Inching towards a sustainable university

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

Towards a Sustainable University is the title of Anthony Cortese's review of Designing the New American University by Michael Crow and William Dabars (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2015).  You can read it here in Great Transition.

As you would expect, this is a thoughtful review, and anyone completely new to thinking about universities and sustainability and their interaction would do much worse than starting here.  Cortese manages to be hopeful, despite the challenge involved, and it's nice to read a review from North America that looks beyond the usual institutional suspects for exemplification and inspiration.

The chalenge might be summed up thus: How can universities change themselves (and then society) whilst operating in a society that has unchanged expectations of universities?  His review ends:

"Thus, government, socially-committed industry, philanthropy, and the nonprofit sector must join together in new ways to support the transition.  We need a grand bargain for higher education that deals with big issues like the marketization of higher education and its influence on research and pedagogy, and that focuses on creating a just and sustainable society.  This is key because few people in other sectors who lament the current state of the world realize the crucial role of transforming higher education in transforming society.  How can society make the transition without higher education?  It is the only sector designed with a long-term focus and the ability to provide the broad knowledge and skills needed by the global citizenry.  We must find ways to tap the full potential of this unique role to unleash the full power of higher education as a force for transformation.

The timing is right for such deep and broad changes.  For the first time since World War II, higher education in the West faces serious financial constraints that are likely to persist and, in some cases, represent an existential threat.  The recent agreements by over 190 countries on the Sustainable Development Goals provide an unprecedented opportunity to examine how higher education can and must help lead, rather than follow, in the Great Transition. Business-as-usual higher education is a recipe for failure in a fast-changing world that calls for transformative action to serve the needs of a complex, interdependent, crisis-prone world in need of a new generation of bold visions, leaders, and institutions."

I wish I could believe that taking the SDGs seriously will provide this opportunity.  Whilst I am sure that doing so is hugely important for institutions and the world, business as usual is so entrenched that it will likely survive, even if what is taken to be "usual" will likely evolve.  A question is how quickly ...


Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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