The Sustainability Movement in the American University

Jul 27, 2009 | 

Peter Wood

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The Sustainability Movement in the American University

Jul 27, 2009 | 

Peter Wood



Preface

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a conference in Switzerland on “The Role of the University in our Time.”  The occasion provided a number of topics on which I will comment in coming days.  Many of the participants drew contrasts between the relative success of the American research university and problems they saw in European universities. The conditions that help or hinder scientific research loomed especially large—not least because the conference was conceived as a symposium on “The Legacy of Joseph Ben-David as a Guideline for Today’s Challenges.”  Ben-David (1920-1986) was a Hungarian-born Israeli sociologist best known for his pioneering work in the sociology of science.

My own contribution to this event was the paper that appears below, “The Sustainability Movement in the American University.”   I offer it here because it is partly a summary of the work NAS has done on the sustainability movement in the last 20 months and partly an extension of that investigation.  Since October 2007, Tom Wood, Ashley Thorne, and I have published essays about sustainability on this website; in Academic Questions, we published Adam Kissel’s excellent review of the dorm-based indoctrination program at the University of Delaware, which was positioned as a “sustainability” program; I confronted the movement head-on in an essay published on Inside Higher Ed; one aspect of the sustainability movement prompted the first NAS official policy statement in fifteen years (Rebuilding Campus Community: The Wrong Imperative); and we have been building up resources, contacts, and in-house expertise. Glenn Ricketts is currently working on the historical origins of the movement as part of a forthcoming special issue of Academic Questions on sustainability. 
As far as I can tell, NAS is now the only organized body attempting to offer a sustained critique of the sustainability movement. Advocates of sustainability ought to welcome the attention on the grounds argued by John Stuart Mill that, “He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that.”   Advocates of sustainability, however, seldom seem to welcome open debate about the premises or merits of the movement. It has, by and large, been imposed and promulgated on campuses, not reasoned and argued. 
I offer this draft as a first attempt at synthesis of a critique of sustainability.  Much is left out and remains to be said, and the paper testifies to its origins as something presented to a European audience unfamiliar with the phenomenon as it has arisen in America. Needless to say, I speak for myself here: this paper does not represent the official position of the NAS, the members of which surely hold diverse views on these matters. 
My critique of sustainability as an ideology does not depend on the existence or nonexistence of global warming or climate change caused by human activities. As it happens, over the course of the last two years, I have grown skeptical of that doctrine too—a skepticism that grows in warrant the more it is rebuffed by those who attempt to rebut it with false assertions that man-made global warming is backed by scientific consensus. But the debate on global warming is an empirical debate to be resolved by scientific and empirical means. The sustainability movement isn’t waiting for those scientific findings. 
The Sustainability Movement in the American University
Higher education in the United States is today a troubled institution. One index of its troubled nature is the rise of an illiberal ideology that calls itself sustainability.   I propose to characterize this movement and its underlying sociology in a manner that pays some debt to Joseph Ben-David’s account of the constituent elements of the university.  But sustainability is dangerous quarry and rather than pounce on it outright, I intend to sneak up on it circuitously. 
Cerberus
A hunter, however, must know what he is looking for, so let me begin with a sketch of the beast.  To start, sustainability, like the mythical dog Cerberus, has three heads, a fierce and watchful attitude, and stations itself on the boundary between life and death.   Sustainability’s three heads are environmentalism, green economics, and social justice.  Its fierceness is directed toward those it suspects would trespass against its edicts on wastefulness and privilege. And it imagines itself perusing the boundary between Edenic renewal and an eco-apocalypse of unchecked global warming and widespread extinctions of plants and animals, including mankind. 
The sustainability movement is, of course, not limited to the United States, but is rather robustly international. One of its founding moments was the report issued by the World Commission on Environment and Development, otherwise known as the Brundtland Commission, in 1987. That report, Our Common Future, has become one of its sacred texts.[1] It called for “sustainable development,” which it defined as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their needs.”   The Brundtland Commission was far from the first gesture in this direction. The UN’s official list of global environmental agreements commences with the 1971 Convention on Wetlands of International Importance especially as Waterfowl Habitat which emerged from a meeting in Rasmar, Iran. Since then there have been over fifty such international agreements, including the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development agreed to at the 1992 UN Earth Summit; the establishment in 1993 of the UN Commission of Sustainable Development; the 1994 Declaration of Barbados on sustainable development of small island states; the Kyoto Protocol adopted in December 1997; the Earth Charter presented at the Hague in June 2000; the 1992 Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development; and the commencement in January 2005 of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.   Next up is the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, in December 2009.
The numerous reports, declarations, protocols, and agreements also firmly place “sustainability” in the realm of policy and politics. To the extent that Cerberus frequents the precincts of the university, he may be straying beyond the central precinct of the river Styx.  The university’s embrace of sustainability comes well after the ideology was elaborated by governments in international conclaves. It also comes many decades after the rise of environmentalism in its twin forms of popular mass movement and fringe radical cause. In the United States, the mass movement aspect of environmentalism crystallized on April 22, 1970, the first Earth Day, which nationwide drew about 20 million participants to rallies against despoliation of the environment. The event came about as the initiative of U.S. senator Gaylord Nelson, and drew together environmental activists, college students, celebrities, and paid advertising agencies. It was meant to be international, and the organizers claimed to have gained the participation of 200 million people in 141 countries.  It seems doubtful that all 200 million had a shared conception of what they were promoting, or that there was even much consensus among the 20 million in the U.S., but mass mobilizations mean something, even if it is no more than an unmistakable impression of what Durkheim called collective efflorescence. Twenty million or 200 million people feel themselves as a force. 
The other strand of environmentalism, however, was the emergence of social ecology as a radical and distinctly fringe cause. In the U.S., the key figure in this development was the Brooklyn-born Murray Bookchin (1921-2006), a former Stalinist turned anarchist, who on finding even anarchism too confining, broke off to become a party of one. He made his first foray into environmentalism in 1962 with the publication of a book titled Our Synthetic Environment, which stands in interesting contrast to another book published six months later, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Carson was a biologist and author of poetic evocations of the natural world, such as her best-selling The Sea Around Us (1951.) The title Silent Spring evokes the disappearance of song birds in the suburbs due to the use of pesticides. The book was a phenomenal success. The American public, seemingly unmoved by Bookchin’s warnings that industrial development was cocooning society in chemicals, became teary at the Carson’s image of no more orioles singing in the orchard. 
Bookchin took heed. His breakthrough idea was to hitch his radical political agenda to  the American love of nature. He enunciated this in a 1964 essay, “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought,” where he introduced the term “social ecology.”[2] Bookchin went on energetically promoting his brand of social ecology until his death in 2006, spending much of his effort in intra-mural controversies with other leftist fringe groups. He despised Marxists as promoting new forms of hierarchy; he attacked the Students for a Democratic Society as covertly totalitarian; and he ended up in heated opposition to the group called Earth First! which, in its headier moments promoted voluntary human extinction as the best way to assist the planet. For Bookchin, the goal of environmentalism was not to save the planet per se but to create ultra-egalitarian human societies. He pictured himself as a rational thinker in command of “dialectical reason. ” In his major synthesis, The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism, he asserts that his dialectic is aimed at investigating, “a highly graded, richly entelechal, logically eductive, and self-directive process of unfolding toward ever-greater differentiation, wholeness, and adequacy insofar as each potentiality is fully actualized given a specific range of development.”3] I have no idea what this means, but I am not deceived by it into thinking that Bookchin was an especially intelligent observer. He often evoked Native American tribes living in egalitarian harmony with each other and with nature as his ideal—inadvertently showing his profound ignorance of ethnography and archaeology.[4] He was clear, however, about his central point. As he put it in “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought”:
I submit that an anarchist community would approximate a clearly definable ecosystem—it would be diversified, balanced, and harmonious.[5]
Bookchin had a minor academic career. In the 1970s he founded and directed an Institute for Social Ecology in Vermont which taught courses in “ecophilosophy,” and he also taught at Ramapo College in New Jersey, which implausibly elevated him to full professor of “social theory.” Along the way he wrote a historical study, The Spanish Anarchists.[6] But it would be safe to say that Bookchinism did not enter into the mainstream of American political or academic thought during his lifetime. 
To summarize so far: the sustainability movement arose outside the university. It has achieved worldwide political prominence through international conferences and treaties under the aegis of the United Nations.   Within particular nations sustainability no doubt has many different political trajectories, but it is clearly a force to be reckoned with everywhere.   This international concern has a populist basis that can be traced back to agitation in the 1960s over air and water pollution, culminating in Earth Day in 1970.   Submerged in that mass movement in favor of cleaning up the environment was another more intellectualized and far more radical critique of Western industrial civilization. This radical critique splintered into many adversarial camps that were nonetheless united by the view that a truly successful environmental movement would have to dismantle competitive capitalism and rid the world of human exploitation. In the view of social ecologists, led by Murray Bookchin, “exploitation” is an undivided reality. Exploiting nature, exploiting biological diversity, and exploiting other human beings are all one and the same.   Thus Cerberus grows his second and third heads. A sustainable world is one in which environmental stewardship is united with sociologist economics and a form of social justice based on radical egalitarianism. 
In the mid-1990s, this three-headed conception of sustainability was an extreme rarity in American higher education—perhaps not much more than a provocative idea espoused by a handful of assistant professors hoping to make their mark. As late as the first year of this century, it was no more than a talking point in a few disciplines known for their attraction to edgy ideas. But today, sustainability is far and away the dominant ideology in American higher education. I suspect it has similar status in some other nations, especially Britain, but I intend to confine my remarks mainly to the American situation.  
But having described my quarry, now I venture on to the more circuitous approach.   I have said higher education in the United States is today a troubled institution. The embrace of the sustainability ideology is an instance of that trouble and a symptom of deeper troubles. To track down sustainability, I need to survey that terrain.
Four Horses
I say higher education in the United States is today a troubled institution, but this is, of course, by no means a novel situation. Higher education has been a troubled and troubling institution from ancient times. Partly this is because it contains or attempts to contain several social missions that restlessly pull against one another.   Picture four horses with their riders hitched together with long ropes, as each attempts to gallop off in his own direction. The pursuit of truth through systematic inquiry tugs in one direction, while the transmission of cultural and civilizational heritage to a rising generation tugs in another.   The practical preparation of students to work in fields that require advanced study strains in still another direction, while the insistence on shaping students’ minds and character toward an ideal of the educated person strains toward a different horizon.  
These tensions are not accidental features of higher education. They are, rather, central to the enterprise, whether it is Plato’s Academy, Cicero’s and Quintilian’s conceptions of the liberal arts, the medieval university, the Humboldtian research university, the American Bible college, or any of the many other forms into which higher education has been cast.   The forms vary in large part by how people have sought to resolve the tensions. Plato elevated philosophy; Cicero denigrated philosophical inquiry for its own sake and urged the practical cultivation of eloquence. Knowledge without eloquence is better than eloquence without knowledge, he argued, but the ideal is to marry the two by making oratory the great goal of education.[7]  The research university that emerged in the 19thcentury gave much more emphasis to the discovery of new knowledge. The passage of the Morrill Act in the United States in 1862 created a species of institutions called land-grant universities that attempted to synthesize teaching and research to advance manufacturing and farming, while making scant room for the liberal arts. The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Justin Morrill of Vermont, regarded classical learning as a pernicious nuisance. 
But even when the dream of a university’s founders was to give clear lead to one of these purposes, the others could be only temporarily diminished.   The underlying social realities reasserted themselves.   Cicero would not have needed to inveigh against Greek philosophy had not Plato and Aristotle continued to seduce good Romans into this idle pursuit. Land-grant universities in the United States soon found that to secure prestige they would have to compromise their utilitarian curricula by adding the liberal arts.   By and large, the history of the university is a history of skirmishes on battle lines such as these.   The university as an institution, as well as almost every particular college and university, perpetually struggles with whether its most needful purpose is discovery of knowledge, cultural transmission, practical training, or personal fulfillment.   Universities produce an abundance of rhetoric aimed at vanishing these implicit conflicts into an imaginary harmony, but the tensions are not so easily resolved. They are, in fact, probably irresolvable. 
This four-fold schema of purposes that I propose does not easily map on to some other familiar ways of typologizing universities. It doesn’t foreground the division between science and the humanities; it doesn’t emphasize the difference between sacred and secular purposes; and it doesn’t classify universities by their sources of patronage.   In my view, all of these are important factors, but they fall into place if you attend first to the question of how a university attempts to yoke together its unruly team of horses: urgent Truth always seeking the better account; vibrant Culture longing to go home; stalwart Utility eager for the day’s work; and bright Aspiration ready for the race.  
Ben-David and the Equine Analysis of American Higher Ed
I come to this conference, I suspect, as the only participant who encountered the work of Joseph Ben-David for the first time only after I was invited here. I have made some effort to come to terms with his writings, but I have to beg the indulgence of my colleagues here for my much less secure command of Ben-David’s sociologies of higher education and science.   One of the first things that struck me about his account of the university is his lucid portrayal of higher  education as a struggle among advocates for conflicting institutional purposes.   Ben-David clearly has his favorites in this struggle. He would like the conditions for creative science to prevail. He believes that trans-disciplinary connections in the sciences are profoundly fruitful. He abhors the intrusion of the state and other external bodies bent on turning the university into an instrument to advance their political agenda, and he is especially alert to the danger posed by totalitarian regimes.  He does not find the university anywhere to have achieved a delightful equipoise in which it has found an abiding answer to all its dangers and discontents. Rather, he pictures even the relatively good situations as fragile and vulnerable to disruptive pressures. 
This seems to me a sober and fairly compelling picture.  But Ben-David made no claims to be a prophet and I find relatively little in his work that anticipated the troubles that currently  beset the American university.   If I apply my image of four horses to the American university, the situation is something like this. The discovery of new knowledge is owned now almost exclusively by the natural sciences.  They are outwardly healthy and prosperous, and dominate the university in a material sense. But they are inwardly weak.  Much of academic scientific research is trivial; and a fair amount of that research is utilitarian work on behalf of commercial ventures. Science has dwindling appeal to American students, though American departments draw many students from abroad. Worst of all, university science has been infected by ideology.  Increasingly it is in the grip of political orthodoxies, in which open questions are settled not by rigorous inquiry and evidence but by enforced conformity miscalled “consensus.” More on that later.
The second horse, the one that tugs toward cultural transmission, is on his last legs in American education, and barely exerting any pressure at all. The university has over the last forty years or so progressively defined itself in opposition to Western civilization and American traditions.  A student who attends college in the United States hoping to acquire title to this heritage has to move far to the margins to find a small sectarian college or a highly specialized program in a university.  Otherwise, he will encounter mostly a banal denunciation of the last 2,500 years of Western history as a story of endless oppression of minority groups by triumphalist elites.  A certain culture is indeed transmitted in this fashion, but it is the extraordinarily narrow one that Ben-David called “an entrenched tradition of academic radicalism.” 
As Ben-David pointed out, the appeal of radical movements for students and young teachers arises in part from the stress of having to “prove themselves through intellectual attainments” and “Joining radical movements reduces this stress by conferring on them the status of intellectuals without requiring proof of scholarship.” [8]   Ben-David’s somewhat cynical apercu is accompanied by a footnote in which he further distinguishes those who arrive at radicalism though insecurity and those who stay there out of opportunism.   He seems not to have held an especially elevated view of campus leftists. 
The third horse in his traces is that of practical training. Why American higher education continues to enjoy a good reputation in this area is hard to explain. American colleges and universities fail to graduate within six years more than half the students who enroll as freshmen. And those who do graduate frequently fail to acquire much in the way of knowledge or practical skill.  A bachelor’s degree from an ordinary American university or even an elite university is no longer taken at face value to signify that a person understands the basics of any field. At best, the degree is an invitation to inquire further. That is to say, the horse of practical training has devolved into the mule of sterile credentialism. There is a very strong utilitarian streak in the American character, and students who have once set their sights on learning how to do something will generally do it. But the American university has only faint and intermittent interest in helping. 
Rites of Passage
The fourth horse I characterized in several different ways. I referred to it first as the university’s insistence on shaping students’ minds and character toward an ideal of the educated person; but then I summarized it as the pursuit of personal fulfillment, and finally named it as the race horse Aspiration.  These of course aren’t always the same thing, but what I mean to evoke is that sense in which the focus of education is on becoming a better person.  Higher education has often been conceived not merely as acquisition of knowledge, skill, or culture, but as internal change. Sometimes this is conceptualized as character building; sometimes as liberation, or growth, or self-actualization.   A comparative anthropology could surely be written on how societies thematize this particular rite of passage, but in this essay I mean only to mark it as one of the perennial characteristics of higher education. 
In the United States, this has become in an odd way the most powerful part of undergraduate education. The emphasis on science, research, and the discovery of knowledge is far more conspicuous, but the actual lives of most college students have little to do with such science or discovery and quite a lot to do with a quest for a sort of moral renovation and legitimacy. Half a century ago, American colleges routinely expressed this with the term I used a moment ago: character building. That term would now strike most Americans as a quaint expression or an outlook to be found exclusively in religious colleges.   But if the term “character building” is archaic, the underlying conception flourishes in new dress. American higher education is now awash in a rhetoric of “personal transformation,” “educating the whole person,” and, more vaguely, “leadership.” 
The switch from the old term to the new rhetoric registers several cultural and social shifts. “Character building” belonged to an age in which American higher education was for the few, and the aspiring elite to whom it catered needed to acquire the habits and outlooks suitable to a managerial class. The “character” that was meant to be built by a college education was rooted in honesty, generosity, self-discipline, confidence, respect for others, and public-spiritedness.  A college education was meant to enhance these qualities, which were assumed to be already present in students but in need of further development.  
College in America is now conceived as a project not for the few but for the many. It is a system of mass higher education in which one of the principal discontents is that it has not expanded nearly far enough.  U.S. presidents and national politicians continually call for sending higher and higher percentages of high school graduates to college with no regard for the ability of these students to meet the intellectual rigors of a college curriculum. Clearly an emphasis on the kind of character education meant to cultivate in students the values of a commercially-minded social elite was no longer appropriate. The incongruity struck students during the cultural revolution of the sixties and American higher education fairly quickly absorbed the message. The in loco parentis policies in which universities enforced bland control over student life were abolished. Disciplinary codes were transformed into student-run committees under loose supervision of college officials. Student governments and extra-curricular activities became less and less supervised and faculty advisors for such groups receded to titular roles. For a period, student autonomy was, on many campuses, unencumbered by any meaningful adult presence. 
This was the nadir of character education in American universities in the 1970s and 1980s. But, as I’ve said, none of the foundational purposes of the university ever really disappears. If one of these purposes is suppressed or neglected for a time, it inevitably returns with pent-up force.   In this case, the force was revealed by a national study carried out by the Carnegie Foundation at the end of the 1980s which captured the deep unhappiness of American college students with the results of the abandonment of character education.[9]    By far the chief complaint of college students recorded in that study was the lack of “campus community.” College life was experienced as isolating and fragmented. The retreat from the effort of shaping students in favor of leaving them alone to make what they could of their freedom turned out to produce a sense of aimlessness. 
The Carnegie Foundation report also came at the end of the decade in which American universities had enunciated a new ideal: the concept that education would be advanced by “celebrating diversity.” The term, “diversity,” was taken from an opinion in a U.S. Supreme Court case in 1978, in which the court ruled that a white student had been unfairly excluded from admission to medical school because of that school’s use of a race-based set aside. One of the judges speculated that, had the university justified its racial quota by invoking the educational benefits of racial diversity in the classroom, he would have upheld the university’s decision. Soon, colleges and universities began to re-name their offices of affirmative action as “diversity offices.”   Though it was initially a term without much content, it caught fire. The supposed academic good of diversity became the rationale for a wide variety of campus programs that focused on fostering minority group solidarity, and justifying academic double standards not just in admissions but also in faculty appointments, the curriculum, grading, and more.   Diversity was the intellectual gloss put on identity group politics. Added to a campus social environment in which the bonds of shared community were already slack, diversity was a recipe for replacing the campus as the site of shared aspiration with the campus as a site of mutual antagonism among ethnic-based cohorts. Diversity evolved into a doctrine that encouraged identity groups to hug their resentments and to “study” the history of injustices and grievances they were heir to, while at the same time commanding the community at large to “celebrate diversity” as an enriching experience.[10]
The death of in loco parentis as the practical basis of character education and the rise of diversity as moral validation of ethnic hostility set the stage for the Carnegie Foundation’s finding that students now yearned to be part of a larger solidarity. But what might that larger community be, especially if it needed to reconcile itself with the adults’ fixation on emphasizing separatist identity groups?
The answer was not long in coming. In 1994, the American College Personnel Association, a body that represents the administrators and staff who work in extra-curricular activities on campus, issued a report titled The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs.[11] It crystallized a new approach to an old university function. The staff members whose job it had been to maintain suitable and safe dormitories and to preside over student clubs and extra-curricular events declared in The Student Learning Imperative that their real task was something much more important and more elevated. They were entrusted—or were ready to entrust themselves—with a dimension of higher education larger than the curriculum itself. 
In one sense, The Student Learning Imperative documents the efforts of a low level group of service employees to claim professional status. The manifesto is a way of asserting, We are just like professors. We too are responsible for educating students. This envy is hardly hidden. At one point the document declares: 
Student affairs professionals are educators who share responsibility with faculty, academic administrators, other staff, and students themselves for creating the conditions under which students are likely to expend time and energy in educationally-purposeful activities.
But if student affairs staff are educators, what is the content of what they teach?   This seems, at first, a bit vague. We are told these professionals: 
…endorse talent development as the over-arching goal of undergraduate education; that is, the college experience should raise students' aspirations and contribute to the development of skills and competencies that enable them to live productive, satisfying lives after college.
The Student Learning Imperative, however, does yield a curriculum of sorts, dubbed by some critics, “the shadow university.”[12] It is a curriculum that aims to restore a version of character education and community building. Its desiderata, as presented in The Student Learning Imperative include various “hallmarks of a college educated person” such as “understanding and appreciation of human differences,” and “conflict resolution,” and “a coherent integrated sense of identity, self-esteem, confidence, integrity, aesthetic sensibilities, and civic responsibility.”   These anodyne goals, however, are said to be poorly achieved in an institution that splits “affective and cognitive development.” Cognitive development is the stuff of classrooms and traditional academic learning. By its nature it compartmentalizes and fragments, and leaves students with what the report writers call “disjointed, unconnected experiences.”   The larger, “holistic philosophy of learning” espoused by the student affairs professionals, by contrast, heals these rifts, bridges “organizational boundaries,” promotes “personal development,” and creates the “psycho-social” conditions in which students thrive. This holistic philosophy encompasses what are called “process values” such as ethnic diversity, gender balance, equity, and justice. 
The aggrandizement of this category of university staff thus emerges as a vision of the bureaucrats as both overseeing a therapeutic milieu and advancing a social agenda which includes a version of the social goods promoted by the political left in the United States. 
Fifteen years later, The Student Learning Imperative remains in active circulation, promoted by its sponsoring organization, the American College Personnel Association, but it has of course long since been elaborated in other pronouncements and has seeded its own body of quasi-empirical studies intended to make good on the idea that “student affairs” is an academic discipline in its own right. But I don’t intend to follow this thread much further. There is no need to because, lo and behold, there at the edge of the clearing, beside that dark stream, stands our quarry: sustainability itself!
Sustainability in the Dorms
In October 2007, I learned from a faculty member at the University of Delaware about a compulsory program for that institution’s undergraduate students run through that institution’s residence halls. The explicit aim of the program was to “transform” students by using a variety of consciousness-raising techniques.   Toward this end, for example, groups of students would be brought to a meeting room and be told to stand in one place if they supported gay marriage and in a different place if they opposed gay marriage.   No one was permitted to be neutral or to decline to divulge his views.   Another activity consisted of splitting students into small groups that were assigned the task of compiling as many racial and ethnic epithets as they could think of.[13] Another exercise consisted of segregating white students and publicly ridiculing them for their alleged privileged position in American society. 
Much of the University of Delaware program was entrusted to older students, hired as “residence assistants” or RAs, who were specifically trained for the task. The training included learning some unusual definitions for common words that the RAs were then supposed to teach to the other students.[14] One word provided with such a definition was “racist,” which according to the RAs’ training manual is:
One who is both privileged and socialized on the basis of race by a white supremacist (racist) system. The term applies to all white people (i.e. people of European descent) living in the United states, regardless of class, gender, religion, culture or sexuality. By this definition, people of color cannot be racists, because as peoples within the U.S. system, they do not have the power to back up their prejudices, hostilities or acts of discrimination.
The Delaware program also laid out a number of “competencies” that all students were expected to acquire through this dorm-based training. They included:
Each student will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.
Each student will recognize the benefits of dismantling systems of oppression. 
The program also entailed the goal of inculcating in students principles of good “citizenship,” where the word “citizenship,” like the word “racist,” was freighted with unusual meanings. Good citizenship, for example, included support for “fair trade,” “domestic partnerships,” “gender equity,” and “rights of indigenous peoples.”
Coercive techniques included placing a single student in the center of a room ringed by  other students who were encouraged to pepper him with hostile questions about his social attitudes. RAs were also required to meet individually with students to obtain answers to a formal questionnaire. One of the questions was, “When did you discover your sexual identity?” Students who resisted were written up in a report that became part of their permanent dossiers. 
We know all this because a controversy erupted over these techniques; internal documents from the University’s office of residence life became public, and numerous students came forward with accounts of their experiences. Under pressure, the University suspended the program, only to bring it back a year later shorn of some of its compulsory elements, but still in many respects compulsory.
Those hearing of this University of Delaware program for the first time often respond with incredulity that a university devoted, in principle, to free intellectual inquiry, would contrive a structure to force crude political propaganda on its undergraduate students. Incredulity as well that those students could be systematically placed in situations where they would be intimidated, humiliated, and browbeaten into both false confessions of guilt and equally false professions of loyalty to a political credo chosen by university authorities.   This sounds like something that might occur in Revolutionary Iran or some twentieth century totalitarian dictatorship, not a public university in a constitutional republic with a Bill of Rights. 
So how did the University of Delaware convince itself that this was a proper use of its educational authority? It launched and justified this program in the name of “sustainability.” 
When I first saw this connection presented in the University of Delaware’s own documents, I found it baffling. The word “sustainability” to me resonated only as one of the talking points of environmentalists and meant something along the lines that we should strive to regulate human production and consumption so that these activities would not destroy their basis. It is a word suffused with a sense of responsibility toward natural resources and future generations.   I could see glimpses of this kind of sustainability in the Delaware program which, for example, included among its other pedagogical goals the demand that:
Each student will be able to utilize their [sic] knowledge of sustainability to change their [sic] daily habits and consumer mentality.
Delaware students were also pressured to take a pledge to reduce their “carbon footprints” by 20 percent. These struck me as inappropriate demands for a university to make, and rather short of a reason to call the whole program, with its focus on racial attitudes, sexual identity, and societal oppression, a sustainability program. 
I had much to learn.  And perhaps I still do. But I now understand that radical environmentalism and other forms of radical social egalitarianism had been married by utopian thinkers such as Bookchin as long ago as the 1960s.   The combination of environmentalism with leftist radicalism, however, remained on the social fringes for decades and had no meaningful institutional base within the universities. This presents a key historical question: how did this fringe political movement become a dominant force in American universities? This absorption of the sustainability ideology into higher education is far from complete, so this is not a matter of evaluating in retrospect a finished process of institutionalization. But one phase of that transition has been finished. Almost no one in American higher education now sees the sustainability movement as an outrageous muddling of categories; a conflating of environmental concerns with rightly separate economic, social, and political matters, or a fusion of several radical anti-Western themes. To the contrary, sustainability now names a mainstream and respectable enterprise. It does so even though, in essentials, it remains a muddling of categories, a conflating of concerns, and a fusion of disparate radical anti-Western themes. 
In 2006, a year before the controversy erupted at Delaware, Kathleen Kerr, the head of  the dorm-based indoctrination program, enunciated her view of how sustainability could wrap together environmental advocacy with elements such as the fight against racism.  She made a presentation at a conference on “Tools for Social Justice” for student affairs staff, and spoke on “Sustainable Development: Toward Healthy Environments, Economic Strength, and Social Justice.”[15]   On this occasion she declared that it is a “myth” that “Sustainability is mostly about the environment,” and laid out a lengthy list of the “social justice” aspects of sustainability. These included “environmental racism, fair trade, living wages, domestic partnerships, rights of indigenous people, gender equity, affirmative action, and multicultural competence.”   I have only an outline of her talk, but pieces of it reappear in other documents in fuller form. For example, one of the University of Delaware planning documents for the sustainability program, dated 2007, lays out this explanation: 
Sustainability provides a mechanism to take a comprehensive look at the interconnections that exist between ecological, economic and equity issues such as global warming, pollution, health and poverty and work towards lasting solutions (Edwards, 2005). While students will not be prepared to, nor are they expected to tackle these complex topics during their freshman year, it is imperative that they begin to develop a value system that considers how their actions contribute to the further augmentation of these issues. As such, sustainability provides a viable conduit for citizenship education and the development of a particular values system.[16]
Note in this wording—which I believe to be Kerr’s—that the author presents sustainability not as an end virtuous in its own right. She may believe that it is, but her argument here is that sustainability is a handy means to get other desirable things done. She begins by saying, “Sustainability provides a mechanism” for bundling together otherwise disparate issues and she ends by saying, “sustainability provides a viable conduit for citizenship education.” 
Sustainability in this version of the ideology is the delivery truck.   The contents are a collection of issues that, at first glance, have little else in common. The sustainability movement in fact is a backhanded way of acknowledging this makeshift unity. It has adopted as a symbol a Venn diagram of three overlapping circles that look vaguely like the five interlaced rings of the Olympic Games. But in the case of sustainability, these circles are labeled: the environment, the economy, and social justice. The area where the three intersect is typically labeled “sustainable development.”  In some versions, the intersections of two but not three of the circles are labeled “compromise.”  This is the triad that I have likened to the three heads of Cerberus. 
A diagram can make an idea seemingly vivid without making it actually clear. In exactly what sense do environmental, economic, and social justice issues converge to create “sustainable development?” The diagram offers no answers any more than if one drew three circles labeled God, science, and art and cited their intersection as defining the province of angels.   But the overlapping circles of sustainability are a common sight on American campuses: visual shorthand for commitment to the movement and to the assertion that radical versions of economics, social justice, and environmentalism converge on a single project.  
I have mentioned one way in which this overlap can be brought into the compass of a social theory: Bookchin’s way. If we view “exploitation” as a unitary category that applies equally to inert materials, living things, and people; and if we view a “sustainable society” as one that eradicates exploitation; then there is a rough unity of environmentalism, socialist economics, and a radically egalitarian version of social justice.   Bookchin’s synthesis, however, isn’t the only possible approach. Kathleen Kerr, the Delaware residence life savant, evokes the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, not Bookchinism, as her point of departure. She claims an ideal rooted not in the anarchists of the Spanish civil war or the self-sustaining American aborigine hunter/gatherers, but in the notion of “global citizenship.”   It is difficult to extract from her writing a coherent account of how environmentalism, economics, and social justice are meant to converge, but the central idea seems to be that the individual student is the point of convergence. The aim of the Delaware program is to liberate the student from the prejudices that keep him bound to the rapacious social system in which he grew up. He attains global citizenship by progressively divesting himself of bad social attitudes and replacing them with good ones. The “bad” social attitude he has acquired growing up in America consists of the value he places on his “independence,” his “materialism,” and his willingness to treat the “market as master.” Liberation for him consists of coming to value “interdependence,” “human satisfaction,” and the “market as servant.”[17]
[18]  Here she is one of thirteen authors, representing residence life or related programs at ten universities. (The document declares: “Each of us must adopt sustainability as a new personal and professional paradigm—a new way of thinking about our stewardship of our environmental, human, and economic resources.”)
Tom Wood found nothing else quite like the University of Delaware’s dorm-based compulsory indoctrination program but turned up hundreds of cases of what he called “The Communitarian ResLife Movement” in American universities.[19] But he did document that “sustainability” had become a major preoccupation of student affairs personnel in American universities and that the term was used almost everywhere as a rubric for dealing with issues such as racism, sexism, and matters of personal identity.   Tom Wood argues, as the title of his report suggests, that the concept that holds this together is a version of communitarianism.   The link, he says, is that both communitarianism and sustainability view “societies based on individualism to be unsustainable in the long term.”
I have some reservations about how well this label fits the overall phenomenon of the sustainability movement. For one thing, sustainability is linked to an approach that valorizes identity groups that base themselves on grievance and mythologized suffering and in that sense sustainability is an agonistic ideology. It also fosters inter-generational resentments. One of the ways in which sustainability enters education is by pointing an accusatory finger at parents and the older generations, who are depicted as wantonly and ignorantly putting the world at risk. Communitarianism, as it is usually understood, emphasizes the moral bonds across ethnic groups and between the generations. But Tom Wood sees an “alliance” between multiculturalism and left-wing communitarianism based on the fight against entrenched inequalities. He also suggests that the sustainability movement’s emphasis on protecting biological diversity conjures a principle that can be applied to efforts to sustain ethnic and cultural diversity. 
In any case, Tom Wood’s long series of reports to the National Association of Scholars on sustainability programs is rich in detail and goes far toward filling in the picture of how the sustainability movement became institutionalized in American universities through the back door of student affairs bureaucracies. The ideals of sustainability were firmly planted in higher education without ever coming before university faculties for serious consideration or debate. Not that the faculty necessarily minded.
Sustainability in Mind
I hypothesize that sustainability found its way on campus through the efforts of a marginal caste of bureaucrats hoping to improve their status and to gain a larger share of institutional resources. Some of the evidence to support this hypothesis lies in the behavior of these bureaucrats. The sustainability program at the University of Delaware was, among other things, an occasion for the bureaucrats to mine the responses of students to the various initiatives for data that could feed a research publication program. The associate director of residence life set out a rubric in 2006 for measuring how well students achieved the “learning goals” and the twelve “competencies” set forth as part of “citizenship.” These were to add up to publishable studies on matters such as students’ success in learning “the skill necessary to be a change agent,” and their ability to “demonstrate civic engagement toward the development of a sustainable society.” The sheer silliness of this sort of thing seems to have eluded all the participants. The enterprise, attested by hundreds of pages of documents, is suffused with a tone of earnest ambition.
But I must acknowledge that my hypothesis of how sustainability entered the university and took root is still only hypothesis. Sustainability was also gaining ground on campus beginning in the 1990s from other directions.   There was at least one foundation created in the early 1990s dedicated to bringing the sustainability doctrine to campus. I’ll come to that a little later. Academic books and papers on sustainability are now abundant.[20]  As the field becomes a site for new scholarship, contributors scour the past for useful precedents. Bookchin has been rediscovered and many old writers dusted off. The dour H.G. Wells of The Time Machine, for example, has been dusted off. Here he is quoted in the foreword of the Sustainability Revolution blessing the doomsayers by pronouncing in 1946, “The end of everything we call life is close at hand and cannot be evaded.”[21]The author of The Sustainability Revolution, Andres R. Edwards, reaches still further back to credit the New England transcendentalists, including Thoreau and Emerson, with the foundations of the movement. Pedigrees confer prestige and legitimacy, but they are not necessarily good history or sociology. Edwards proclaims a sustainability revolution, but benchmarks its progress mainly by the series of UN conventions that I cited earlier. He also offers an account of some of the numerous activists and advocacy groups at work in the field since the 1970s, but very little points the way toward an ideological invasion of the university. He cites one work, however, that seems to be a touchstone for sustainability in academe, David Orr’s 1993 volume, Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. [22] 
Orr, a professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College, is an advocate of teaching children the value of “the responsibilities of informed citizenship,” which to him means environmental awareness coupled with skepticism toward individualism.   In a preface to a new edition of Earth in Mind in 2004, he allows that “against considerable odds” environmental education “is becoming well established” in colleges and universities around the world. In the first chapter of the book, “What is Education For?” Orr depicts modern education as riddled by destructive myths, which include the myth that ignorance can be overcome by learning; the myth that knowledge and technology can help us “manage planet earth;” and the myth that “knowledge is increasing. It seems reasonably clear that Orr is not headed in the direction of Humboldt’s university. Instead, Orr values intellectual modesty, shaping ourselves “to fit a finite planet,” and holding on to vernacular knowledge and folk culture. He dismisses much that the research university aims at as mere “cleverness,” and holds that “true intelligence is long range and aims toward wholeness.” Another myth he would debunk is the utilitarian aim of preparing students for “upward mobility and success.” Would I be engaged in parody if I drew from this that sustainability has no room for worldly success? No, Orr says it himself. “The plain fact is the world does not need more successful people.”
It is fairly clear what Orr is against in higher education; a little less clear what he favors instead. He is against “education that alienates us from life in the name of human domination, fragments instead of unifies, overemphasizes success and career, separates feeling from intellect and the practical from the theoretical, and unleashes on the world minds ignorant of their own ignorance.” The alternative? Orr suggests that we need to “rethink education” to focus on “issues on human survival,” and that “All education is environmental education.” He is an advocate of connectedness, rootedness, and above all alarm.   He would refocus education away from knowledge and toward “intellectual emphasis, loyalties, affections, and convictions”—a litany that he borrows from the mid-century American naturalist Aldo Leopold, author of A Sand County Almanac (1949)
Orr’s book was clearly influential, although I am not far along enough in my study of this movement to venture a guess as to how much of a following he gained in the university.   He does, however, turn up with considerable frequency in contemporary writings by the people I have come to call academic sustainatopians. Earlier this year I published an article commenting on a paper in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal, Current Anthropology.[23] The paper, “Reason and Reenchantment in Cultural Change: Sustainability in Higher Education,” by Peggy F. Barlett, the Goodrich C. White Professor of Anthropology at Emory University, struck me as an astonishing event.[24] Here was a journal, quite plainly dedicated to scientific inquiry and the norms of rigorous scholarship, presenting a straightforward claim that, in light of the existential peril facing the planet and concomitant need to advance the sustainability project in higher education, we need to abandon disinterested inquiry in favor of such things as helping students achieve “heightened sensory awareness.” Barlett draws on a growing body of writers who want to “expand the scientific paradigm of an objective relationship with the natural world (based on science and the use of reason) to include a more personal reconnection with the living earth.” In Barlett’s view, reason and rationality are part of the problem. They contribute to the sense of fragmentation that stands in the way of “enchantment” which “involves dimensions of fascination, mystery, delight, and awe,” that science knows not of. 
Barlett’s essay is a polemic against the university which, in her view, is still mired in its old ways and not sufficiently enthusiastic about sustainability. Even business and government are ahead of higher education, which is “inherently conservative and highly fragmented.” By now the terms of this criticism should be thoroughly familiar. Orr, whom Barlett cites, sees the university in this light, as did the authors of The Learning Imperative, and Kathleen Kerr. Scratch the world Tom Wood called the “Communitarian ResLife Movement,” and it will bleed scorn for the disciplinary divisions of the university which stand in the way of a “whole person pedagogy.”   Venture into the world of Peggy Barlett and prepare to be buffeted on all sides by writers who view the disciplines as impediments to a salvific vision of the dissolution of the individual into the cosmic unity of things. 
Sustainability from the Corner Office
Sustainability is a leftist ideology promoted with one eye on career advancement by student affairs bureaucrats; and sustainability is a quasi-religious doctrine that has gained a Bacchae-like following of academics intent on uniting everyone into the cult. But sustainability in the American university is also several more things. It has become a new type of academic program. Arizona State University was among the first to create a degree in sustainability. There are now fifteen degree programs in sustainability at eleven universities, and according to AASHE, “more than 66 sustainability-focused academic programs were created last year.”[25] I have this information from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education or AASHE a body founded in 2005 “to help coordinate and strengthen campus sustainability efforts.” It now has 660 colleges and universities that are members and holds workshops and conferences throughout the year. AASHE is not alone. There are also the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium, and the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) which has its own dedicated section on sustainability emphasizing the need for colleges and universities to reduce or neutralize their carbon emissions. Among other things, NACUBO promotes the American College and University Presidents [sic] Climate Commitment, which has so far garnered the signatures of 650 college and university presidents who all want to cut carbon emissions and “re-stabilize earth’s climate.”[26]
Though not as floridly mystical as Professor Barlett’s article in Current Anthropology, the Presidents Climate Commitment also has a statement of faith. It begins:
We, the undersigned presidents and chancellors of colleges and universities, are deeply concerned about the unprecedented scale and speed of global warming and its potential for large-scale, adverse health, social, economic and ecological effects. We recognize the scientific consensus that global warming is real and is largely being caused by humans.
I realize I venture onto thin ice here, but I know of no real scientific “consensus” that global warming is largely caused by humans. I know of many scientists who say it is, but also quite a few who doubt that proposition. An 850-page tome arrived on my desk last week title Climate Change Reconsidered which presents some sixty articles by scientists from around the world who dispute the notion that global warming is “largely caused by humans.”[27] These dissenters may be mistaken, but their existence gives the lie to the word “consensus” in the claim that there is a scientific consensus for this proposition. 
Also, in my position as head of the National Association of Scholars, I hear with some frequency from well-established university-based scientists who report on the tactics of intimidation and reprisal that accompany the efforts to manufacture scientific consensus where there is, in fact, no such thing. Much of the problem arises from the nature of climatology, which at this stage of its development relies a great deal on speculative modeling.  One has to view these models with great intellectual generosity to invest their projections with credibility.   As a result, debates over global warming and climate change inevitably turn into meta-debates over where the burden of proof should lie. Should we uphold the hypothesis of man-made global warming pending irresistible contrary evidence? Or should we refrain from definite conclusions pending the emergence of scientific models that can be substantiated? 
In any case, the Presidents Climate Commitment has a certain odd quality to it. Well-established scientific facts, the sort that we would unhesitatingly describe as backed by consensus, do not need testimonials from college presidents, few of whom are themselves scientists, and fewer still scientists in the relevant disciplines. We do not get a Presidents Gravity Commitment or a Presidents Germ Theory of Disease Commitment. The very purpose of making such a declaration is ideological. It is meant to silence unwelcome debate. 
My colleague at NAS, Ashley Thorne, has been tracking the Presidents Climate Commitment and has picked up some of its dubious maneuvers.[28] The statement avows that campuses that integrate sustainability into their curricula, “will better serve their students and meet their social mandate to help create a thriving, ethical and civil society.”   That is potentially the same mandate we saw at the University of Delaware. The Climate Commitment is sponsored by AASHE as well as two other organizations, and AASHE has supplemented it with a wiki offering college presidents further tips on how to make the commitment “high profile” and permanent.[29] It calls for making sustainability part of the education of every student, empowering “student environmental activism,” promoting “residential environmental education initiatives” and, perhaps most ominously, imposing a “climate action litmus test” on the hiring of all future campus leaders. 
The Presidents Climate Commitment has been staffed and supported by three organizations: AASHE, and also ecoAmerica and Second Nature. EcoAmerica is an organization, not specifically focused on higher education, that espouses a startlingly frank program of attempting, by means of “psychographic research” and “engagement marketing,” to “shift personal and civic choices of environmentally agonistic Americans.” It is, in other words, devoted to propaganda and manipulation.   Second Nature was founded in 1993 in Boston with an explicit goal:
to accelerate movement toward a sustainable future by serving and supporting senior college and university leaders in making healthy, just, and sustainable living the foundation of all learning and practice in higher education.
Second Nature claims to have worked with over 4,000 faculty members and administrators at more than 500 colleges and universities, and it began with both key political connections and substantial financial support, its founders including Senator John F. Kerry and his wife, the heiress Teresa Heinz Kerry.[30]   Second Nature’s multi-million dollar advocacy aimed at the leadership of higher education seems an important part of the story of sustainability’s rise to the position of dominant ideology in the American university—but this is a thread I have not had the opportunity to investigate. 
Sustainatopian Sadness and Exuberance
What kind of thing is the sustainability movement?  I take it as an illiberal and strongly anti-intellectual ideology. It finds its place in the university mainly as a vast elaboration of only one of the four perennial purposes of higher education: the goal of shaping students’ aspirations toward an ideal of the educated person.  This is the “imperative” in The Student  Learning Imperative: an attempt by means of therapeutic techniques, aversive intervention, propagandistic repetition, soothing emotional appeal, flattery, intimidation, censoring alterative views, and appeals to authority to establish a campus orthodoxy.  The sustainability movement promotes a few simple ideas. It is by no means hard to grasp, though it can be very hard to please. It asks of its adherents a great deal of self-denial, while urging them to promote forced denial on others. It has its own Puritanical fervor. We are all sinners against sustainability. We can only atone.  One form of atonement that is called for is intellectual abasement. Expressing doubt about the vaunted “consensus” is further evidence of one’s fallen nature. The global warming skeptic, the student who fails to recycle, or fails to recycle enough, the student’s whose carbon footprint is too large—all these confess by their actions that they still cling to the illusion of individuality and have yet to submit to their interdependence or realize the need for global citizenship. 
How does this ideology sit with a university that is still, in many practical ways, a citadel of science? It sits poorly. The sustainability ideology actively discourages some students who might seek a scientific vocation, and it bends others to a notion of science shorn of the discipline of intellectual reserve. Sustainability in the sciences is ensnared in a web of false assurances.   I refer not just to global warming but to the image of nature as a complex self-perpetuating system that, absent human interference, retains a destined order.   We know rationally and scientifically nature isn’t like that. Its order includes disaster, struggle, competition, blind-turns, and extinctions. But sustainability teaches a different insight. It invites an image of nature in which hierarchy and exploitation vanish.   And by urging us not to overcome the alienation of man from nature, it subtracts one of the basic conceptual steps that gave rise to scientific inquiry. 
No doubt science will survive this assault, in no small part because the sustainatopians are by and large too facile to sustain their own moonbeam movement. But they can accomplish considerable harm before their romance with images of eco-apocalypse fades out. 
When I say sustainability is illiberal and strongly anti-intellectual ideology, I am also referring to its affinity with the radical left. Clearly only a few promoters of sustainability are Bookchinites, but there remains a question of why concern with a clean and healthy environment has become so entangled with leftist identity politics. Tom Wood says the link is mutual hostility to individualism. But I would add that concern for the environment is compatible with almost any kind of political system and a great variety of economic systems. In the United States, the Clean Water Act was a project of President Richard Nixon.   For a long time, the leading lights of conservation in America were conservative Republicans. American capitalists have often grumbled over particular environmental enactments but have generally turned into enthusiastic supporters of the broad goal of maintaining a clean and healthy environment.   On its face, sustainability could be yoked equally well to a conservative ideology.
Rather than a natural and easy fit between environmentalism, anti-capitalist economics, and radical egalitarianism, there are natural and deep fissures among all three.   Socialist economies have proven themselves over and over again to be far more rapacious despoilers of the environment than free-market economies.   Societies with strong legal traditions that support private property rights have substantially better records of protecting the common environment. But the sustainability movement, as it has emerged, spurns these lessons. It is anti-democratic at its core and deeply invested in the idea that its leaders, through their empathetic connection with the “needs” of the Earth or the biosphere, possess a moral authority that trumps the rights of ordinary people. 
I began this essay by saying the American university is a troubled institution and by promising an account of one instance of its troubled nature. I have suggested that the trouble represented by sustainability arose initially because the university made itself vulnerable when it backed away from its old commitment to shape the character of students toward a positive ideal of social maturity. That left among students a longing for the personally transformative side of education.   It also created an opportunity for an ambitious class of bureaucrats to step in. 
As far as I can tell, it was happenstance that the sustainability ideology came to hand as the actual content of the effort to corral students into residence-life based programs that aimed at promoting politically progressive causes. When The Student Learning Imperative came out in 1994, it had no mention of environmentalism or sustainability. But sustainability proved to be the perfect rubric for bundling together the moral fervor of environmentalism with the seething discontents of identity politics.    It also received a well-funded nudge from Second Nature, an advocacy organization intent on bringing sustainability to campus from the top down by means of appealing to campus executives.  
How much peril does the sustainability movement pose for the university? The sustainability movement is heir to a forty year-long effort by the left to make open political advocacy a legitimate part of the college curriculum. The same long-term development has seen an untiring effort to diminish the authority of rational inquiry that attempts to minimize bias and to strive for objective truth. This is not the place to reprise that history, except to say that corrosive skepticism towards traditional scholarly standards combined with epistemological twists aimed at elevating the status of group-think have gained purchase in the humanities and social sciences, and have begun to make headway in the sciences too. The sustainability dogma could not have gotten as far as it has were it not for this already achieved assault on core academic standards.   The particular peril posed by sustainability is that it gives a warrant to drive political advocacy into every last corner of the institution. Nothing—not the privacy of the dorm, not the menu in the cafeteria, not the selection of the English 101 textbook, not the grant proposal of the chemistry professor, not the appointment of the nest dean, not the architecture of the next building—nothing is exempt. The oddity of this is worth remarking. The institution that once took as its deepest purpose the fostering of free minds is rapidly becoming one of the intellectually least free places in Western society. And it is achieving this in a spirit of exuberant self-congratulation. 
A word or two more on the sciences, since the conditions of their flourishing was so much a part of Ben-David’s account of the university. At the end of The Scientist’s Role in Society, Ben-David described the “conditions under which the pursuit of science without recurrent moral crises has been possible.”   In his view these include a political ambiance that allows “social experimentation and pluralism,” and a way for institutions to change “without recourse to violence.”   He seems to have in mind a liberal social order, and he warns that without the kind of flexibility such societies afford, science is destined to encounter “waves of scientific enthusiasm...followed by vogues of antiscientism, romantic irrationality, and even antinomianism threatening the very existence of science.”[31]  
The threat Ben-David had in mind seems pretty clearly external to the university.  When he published The Scientist’s Role in Society in 1971, science in the United States was flourishing, and it would have been hard to see much warrant for the picture of waves of scientific enthusiasm followed by anti-science and irrationality. We are, however, pretty close to that now.  The sustainability movement makes crashingly large scientific claims and mixes them with great swales of exuberant irrationality.  Western society seems once again gripped by a vogue of anti-scientism and romantic irrationality.  But this manic-depressive moment in the life of the university was not thrust on the university by an external political movement. It was nurtured and brought to fruition by the university itself. 
 
 


[1] World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future. New York: The United Nations. 1987. http://www.un-documents.net/wced-ocf.htm
[2] Murray Bookchin. “Ecology and Revolutionary Thought.” Originally published under the pseudonym Lewis Herber in Bookchin’s newsletter Comment in 1964. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bookchin/ecologyandrev.html
[3] Murray Bookchin. The Philosophy of Social Ecology: Essays on Dialectical Naturalism. New York: Black Rose Books. 1990. P. 39. 
[4] Richard J. Ellis. The Dark Side of the Left: Illiberal Egalitarianism in America. Lawrence, Kansas: University of Kansas Press. 1998. Ellis provides an absorbing account of the conflicts between Bookchin and members of Earth First! In his chapter, “Earth First! And the Misanthropy of Radical Egalitarianism.” pp. 228-251.    My view of the first attempts to fuse leftist radical with radical environmentalism is greatly indebted to Ellis’ scholarship. 
[5] Op cit. 
[6] Janet Biehl. “A Short Biography of Murray Bookchin.” Anarchy Archives. December 18, 1999. http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/anarchist_archives/bookchin/bio1.html
[7] Cicero, De Oratore 1.72. Quoted in Bruce A. Kimball. Orators & Philosophers: A History of the Idea of Liberal Education. New York: The College Board. 1995. P. 36
[8] Joseph Ben-David. Centers of Learning.   New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers. 1991. P. 131
[9] Ernest L. Boyer (foreword).   Campus Life: In Search of CommunityA Special Report. Princeton, New Jersey: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. 1990. The report was the result of collaboration with the American Council on Education and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. 
[10] Peter Wood. Diversity: The Invention of a Concept. San Francisco: Encounter Books. 2003. 
[11] Alexander Astin, Helen Astin, Paul Bloland, et al. The Student Learning Imperative: Implications for Student Affairs. Lexington, Kentucky: American College Personnel Association. 1994. Last modified February 14, 1996. http://www.housing.berkeley.edu/student/ACPA_student_learning_imperative.pdf
[12] Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silverglate. The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses. New York: The Free Press. 1998. 
[13] Bill Rivers. “Never Mind Tocqueville, Let’s List Slurs.” Princeton, New Jersey: The National Association of Scholars. February 26, 2009. http://www.nas.org/polInitiatives.cfm?doc_id=585&Keyword_Desc=How%20Many%20Delawares?
[14] I’ve drawn freely in this account of the University of Delaware program on Adam Kissel’s well-documented “Sex, Lies, and Residence Life: Delaware’s Thought Reform.” Academic Questions. Vol. 22, No. 2. Spring 2009. Pp. 181-199.  
[15] Keith E. Edwards and Kathleen G. Kerr. “Sustainable Development: Towards Healthy Environments, Economic Strength, and Social Justice.” Tools for Social Justice Conference. Kansas City, Missouri. November 13, 2006. http://74.125.47.132/search?q=cache:oTqBQmsn_28J:www.myacpa.org/task-force/sustainability/docs/TFSJ%2520Sustainability.ppt+sustainability+%22Kathleen+Kerr%22&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
[16] Anonymous. “Rodney Complex Curriculum Executive Summary, 2007-2008.”   July 2007. This unpublished document has a cryptic attribution, “Developed by Sendy E. Guerrier, Rodney Complex Coordinator; Adjusted by Licinia B. Kaliher, Rodney Complex Coordinator.”   Nonetheless some of the text is clearly by Kathleen Kerr. The Foundation for Individual Right in Education posted a PDF copy of the document here: http://www.thefire.org/public/pdfs/81f9cbba277e955afa9823f0ebdce026.pdf The Rodney Complex is a group of dormitories at the University of Delaware.
[17] Keith E. Edwards ad Kathleen Kerr. “Sustainable Development.” Op cit. 
[18] Todd Cellini. Kathleen Gardner, Kathleen G. Kerr, et al. Toward a Sustainable Future: the Role of Students Affairs in creating Healthy Environments, Social Justice, and Strong Economies. Washington: ACPA. 2008. 
[19] Tom Wood. The Communitarian ResLife Movement.” Princeton, New Jersey: The National Association of Scholars. July 18, 2008. http://www.nas.org/polInitiatives.cfm?doc_id=262&Keyword_Desc=How%20Many%20Delawares?
[20] Too many to list here but of particular note, John Blewitt and Cedric Cullingford, eds. The Sustainability Curriculum: The Challenge for Higher Education. London: Earthscan. 2004. Blewitt’s and Cullingford’s collection suggests that the sustainability movement was further along in gaining a place in British universities than it was in the U.S. at that time. Much of the rhetoric and conceptual apparatus of the movement is the same, but Blewitt is especially interested in “lifelong learning.” Another notable book is Ann Rappaort and Sarah Hammond Creighton. Degrees that Matter: Climate Change and the University. Cambridge: MIT Press. 2007. Rappaort and Creighton are mostly concerned about how to cut energy consumption on campus. They thus represent a side of the sustainability movement that I don’t give much attention in this paper: ingenuity directed at the practical task of energy conservation. Rappaort and Creighton take for granted that climate change is real and that we need to get on with the work of making the campus “green.”
[21] David W. Orr. “Foreword. “ (p. xiii). Andres R. Edwards. The Sustainability Revolution: Portrait of a Paradigm Shift.    Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada: New Society Publishers. 2005. 
[22] David W. Orr. Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect. Washington, DC: Island Press. Tenth Anniversary Edition. 2004. Quotations from Introduction to new edition, pp. xii, xiv; “What is Education For?” pp. 9-12; “The Problem of Education,” pp. 26 and 33. 
[23] Peter Wood. “Enchanting Sustainability.” Princeton, New Jersey: The National Association of Scholars. January 26, 2009.   http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?Doc_Id=519
[24] Peggy Barlett. “Reason and Enchantment in Cultural Change: Sustainability in Higher Education.” Current Anthropology. Vol. 49. No. 6. pp. 1077-1098. 
[26] “American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment.” Boston: Second Nature. 2009. http://www.presidentsclimatecommitment.org/html/commitment.php
[27] Craig Idso and Fred Singer (lead authors). Climate Change Reconsidered: 2009 Report of the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change. Chicago: Heartland Institute. 2009. 
[28] Ashley Thorne. “Proven Commitment to the Climate.” The National Association of Scholars. April 9, 2009. http://www.nas.org/polArticles.cfm?doc_id=697
[29] Niles Barnes, moderator. “Climate Action Planning Wiki.” Lexington, Kentucky: Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. 2009. 
[30] The term “Second Nature” was a favorite of Bookchin’s. I am not clear whether the organization’s founders knew they were signaling the anarchist origins of their movement. 
[31] Joseph Ben-David. The Scientist’s Role in Society: A Comparative Study. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1971. pp. 184-185. 

 

 

 

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