The Responsibilities of Higher Education: Environmental Stewardship, Literacy, Sustainable Practice, and what it means for Kalamazoo College.
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In the face of increasing environmental destruction at the hand of industrial, commercial, and corporate development, the Earth's natural environment is not only under attack, but losing ground. Our dependence on the natural systems of the Earth for our very well-being demands of us that we strive to protect these systems and learn to practice a sustainable lifestyle. However, living sustainably requires a change in our current "modem" paradigm, a change of incredible magnitude. This is not to say change is impossible, but it will require an informed and cooperative effort from all levels of society to actively engage in the responsible stewardship of the Earth. As such, institutions of higher education play a significant role in this process. These institutions lay the foundations for critical thought, research, and practice in our world. They induct students into the roles of responsible citizenship and leadership that derive from, shape, and impact both society and environment. Colleges and universities must take seriously the implications their student-oriented responsibilities hold for the environment and humanity's relationship to it. In other words, students must learn to be as committed to environmental stewardship as they are towards the stewardship of their communities and societies-in truth, social and environmental stewardship are one and the same thing. Engaging in the prudent stewardship of one's community (social or environmental), is an act of reciprocity as stewardship initiatives do as much to reinforce the well-being of the steward as that of the community. The purpose of this SIP is to demonstrate the ways in which institutions of higher education have taken over this responsibility and made environmental stewardship a part of their curricular and campus activities that benefits existing educational and practical obligations, and to advocate that Kalamazoo College do the same. The environmental stewardship, education and outreach programs undertaken by the universities of Wisconsin-Madison, Oregon, and Tufts University illustrate the various ways in which environmental stewardship can be incorporated into campus and community. The Environmental Stewardship Initiative (ESI) and Campus Ecology Research Program (CERP) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison utilize the university's existing educational and practical resources to align the school's environmental commitments with its already existing educational goals. At Tufts University the school's reputation benefits greatly from outreach programs, such as Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute (TELl) and Tufts Institute of the Environment (TIE), that seek to engage students, other institutions, businesses, corporations, and organizations, world-wide, in environmental education and sustainable transition. In addition to education and outreach initiatives, the University of Oregon exemplifies the fact that environmentally sustainable campus practices often translate into "smart" business. Understanding both, the positive results that can accompany a sincere commitment to environmental stewardship and the consequences of not taking this commitment seriously, leaves today' s educators with little choice but to be active advocates of sustainable practice, learning, and living. Kalamazoo College, as an institution that upholds the educational ideals of so.cial responsibility, leadership, environmental stewardship, and experiential learning, must accept its obligation to its students and its community as one that also implies a responsibility for active environmental stewardship. As such, the college should seek, as others already have, to institute a comprehensive environmental policy that aligns the school's educational, operational, and outreach goals with its environmental obligations. This being the case, the second portion of this SIP is meant to offer an informative guideline by which Kalamazoo College can begin this process (for specific suggestions, see Postscript). To ensure the efficiency of its environmental policy, the college must seek to establish some means by which the policy can be coordinated, creating a forum for information, feedback, and collaboration between the various levels of campus activity (students, staff, faculty, and administration). Such a policy, to be successful, must also make use of the academic and operational frameworks existent at the college. In practice, this would require the college to reevaluate its current policies and programs and work to reformulate them under the rubric of environmental stewardship. Operationally, this would mean taking into account the real (environmental) costs of those materials, services, and practices used to run the college and making that consideration a priority in decision-making. Academically, this would mean orienting relevant areas of the curriculum, both in and out of the classroom, towards the incorporation of environmental literacy towards the facilitation of a literate understanding of environmental issues and stewardship for the entire campus community. The underlying impetus for a campus-wide transition to sincere and intelligent environmental stewardship is existent in the college's current educational and operational obligations-to itself and its students. The lack of a substantial environmental policy for the Kalamazoo College ethic is academically irresponsible. Although prudent (environmental) stewardship of the campus is required by the K-College Honor Code, this only frustrates the matter because it demonstrates that the college is aware of its responsibility for environment and, as such, the future of our world, but still does little about it. Indeed, it is most insidious to lead others to believe great strides are being taken, as is suggested by the environmental stewardship cfause, (maintaining the appearance of academic responsibility) when, in fact, this is not at all the case. Kalamazoo College demands leadership, social responsibility, life-long and experiential learning of its students. As such, the impetus for real environmental stewardship on this campus should be the college's desire to demand the same from itself rather than reinforce the belief for its students that the label "environmental steward" does not necessitate the actions of environmental stewardship.