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Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development

Tomorrow's Academy

Message Number: 
777

Inside and Out speaks to three of the greatest challenges currently facing higher education (and academic affairs, in particular). First, student learning has evolved from a passive activity to one of collaboration, engagement, and self-empowerment, and, consequently, learning traverses the entire campus and often the community surrounding the campus. Given the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, the second challenge questions how (and where) do we share and teach the principles and practices of sustainability? The third challenge addresses the university's role as a collaborative community partner that cultivates sustainable development practices.

Folks:

The posting below is a review by Ann M. McEntee of the book: Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development, by edited by Robert Forrant and Linda Silka. The review is from the January-march 2007, Planning for Higher Education, 35(2): 55-56. The Society for College and University Planning - Copyright © 1998-2007. Reprinted with permission. Planning for Higher Education book reviews appear at: (www.scup.org/phe).

Regards,

Rick Reis

reis@stanford.edu

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Inside and Out: Universities and Education for Sustainable Development

Reviewed by Ann M. McEntee

When the University of Lowell joined the University of Massachusetts system as the University of Massachusetts Lowell (UM Lowell) in 1991, it adopted the role of regional community partner. As such, it organized its teaching, research, and outreach efforts to assist northeastern Massachusetts in developing a sustainable, thriving economy that would not succumb to its historic pattern of "boom and bust." To support its activities within the region, the university's Department of Regional Economic and Social Development secured a three-year Community Outreach Partnership Centers (COPC) grant in 1996. These monies laid the groundwork for the Lowell Community-University Partnership for Sustainable Development. Through collaborations with the region's public and private entities, faculty and students conducted applied community research activities that focused on short-term solutions to economic, community health, and social welfare challenges. These collaborations spawned different partnerships and led to further conversations across the UM Lowell campus about how to engage more faculty, students, and communities in sustainable development projects. These conversations, in turn, led to a conference in 2003 to address engagement on and off the campus. Inside and Out is the published collection of this conference's proceedings.

The editors, Robert Forrant and Linda Silka, faculty members in the Department of Regional Economic and Social Development at UM Lowell, present a strong collection of essays that address the three Es or "legs" of the sustainability stool-environmentalism, economics, and equity (or social justice). The essays focus on academic programming and collaborative learning practices both within the classroom and across the campus. The opening chapter, presumably the conference's keynote address, provides working definitions and "talking points" about sustainability and sustainable practices. Six of the 10 essays discuss academic programming endeavors at UM Lowell, while two present findings about multi-university consortia. A retrospective essay examines the successes and struggles of Ball State University's 10-year history of greening initiatives. The editors' introduction provides a brief overview to the collection.

Inside and Out speaks to three of the greatest challenges currently facing higher education (and academic affairs, in particular). First, student learning has evolved from a passive activity to one of collaboration, engagement, and self-empowerment, and, consequently, learning traverses the entire campus and often the community surrounding the campus. Given the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, the second challenge questions how (and where) do we share and teach the principles and practices of sustainability? The third challenge addresses the university's role as a collaborative community partner that cultivates sustainable development practices. Elisabeth M. Hamin, one of the book's contributors, eloquently describes how these three challenges relate to one another: "Sustainability will be achieved only through communities of learners and activists, and this is what a curriculum in sustainability must model. Empowerment cannot be only an academic concept described in the class, but must also be experienced by the students within the class" (p. 79). Her essay, "Teaching Sustainability: The Case of the Incredible Shrinking Professor," argues for the adoption of a more interactive pedagogic model, one in which the faculty member facilitates learning: "The professor should, over time, shrink from expert to revered member of the inquiring community" (p. 86). Through engagement with the course material, students take control of the course and develop a sense of ownership and responsibility; in essence, they learn the principles and practices of citizenship and community activism. Until recently, academic administrators considered these very qualities-responsibility, citizenship, and community activism-to be the outcome of extra- or co-curricular activities (and so relegated to Student Affairs). It appears, then, that studying sustainability through the practices of community-based and service learning contributes to a more integrated, cohesive university experience for this generation of students.

Several articles move beyond the classroom and even the campus borders to discuss how university-community collaborations inculcate practices of sustainability. Kenneth Geiser describes UM Lowell's responses to the state's Toxic Use Reduction Program. The university's Toxic Use Reduction Institute, created in 1990, trains facilities managers within the state. The institute's success, including the establishment of a grassroots organization for toxic use reduction planners, led to the creation of the Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, which serves as an advisory agency within the United States and abroad. Alan Bloomgarden and his co-authors discuss the collaborations of the Five College consortium (Amherst, Mount Holyoke, Smith, Hampshire Colleges, and UM Amherst). The authors focus upon the organization's effort to improve the outcomes of community-based learning, both for the individual institutions and the communities with which they partner. The authors reveal a strong awareness of the inequity that often diminishes the success of university-community collaborations and so provide a series of provocative questions and issues for an institution and a community to consider as they enter into a formal partnership. Patricia Jerman and her co-authors recount the history of the Sustainable Universities Initiative, the partnership created in 1998 among South Carolina's three research universities (Clemson University, the University of South Carolina, and the Medical University of South Carolina). The organization addresses the ecological footprints individually and institutionally by raising student awareness through academic programming and diminishing university damage through operations and purchasing policies.

Inside and Out provides a thoughtful collection of essays that respond to the complexities of teaching and instilling the values of sustainability across the campus and within the surrounding community. Unfortunately, the editors do a disservice to the collection by failing to provide an administrative perspective. Perhaps the conference did not include a presentation from a member of the senior administration; regardless, the collection needs an essay that counterbalances the bias that runs through several of the articles, namely, the faculty versus administration mentality. If a program proves successful, administrators are recognized for their contributions; if it fails or stalls, the fault seems to lie with the administration, always. (The authors rarely scrutinize the role of the faculty.) An institutional perspective regarding the multi-layered challenges associated with teaching sustainability and implementing sustainability programs is noticeably absent. Nevertheless, Inside and Out is a valuable study of sustainability as subject matter and practice because it goes beyond a recounting of pedagogical practices to present successful university-community partnerships whose endeavors address sustainable development. However, it is a collection of conference proceedings, and the essays do not necessarily build upon one another or develop a particular argument. The reader must be truly engaged with the material in order to mine the valuable insights and pedagogical practices that the authors provide. The text is a series of case studies, exciting examples of what creative collaboration, both within the classroom and across the campus boundaries, reveal about the progress of sustainability in higher education.