At the culmination of a multi-year effort to assess the opportunities for sustainable development on this campus, Mary Sue Coleman, in a speech last Tuesday, declared the goals of the university to improve its relationship with our environment. While admirable for its clear and strong commitments her speech lacked the vision I had hoped for.
The University’s goals are stuck within the current system of thought, which places economic stability over ecological stability. This has led the University to set the bar at a point that will satisfy the push from environmentalists, students, and other institutions around the country to address our environmental degradation, but this initiative will not “lead” as President Coleman claims.
Mary Sue was on the defensive when pressed about not putting solar panels on the Big House. The University opted for an array on North Campus, instead, sighting greater economic pay back. But this forfeits the opportunity commit this university to sustainability, despite a lack of definite pay out. Furthermore, during the comments portion of the presentation, someone asked why the lights were on in a room where there was ample natural light. The lights were promptly turned off, but the interaction still revealed the reactionary stance of the university when it should be making environmental impact a part of every decision.
I may be written off as another student calling for unreasonable commitments from the University, but is that not the role we as students should play? Moreover, is it not the role that higher education was intended to fulfill for our society? Too often we are focused on “getting ahead” with a degree from Michigan, rather than stopping to question the principles upon which that goal rests. College allows us to challenge every assumption we have made about our impact on the natural world, providing a platform from which to begin changing the way society views our environment. President Coleman’s speech takes a big step in this direction and I applaud what was said, but ask for an administrative effort to push the discussion on sustainability further.
(Photo courtesy of umich.edu)