Dominican uses new budget system to promote shared governance

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Dominican faculty leaders praise a decentralized approach to administration.

Following Kia Across Georgia

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Atlanta Christian College is moving to the Alabama border, enticed in part by a manufacturing plant. The institution has also dropped "Christian" from its name, becoming Point University.

Dealing With Fine Print

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Auxiliary service agreements tying vendor spending on facilities to contract renewals raise conflict-of-interest questions -- and may be quite common.

Enduring Irene

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Campuses assess the damage, clear debris and reschedule events.

A Road Through the County

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After years of bypassing the surrounding community, George Mason brought local governments on board to develop a transportation plan that has paved over some old tensions.

Office Space

Your boss wants to move you out of the perfect location for your work. C.K. Gunsalus reviews the situation -- and offers advice for managers.

A Room and a View

I used to have a professor who liked to "privilege" what he termed "the scene of reading." Special consideration was due for any portion of a novel that depicted a character reading. Just so, I would like to privilege the scene of teaching. Any material place we teach is worth considering, even the most mundane generic classroom, featuring, at minimum, vaguely green concrete walls, unemphatically beige metal chairs, and a hopelessly colorless table. An old wooden lectern and a tiny wall clock are both optional. Windows of any sort become a bonus.
How to begin to consider this scene? It is difficult to imagine a call for papers consisting of a book-length collection of essays to be entitled "Rooms In Which I Have Taught." Intellectually, we may be rich in our professorial occasions. Materially, though, we are poor. The first thing to say about the rooms in which most of us teach, most of the time, could well be the last thing: they are all stupefyingly uninteresting, boring and even ugly.

But there remains at least one question: is this somehow intentional?
Granted, only the richest colleges and universities can afford to customize classrooms, although even so, some exciting, innovative plan for a teaching space could not compare with the status of a new cultural center or the wonder of the latest in recreational edifice. Nevertheless, why couldn't classroom walls at least be, say, red? Has such a color traditionally been construed to tempt us away from the realm of ideas?

Has our very ability to know been deemed to be at risk if we sat in comfortable armchairs?

I once read an essay about the 60s where the author wound up regretting his decision to hold graduate classes in his home. Students were distracted by casual surroundings, drank too much, and talked about everything but the subject at hand. The consequences were enough to revalue the commonplace material circumstances of the classroom. Its austerity seemed to make such things as intellectual content or sustained focus possible in the first place. There was, it seemed, no study worth the name not based on denial, beginning with hard seats.
Reading this essay, I thought about how hapless were those times in my own experience when I decided to bid my freshman composition students outside, so that sun-kissed sights and sounds might "stimulate" their writing. Alas, many just fell asleep on the grass. And what about, say, the semester I met at a selection of area restaurants with a grad student for a special independent study course? We did talk about the week's reading. But we also got catsup on our books as well as impatient looks from the waitress.

At a more interiorized extreme, what about lecture halls? The only experience I've had with them has been in foreign countries. In Egypt, I gave a short series of lectures in an auditorium to an audience upwards of 500. I felt like a character in a play, striding back and forth on stage, here with a suddenly jabbing finger, there with a dramatic stop and lowered voice. It felt too much like performing to be teaching and certainly too much like entertainment to be education. That is, it felt like fun. Could the main lesson of the narrow, dim, generic classroom be that higher education -- whatever else -- is not designed to be fun?

Certainly the bigger, not to say, vaster, the room, the more interiority is transformed into exteriority, thereby establishing the class as (in part anyway) a visual spectacle. Of course,  who among us has not been enthralled simply by the sight of a lone speaker -- way up front under a ceiling of lights or on the floor down below tiered rows of seats -- who proceeds to mesmerize an audience of hundreds? Trouble is, how many such times can this happen, especially if scheduled three times a week?  
Usually, it seems to me, a lecture hall just swallows us up. A few years ago in Japan, I had at my disposal for 91 students one of the most beautiful, brand-new, cream-colored classrooms I've ever seen, including a console featuring the latest technology. In theory, the touch of a button would command, say, the movie screen to unfold at the same time the window blinds would fall. But each time I pressed that button it was the wrong one. The students were deliciously amused as the blinds fell . . .  but the screen rose -- or else the video was out-of-focus, or the sound intermittent, or worse.

How I hoped to orchestrate the class! Instead, the room orchestrated me, and the technology orchestrated the room. Are lecture halls more vulnerable to the lure of technology, the better (we hope) to try to reclaim some of the intellectual focus inevitably lost when there is too much space? It does appear so. I remember meeting a man when I began teaching who told me that you can stay in intimate touch with a surprisingly large number of students in a single course, up to 50; after 50, he said, it's all theater. My own subsequent experience has acted to confirm this. Nothing necessarily wrong with theater. (And of course the smallest classroom can become a stage.) But to me, the happiest times are when the room just ceases to matter; the larger the room, the more it matters -- and is matter.

Seminar rooms, although they vary in size, constitute just about the most constricted teaching space of all. In the smallest ones, you have to keep twisting a chair just to secure enough space to move your elbows or open your own text; everybody is crowded around a long table, and there's little else in the room, except perhaps a coffee pot brewing off to one side. More is the miracle, then, when this space falls away like a veil at some moment after class begins, and the scene of teaching is revealed to be a pure idea. The color of the walls? Who notices?

At its most intense -- no intensity like that of a seminar room -- the room basks in the radiance of its idea. And what exactly is this idea? It seems to me the following: that learning can utterly transfigure the material circumstances of the classroom. Grant only that this is easier to accomplish in some rooms than in others.
In theory, though, any room can become a classroom, from one as intimate as a don's book-lined study to one as expansive as a public lecture hall with people falling off the window sills. In turn, any scene of teaching can become finally immaterial. Circumstances fall away. Could this be why what I have been terming the generic classroom is in fact so unstimulating and dreary? It is as if its construction is designed to give the moment of immateriality a strong start. Too bad, however, that learning, unlike buildings, cannot be constructed.

Once an ESL teacher in Japan told me the following story. It was late afternoon in an average-size classroom of an Osaka university. The walls were dirty, the chairs were scattered, the students were half asleep. The teacher told them to get up, took them to a window, and bid them consider the dun-colored concrete vastness of the Kansai area.
"Look at that," she declaimed. "Hundreds of thousands of people and every one speaking Japanese. It's an ocean. And here we are in our little boat of English." She paused, and cupped her hand for dramatic effect. "Don't let it sink."
Fortunately this particular room did have a window. Learning always acts in some conjunction with its material circumstances. How can it not? But the view the teacher demonstrated this day was finally only available to her students as an imaginative one, where the classroom was transformed into an idea. Not only did the particular subject -- English-- become at once something frail and precious. Even more, I believe, the scene of teaching itself partook of the same qualities. Thus, all that transpired to defeat this scene -- including even the window of the classroom. with its disclosure of vast energies outside -- could be converted, even if just for a moment, into a greater vision of learning.
A collection of essays entitled "Rooms In Which I Have Taught"? Maybe not such a bad idea after all,  provided that each room is seen with the addition of some sort of view. Of what? Of how the room opened out and even lifted away.

Terry Caesar
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Believing in Parking

What should a new faculty member value most about his or her institution? Salary? Library holdings? Student SAT scores? Health plan? Of the knowledge that can well prove absolutely decisive, especially on those days when it's raining and you're running late for class, I would suggest one neglected subject: parking.

Many are hired. But not all can park. Or at least not all can park close to the building where they need to go. How close depends upon many factors, ranging from the size of the college or university to how many years you've been there or what time on any particular day you drive into a lot.

But of course you don't just park. As a faculty member, you occupy a place relative to administrators and staff, as well as other faculty members, visiting professors, consultants, post-and pre-doctoral students, among others. If you're lucky, a space awaits you. If you're not, there's a space on a waiting list.

Such a list constitutes just about the only way faculty rank may matter anymore, whereby a secure parking spot becomes the reason an individual celebrates promotion to full professor. More commonly, though, it may not be. Indeed, are there still institutions where faculty parking is allotted on the basis of rank? My impression is that just about everywhere this is now a thing of the bad old hierarchical past.

Nowadays, everyone is free upon being hired to make a parking contract of some sort. (Even on small campuses where parking is free, a badge or sticker is required.) The seeming egalitarianism of the market rules. Associate professors lie down with, er, park next to, adjuncts. You get what you pay for, provided that you have enough money to pay.

But wait. Among faculty, don't full professors have the most money to buy into (or keep renewing) the choicest spaces? The market may rule. But it does not rule everybody in the same way. And of course it does not rule the highest administrators at all. Who among the faculty has not dreamed of swinging, just once, into the space designated for the Provost or the Dean of Liberal Arts?

Just so, who among the undergraduates has not dreamed of swinging into a faculty lot? In fact, many of the newest undergraduates do so on a regular basis, making the beginning of each semester a veritable revolutionary period, during which perhaps the most basic academic distinction -- between student and professor -- is regularly overthrown in the parking lots for a precious few weeks. Fortunately, the overthrow is sporadic as well as transitory.

Moreover, since the lots are literally peripheral (for the most part) to the campus core, the illegal parking of some freshest to campus is not nearly as threatening as if they had somehow begun to speak from the lecterns of classrooms or else to wave everybody past while overseeing the turnstiles of the main library. Parking reveals how order is so central to the life of any campus.

Fundamentally hierarchical, order is not easily eluded. What if everybody could park anywhere at any time? As well ask what if everybody could just get up in class and speak at any time, or walk out of the library with any book! And yet, the order that attends to parking is not quite the same as these things, and herein resides its
peculiar interest: the space of parking is a foundational one.

Suppose we ask, when does the work day begin? For some, it begins early, when the bedside alarm goes off, or else later when the office door is opened. The question can always be answered in a personal way, and the answer will always appear to some extent arbitrary. For most of us, though, the answer will be the same: the day begins not once we start our cars but succeed in parking them.

Who was it wrote, "beginning is a god?" Parking constitutes just such a beginning. This is why we worship it -- our lots veritable shrines, their sudden empty spaces revealed as akin to miracle. This is also why we must never take parking for granted -- we  linger over our lots in peril, converting what is after all a mere beginning into an end in itself.

Michael Moore has made the following statement to audiences on a number of occasions: "I didn't go to college because I couldn't find a place to park." What can we answer? That he should have come back later or arrived earlier? Tried another lot? Taken a bus? Perhaps we could now direct Moore's vision to for-profit colleges, such
as the University of Phoenix. They advertise plenty of free parking available. Whatever their educational merit of such institutions, even they testify to a larger transportational truth: we begin college with parking or we don't begin at all.

Perhaps best to try to console Moore on the basis of a religious model: He lacked faith. In academic terms as in all others, you ultimately either have faith or you don't. Not just in this case, faith in yourself as a student that you can succeed. But faith in yourself as a commuter that you can park. Poor Moore. He should have tried either an urban university where it's possible to get to campus by bus (and then get round by shuttle) or a rural college where it's possible to walk to campus.

To me, however -- and perhaps to Moore as well -- each of these possibilities seems lacking in seriousness and commitment. Taking a bus is too easy, walking is too casual. And neither testifies to some larger principle of order. An academic day that begins heedless of the presiding categories of faculty, staff, student, visitor, and all the wondrous interconnections among them? On what basis can such a day be said properly to begin at all?

Having to park a car means having to participate in a great collective rite. You don't necessarily have to believe in it. But going through the motions gets you started along the road. I know a woman teaching at a small college. Parking is free to all faculty and staff, who only have to show a permit, in order to distinguish them from students. Trouble is, staff have to begin work earlier than faculty. The result? Each day the staff gobbles up the parking places closest to main buildings or under trees. A faculty member often has to get to school early, even if she only has afternoon classes, in order to be able to park at all.

Sacrilege! No wonder (she claims) secretaries are often so dismissive or clerks so unhelpful. It appears as if the staff has assumed the prerogatives of the faculty, beginning with (not to say authorized by) parking. What to do when foundational power no longer serve the ends of right order? Already, it seems, there are some days when my friend parks in spaces marked for Visitors, although not before removing her faculty permit from the rearview mirror.

I thought of her awhile ago, when I had to do some research at the library of the largest university in my area. Its parking problems are legion. Legend has it that papers have been written or children raised while vigilant drivers, hopeful believers all, have circled the lots (a parking garage has yet to be completed) looking for a space. Fortunately, I had a faculty parking permit for the university. Unfortunately, it expired last August.

I bought the permit the previous August, when I agreed for the fall semester to teach a class there. Two reasons. First, the class was at 8 a.m., so I was assured of getting a good parking place. Second, the permit would be good for another semester, and so I would be free to park (whether I taught there again or not)  in order to use the library. Now, though, what to do? I have a friend who, as an occasional adjunct, has accumulated enough of the university's yearly permits that she can switch to the color coding of any particular new year, if she needs to park there herself. But I didn't think to ask her if I could borrow the template for this year.

Foolishly, I developed a plan of my own. I picked a Saturday, when parking wardens might be more lax, if on duty then at all. Then I proceeded to park in the last row of a faculty lot, where a warden would have to come round to the front of the car to see if I had a permit. Neglecting to notice how one looked  this year, I dangled my old permit on the rearview mirror, cleverly (I reasoned) obscuring the year by a sunscreen mat along the front window. A happy research day at the library passed. It was shattered upon my return to the car. There it was stuck to the windshield wiper: a ticket!

According to the posted time, a warden had pounced on the car in less than an hour. Had he been lying in wait? Not only was my out-of-date permit noted. So was my attempt to conceal it. Worst of all was the price of the ticket: $65!

Had I failed to respect an origin, or, more garishly, feigned too much respect? The order of the academic universe is a stern one. I conclude at least three things about the whole matter of parking on campus:

  • 1. Access to it costs.
  • 2. Restrictions always apply.
  • 3. Best to accept what you are designated to be.

With respect to the last of these: I was a Visitor. So confessed, I have since twice requested, and each time received, a Visitor's day permit. The first time I was assigned a Faculty lot, the second time a Student lot. What exactly is the meaning of these assignments? Perhaps that no order is entirely consistent either with itself or with the operations possible within it. But this does not prevent the order from having to be accepted, or even -- if only so that you can get inside it -- believed.

Terry Caesar
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Terry Caesar's last column was about fear of humor in the classroom.

A Green Future

There is mounting evidence, corroborated by the world’s leading scientists, that planet earth is on fire, that global warming is an inexorable reality, that there is scant need for further studies. The evidence submitted cries for individual and collective solutions. Can natural-resource-dependent institutions, like colleges, play an active, if not leading, role in saving the planet? Yes. Should they? Yes.

An essential first step is for colleges to determine if they can function in a more sustainable fashion: that is, meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Practicing sustainability means making environmentally friendly, otherwise known as “green,” choices related to energy, construction, renovation, purchasing, and investment. Modeling sustainability requires more than just an adjustment to college and university operations, it requires a reconsideration of institutional missions and pedagogical values.

Energy costs are higher than ever, creating pressures on all organizations to find efficient, inexpensive alternatives to fossil fuels. But out-of-control energy prices are not a new phenomenon. The world experienced oil price shocks in the 1970’s. As a result, energy conservation became a national goal in the United States, resulting in stricter miles per gallon standards for automobiles, solar research and design initiatives, and the energy efficient construction and renovation of some campus buildings. But the changes in behavior were not permanent. As soon as oil became less expensive, business as usual resumed, even on college campuses.

This time the stakes are higher for the planet and for higher education. Higher education has an obvious interest in keeping the planet earth vital: If the earth does not survive, then of course no college or university will survive. And ignoring the issue or holding to the status quo this time will likely confirm negative public perceptions of higher education as wasteful and aloof. Arguably then, there has never been a better opportunity to persuade presidents, trustees, faculty, and students, as well as those who make policies affecting higher education, that institutions can be mission centered and market smart by pursuing a sustainability agenda.

Institutions of higher education are rarely founded to achieve quiet local success. Grand visions animate beginnings, motivate donors and help recruit leaders.  Educating socially responsible or moral citizens is the raison d’etre for many colleges. Jesuit institutions such as Georgetown University impart the ideal of service for others. Quaker influenced institutions like Earlham College instill respect for consensus-based community governance. There is a strong populist tradition behind much of public higher education, embodied in the land grant university ideal of places such as the University of Wisconsin that produce new knowledge, develop inventions and harness research to help society and the economy. Other institutions have core commitments to correcting disadvantage due to gender (Smith College), race (Grambling State University), or socioeconomic status (Berea College). Each represents a type of institution historically tied to the notion that social responsibility is intrinsic to the education being imparted. Modeling and teaching sustainable behavior can be another way to stay true or reconnect to the ideals at the heart of an institution’s founding vision. A green agenda for higher education also cuts to the most basic core mission of any college or university, the goal of existing in perpetuity. In fulfilling institutional missions and by enabling institutional futures, then, green initiatives are mission centered.

Signs of Hope

Sustainable initiatives have been gathering momentum on campuses for over a decade. In 1995 Middlebury College’s trustees passed a resolution urging the campus community to practice responsible environmental stewardship and four years later resolved to reduce the college’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2012. Oberlin College opened the first green building on a U.S. college campus, the Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies, housing a living machine that purifies and recycles waste-water, containing features that produce more energy than the building uses. Tufts University became the first U.S. institution of higher education to agree to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol on reduction of greenhouse gases.

Nearly 10 years later, institutions like Connecticut College have written sustainability into their mission statements and the University of Wisconsin campuses at Green Bay, Oshkosh, River Falls, and Stevens Point intend to go “off the grid” by 2012, using only renewable energy.  A growing number of colleges, including California State University at Chico, Evergreen State College, Middlebury,  Oberlin, Northern Arizona University, and the University of British Columbia require that all new buildings and renovations meet or exceed best construction and renovation practices such as the standards necessary for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification.

The impetus for sustainable design and green practices most often comes from student groups or faculty members. Carnegie Mellon University’s living roof started as a “what if” posed by three engineering students. Student initiative led the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh to establish an aquatics research lab to study Wisconsin’s waters. Maintenance workers at Northern Arizona University have suggested many of the ideas put into practice or selected for further investigation by the university’s faculty-directed Center for Sustainable Environments. Brown University responded to student interest with energy efficient renovations, environmentally responsible design of new buildings, courses on environmental stewardship, and employee trip reduction programs. And Reed College purchased electric cars and cleaned up a campus wetland.

Besides energy and recycling, the issue of campus paper usage is an obvious target for sustainable efforts. Here some progress is occurring. Promotional literature, such as admissions view books, now frequently get printed on recycled paper using non-toxic, biodegradable inks. Numerous colleges have replaced their traditional paper course catalog with an electronic version. Institutions, such as the University of Pennsylvania, now only send term bills electronically, while others, such as the University of Southern California, only offer an electronic admissions application. Double-sided copying and printing is becoming a widespread practice. But despite efforts to reduce paper usage, no institution has approached a paper free curriculum or administration. If anyone does, it will be Evergreen State, aiming toward goals of zero waste and carbon neutrality by 2020. Perhaps Evergreen will lead other colleges toward practicing green teaching, learning, living, and working in and around green buildings.

Whether you agree with Oberlin Professor of Environmental Studies David Orr when he asserts that all education is environmental education, it is hard to deny that campus design and construction teaches lessons about how resources are allocated. Just look at any college classroom or laboratory and ask some basic questions. Is the space naturally or artificially lit? Is there fresh airflow through spaces finished with non-toxic coatings and surfaces? Or is the room ventilated by fossil-fuel-powered or Chlorofluorocarbon-dependent air conditioning to remove vapors seeping from toxic surface materials? The mere asking of such questions is one result of the sustainability movement on campuses. The attempt at solutions is but another collaborative learning opportunity for students and faculty.

Green buildings have pedagogical value. Faculty and students have come to regard them as ongoing experiments, using them as living laboratory sites where they devise and test ideas for cleaner, less artificial, and more energy efficient learning spaces. At Carnegie Mellon, for example, biology classes analyze and evaluate the efficacy of the green roof and a sustainable engineering collaborative works to apply green solutions to engineering problems. Environmental studies students at Oberlin monitor the Lewis Center’s energy and water use and have transformed a nearby house into a green learning laboratory. Professors at the University of Texas and Arizona State aim to revolutionize engineering education by integrating sustainable design and construction throughout the curriculum.

Market Benefits of Going Green

Green design is popular with students and donors -- it can generate revenue streams. After the University of South Carolina opened a green dorm, the largest in the U.S., it immediately became the most sought after residence on campus, spurring discussion of a green fraternity house. Bellevue Community College found that its green classroom building soon had the lowest student and employee absentee rates of any facility on campus. Oberlin’s Lewis Center has become a showpiece for visiting architects, school children, and college officials from around the globe. The Lewis Center gift brought Oberlin “new money” from a family that had no ties to Oberlin but was moved to support the bold gesture conceived by David Orr and his students. Institutions such as the College of the Atlantic, Northland, Humboldt State, Unity, the University of Vermont, and Warren Wilson are staking their identities to environmental education, hoping to draw prospective students, good publicity, gifts, and research funds.

A chief obstacle to sustainable design is cost. There is a perception that environmentally friendly means bottom line unfriendly. That is not true. There is a compelling market rationale for green practices. Going green can save colleges green, as in cash. Green projects are often misunderstood as more costly due to tensions between short-term and long-term thinking. Opponents of green projects commonly cite the higher initial costs of implementation. But dismissing green projects on an initial cost basis is shortsighted, even antithetical to the in-depth critical thinking so celebrated within higher education.

Sustainable buildings and energy systems may be more costly initially but have been shown repeatedly to save money when evaluated from life span and cost-to-maintain perspectives. While it took a substantial investment to construct a windmill on campus, for example, Carleton College now derives 40 percent of its electricity from it. Bellevue Community College’s geothermal-powered, naturally-ventilated classroom building and Cornell University’s geothermal cooling system were more expensive to construct than conventional coal-fired heating and chilling plants, but both projects will pay for themselves with savings generated by ten years of efficiencies and energy reductions. College officials, as noted earlier, also need to factor into the cost analysis the dollar value of intangible benefits to the institution resulting from positive publicity, greater attractiveness to prospective students, and potential openings to new donor bases. There is evidence that once colleges shift to a long-term cost and benefit analysis, they are much more likely to implement green initiatives.

Still, habits are difficult to change. Thinking about sustainability requires thinking in new ways about construction, design, energy, and materials. Most campus planners and treasurers came of professional age in the hey-day of fossil fuels and fixation on short-term cost efficiencies. Thus, the institutional purse string holders are often the first to throw up the “too expensive” roadblock at green suggestions. Fortunately, unlike corporations, where the chief financial officer’s opposition can doom a proposal, colleges rely on a decision-making structure where faculty consensus is essential. Getting that consensus poses challenges and opportunities for sustainability’s proponents. Faculty, regardless how local their interests and perspectives, are not immune to the influence of market leaders. Faculty, not to mention presidents, trustees, and students, notice when Harvard touts $5 million in annual savings due to green initiatives, Stanford announces plans to build a green dormitory, Yale commits to long-term greenhouse gas reduction, Penn obtains 30 percent of its energy from wind, the University of California system makes sustainability a core value, Northwestern gets 20 percent of its power from renewable sources, and New York University achieves 10 percent energy savings by purchasing wind power.

Some critics of the sustainability movement assert that the issue will be rendered moot when fossil fuel prices revert to previous low levels. The historical pattern, such critics assert, is for fuel prices to settle back to affordability. For that and other reasons, several leading institutions, including some full university systems, have yet to adopt sustainability resolutions. Critics seeking to stall green initiatives are playing a dangerous game. It is risky to predict fuel prices based on past history. Several researchers, for example, believe that the world has reached peak oil production, which means that wider recognition of a finite supply could lead to stockpiling, hoarding, even wars -- all developments counter to the what-goes-up-must-come-down argument. China’s booming economy will require an amount of fossil fuel that is hard to predict, because all indications suggest that demand from its billion-plus citizens will be unprecedented. Only fools dismiss the sustainability movement as a fad and fail to see its potential to spawn new industries and spur the United States’ global economic competitiveness.

The Cost of Inaction

There will be enormous consequences if higher education misses the opportunity to make green initiatives as ubiquitous on campuses as student unions and sports centers. With the future of the planet at stake, colleges must be on the side of solutions. If American higher education does not embrace sustainability, then it is likely that another country’s universities will and thereby gain competitive advantage. Canadian and European universities were the first out of the blocks, embracing sustainable building practices before they were adopted in the U.S. Since then the U.S. has caught up. U.S. colleges and universities now have the opportunity to take the lead in modeling sustainable behavior and educating the next generation of engineers, scientists, and architects. U.S. campuses showplace architectural wonders that help punctuate a sense of place -- just look at the recent spate of steel-clad, sun-reflecting, nearly-window-less Frank Gehry buildings. Yet such buildings are monuments to energy inefficiency, the antithesis of the approach taken by green architects like former University of Virginia Dean William McDonough, whose designs seek to eliminate waste, minimize natural resource use, and respect the natural surroundings. Which message does higher education want to send to its students and the public?

In a world where the U.S. is losing its competitive advantage in computer science, engineering, and research science, the nascent fields of environmental architecture, sustainable engineering, and ecological science provide a new universe for innovation and training for the jobs of the future. U.S. colleges and universities, acting in concert, can lead the world by training the corps of professionals whose ideas and actions will save the natural world. The same principle holds for individual colleges acting in isolation. The innovators along green lines will reap the rewards.

Politicians frequently assail higher education as wasteful. Yet incredibly, the recent Spellings Commission on Higher Education missed the opportunity to endorse green design and energy efficient campus practices as ways to reduce waste and achieve cost savings in American higher education. One wonders how serious the commission was about cost saving, whether its dominant focus on accountability merely provided a convenient means to set up higher education as a whipping post.

The actions of the chief players in debates about higher education’s future leave so many other questions unanswered. How, for example, could the Spellings Commission as well as presidents of major colleges and universities have squandered the opportunity to push for a federal grant program to fund green initiatives and sustainability? Why haven’t states provided scholarships to study environmental engineering and sustainable science? Where are the funds for green design and fuel efficiency incubators at colleges and universities? Why aren’t colleges and universities leading elementary and secondary schools toward sustainable design, curricula, and operations?

Sustainable practices promise the potential for long-run cost savings for colleges, savings that might help hold down tuition increases. That is something every taxpayer and every tuition-payer would love to see colleges achieve. Going green can help colleges and universities achieve their missions, because sustainable practices are consistent with education for global citizenship. Going green can also help colleges and universities achieve market efficiencies and competitive advantages.  Green is the academically sound and market smart choice. Colleges and universities can and must lead the way. Making sustainability an every day choice can help colleges and universities fulfill their public purpose and regain an authoritative voice on issues of the common good.

Paul Marthers and Amir Rahnamay-Azar
Author's email: 

Paul Marthers is dean of admission at Reed College and a member of the college's Committee on Sustainability. Amir Rahnamay-Azar is associate senior vice president of operations at the University of Southern California.


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