Stephen Mulkey, President of Unity College in Maine came and gave an impressive lecture this past Tuesday. The talk, which was put on by the Protest to Divest group, was an eye-opening and informative narrative concerning what sustainability really is and how it needs to be integrated into our system of higher education. What Mulkey provided us with was an account of how and why places of post-secondary education need to integrate not just the principal of ‘sustainability’ into and across the various disciplines offered, but also why places of higher education need to be the stalwarts and leaders of the movement towards a more sustainable and environmentally conscious society. Unity College in Maine provides what is perhaps North America’s premier example of a sustainable education. It is an institution that has taken the initiative on all fronts to build a philosophy of education that is a model for universities and colleges wishing to establish themselves as leaders in the push for a sustainable society.
One of the most important aspects of Mulkey’s lecture was the stark contrast between eco-centric model utilized by Unity College and the practices here at our own school. Mt. A is an institution that prides itself on its reputation as a progressive, dynamic liberal arts school, theoretically implying that our school should be among the Canadian leaders when it comes to an environmentally-focused education. Furthermore, the notion of critical thinking is touted as one of the major facets of a Mt. A education, a concept that was stressed heavily by Mulkey as being an important tenement required to orient sustainability across curricular.
Yet Mt. A is doing little to actually live up to its role as a school that takes an important stand on certain issues that concern us all: Disciplines that take a critical approach to the integration of sustainability and environmentally conscious principles receive little, if any, support from the decision makers in the upper echelons of the school. The environmental science lab’s equipment is scant and reminiscent of a 1980’s high school classroom. The MAD Lab, which was until this semester one of the top sites of undergraduate research on campus, was started and equipped almost entirely out of pocket by Colin Laroque. With Laroque gone from Mt. A, the lab sits vacant. Yet, the university is making no real effort, as it seems to me, to fill the gaping holes left by various past and impending departures. Ultimately, Mt. A continues to resist the notion that sustainability should be a pillar in the educational framework of this school.
Mulkey provided a clear and informative directive on how universities should be evolving to meet the demand created by environmental pressure. Mt. A seems unwilling to acknowledge the fact that it may be time to reevaluate how certain subjects are taught and what those subjects teach to the hundreds who graduate every year. Mt. A has all the tools to orient itself as an institution that provides a sustainable education to its students, however it lacks the administrative and authoritative will to actually integrate an environmentally conscious model into the academic practices used at this school.