor of sustainable engineering is considered a key vacancy.

I'm administrative staff. Before I specialized in sustainability, I did other things on campus. The hiring or firing of someone whose job duties didn't explicitly overlap mine was of little concern. Nor was the redefinition of someone else's performance objectives. Simple case -- if I were a purchasing agent in charge of office furniture, I wouldn't much care if the department hired someone to specialize in purchasing food. No overlap, no implications, no concern. And if the food purchasing agent were told to concentrate on achieving sustainable menus in the dining halls, that wouldn't concern me much, either. An organization's desire for sustainably grown/raised food doesn't necessarily imply a desire for sustainably manufactured furniture. Maybe yes, maybe no. Nothing to lose sleep over.

But Greenback isn't hiring a purchasing agent to buy sustainable food, we're hiring a faculty member to teach sustainable engineering. Full disclosure: I've never been an engineering professor, and I'm never likely to be one. That said, I suspect that the implications for the existing members of the engineering faculty are greater than they were in the purchasing example. After all, if the new hire is going to teach sustainable engineering, doesn't that imply that what I've been teaching -- yea, these many years -- is inherently unsustainable engineering? Doesn't that in some way devalue or cast aspersions upon the traditional engineering curriculum?

To date, I've been working with a number of faculty members (in engineering as in other departments), pretty much on a case-by-case basis. Some professors get it, and want to do whatever they can. Others don't, and won't, and I've learned just to say "thanks for your time" as I close the door behind me.

But I wonder what the effect(s) will be, how attitudes and dynamics will change.

Will sustainability be "the new gal's" concern? Primarily? Exclusively?

Clearly, the sustainable engineering prof will be someone I'll want to recruit as an ally, but will the other faculty members (at least initially) have a tendency to confer? To defer? To decrease involvement?

Any time you add a new chicken to the flock, the pecking order changes. Sometimes, the changes are minimal and predictable. I hope this is one of those times.


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