Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blog Action Day: Climate Change and Higher Ed

Today is Blog Action Day, a global effort to turn the attention of bloggers (and blog readers) to a single topic. The topic this year: climate change.

Climate change has had two notable impacts on higher education.

First, it has turned campus processes green. AASHE tracks sustainability efforts in higher education; every week the list is longer of schools with LEED-Certified buildings, carbon neutrality pledges, and revised purchasing, sourcing, and food policies. This is a major change, and it is driven in many instances by students.

Second, it has influenced the curriculum. The number of academic programs in sustainability, environmental engineering, green technology, etc. etc. is swelling. Of particular interest is the way in which climate change has revived field work in science (particularly biology), after years in which the trend was ever more towards lab-based practices. Bio-engineering, bio-chemistry, neurobiology will continue to grow no doubt. But it now appears that field and environmental biology will not become a backwater.

These are major changes. But they leave me wondering if deeper change is possible. After all, lots of public issues have led to curriculum and policy change. The Cold War sparked foreign language study and the militarization of academic research; the decline in civic engagement provoked service-learning. But higher ed seems to have absorbed these impacts, and continues along much the same trajectory as before.

So, questions. Could you build an institution around climate change? How big would it be? Would it have a campus? Is there something about the nature of climate and environment that would shape relations between students, faculty, staff, and administrators? Would there be a hierarchical org structure, or a networked structure? Where would the humanities fit in Climate Change U? What would be evidence of its effectiveness? How would students be different leaving than they were coming in?

1 comment:

lionofzion said...

Maybe there are good reasons schools don't change with immediate social concerns. If all schooling had been reformed entirely by the Cold War, adjusting to a post-Cold War world would have been even more difficult than it already is. The fact that our institutions maintain a core of stability while adopting some changes for the times is a strengh, not a weakness.

Why try and build a school around every new thing? Climate change is a large and important issue, it will no doubt impact people for a long time to come. But it's not the only thing out there, and we shouldn't focus everything around it. That would be a way to guarantee failure in many of our worthy endeavors.