The Declaration, Volume 5, Number 2: May 2002 [Feature]
This article is excerpted from a keynote paper presented at “Teaching for the Environment in Higher Education: The Promise of the Earth Charter,” an academic symposium sponsored by The Chewonki Foundation with support from the Center for Respect of Life and Environment. The symposium was held in Wiscasset, Maine on May 17-19, 2002. The complete paper will be published in a volume of proceedings from the symposium in fall 2002.
By Collette M. Hopkins and Trevor A. Turner
Role of Historically Black Colleges and Universities
Environmental Literacy and Environmental Intelligence in Institutions of Higher Education
Despite their visibility in the deliberations at the level of national policy-making and in the political debates in some states, environmental issues have not generated the burning interest in academia comparable to concerns over standards and accountability in education or application of technology in professional studies. Dangers to the human condition posed by mistreatment of the environment are enough to occupy the attention of academics in a variety of disciplines – the physical sciences, engineering, education, sociology, business administration, and political science. But while threats to the environment are admitted, their impact does not have the immediacy to raise the concern of the faculty in these fields to the level of commitment to action. In some cases, solutions to environmental problems are seen as the responsibility of agents other than members of academia, or while teaching about the environment may go some way towards raising general awareness of the issues, it is not perceived as a viable solution to environmental problems. The pressing demands of other priorities such as accreditation issues, or improving the technological infrastructure of the institution, or meeting the challenges of newstandards and cries for accountability make it less likely that the administration and faculty of institutions of higher education will give extensive consideration and on-going commitment to the cause of environmentalism.
Occasionally, a lone individual on a campus may try to give leadership to the incorporation of environmental studies into the curriculum or environmental principles into campus buildings or campus purchasing. However, instead of seeing the necessity to lend support to a cause requiring inter-disciplinary collaboration, other faculty may quite simply label the individual as their ‘resident expert’ in the field and, in the climate in which research in higher education is conducted, leave the field to the specialist while ignoring the holistic nature of the discipline.
Differentiating Characteristics of HBCUs with Respect to Environmental Studies
It would normally be expected that issues such as these would have high priority in the academic agenda of HBCUs. However, the low visibility of environmental concerns in these institutions could be due to the other differentiating factor affecting HBCUs: their relative lack of resources to go beyond conventional preparation of students in existing degree and certificate programs. Of the 107 HBCUs currently in operation, only 6 are listed among the 610 colleges and universities surveyed by the National Association of College and University Business Officers in 2001 with endowments of over $1,000,000 and only 4, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and Hampton University, have endowments of over $100,000,000. No HBCU appears among the top 100 institutions earning federal government research and development funds in 1999 and 2000. HBCUs depend heavily on student tuition for operating funds and have little discretionary funds available to develop new programs or encourage research in environmental issues.
Even if the administration of these institutions states a commitment to the incorporation of environmental studies into the curriculum of the college, resources to support the commitment are very scarce. Faculty members with an interest in environmentalism are therefore left to depend on their own efforts to secure supporting funding. If they are fortunate enough to obtain funding from a foundation or government to help in the development and implementation of a program in environmental studies or to support research activities in the field, the program or research is likely to die when the funding runs out or if the faculty members should leave the institution.
Highlights of Environmental Instruction in HBCUs
Enhancing the Work at HBCUs
The Crowded Curriculum
On the other hand, the professions for which students are being prepared are also increasingly demanding that students be exposed to a wider array of information, skills and dispositions that should make them more effective on the job. Teachers-in-training, for example, must now know not only the subjects that they are to teach and the pedagogy related to the particular subject, but also the legal and ethical issues impacting their work, how to communicate with parents and the public especially in environments characterized by ethnic diversity, and the effective application of computer technology to instruction. Preparations for other professions similarly require attention to more than the core aspects of the profession and demand inclusion of legal and ethical issues, communication with the media and the public, and technological applications.
Between the demands of the general core curriculum and the requirements for professional preparation there is little room left for additional interests. The more effective approach to this problem taken by curriculum developers is that of infusion of additional concerns into the existing curriculum. But infusing environmental studies into existing curricula will not be as simple as adding more information to a biology class. It will require the collaborative effort of faculty across disciplines for development and implementation of an effective environmental studies program with its interdisciplinary ramifications.
Promoting Faculty Collaboration
These issues are even more critical for faculty in HBCUs where resources are distinctly more limited but the pressure to publish in refereed journals to support applications for tenure and promotion are no less intense than in other research universities. HBCUs will have to develop innovative organizational structures for the use of faculty time and find creative ways of financing these structures to be able to encourage the collaboration among faculty needed for successful environmental programs. Funding can be sought for the establishment of institutes or centers to which faculty can be attached as research fellows for development of interdisciplinary programs such as environmental studies.
HBCUs should also consider the law of comparative advantage in developing structures and programs for environmentalism and seek to establish partnerships among themselves for the most efficient use of their limited resources. Consortia of colleges can teach courses in different aspects of environmentalism using faculty expertise that exists among them where a single college acting on its own could not afford to do so. Current developments in communications technology facilitate this sharing of expertise through websites and online instruction.
Definition of Environmental Studies
The definition of environmental studies extends also to the extent of infusion of such studies into existing curricula. An institution may ask if there can be an environmental studies program without it being a discrete, stand-alone set of courses serving as a major or minor in a degree program. Or can an institution do justice to the cause of environmentalism by simply adding modules on environmentalism to existing syllabi or, even less, having the principles taught only through examples used in instruction and in student assignments and research papers?
Definitions of environmental studies must also address the thorny issue of values. Is a course in earth science that teaches the elements of the physical environment sufficient as an example of environmental studies if it does not raise issues of concern over the depletion of irreplaceable natural resources, destruction of habitat, or pollution of air and water? And is a course that raises such concerns sufficient for environmental studies if it shows the problems that are likely to flow from the mistreatment of the environment for the mass of humanity but fails to go further and issue a call to action through service learning, or earth day recognition or some such educational capstone activity? Given the daily and immediate environmental threats to the populations that they serve, HBCUs must accept the concept of value formation through planned activity as an integral part of any program of environmental studies that they may develop.
True commitment from the administration for environmentalism must mean therefore not just speeches from a president or provost in recognition of Arbor Day or their presence at a conference or function celebrating the environment. It must, more significantly, be demonstrated not only through support of instructional programs but also by way of activities that are directly within its area of responsibility such as purchasing of supplies and equipment, construction and maintenance of buildings and waste treatment. In purchasing, for example, is the Purchasing Department mandated to “buy green” such as purchasing locally grown produce for dining services, or biodegradable utensils for use in campus dining events? Is the copy paper purchased for use by academic departments and the administration also biodegradable? Are vendors encouraged to use easily biodegradable packaging materials in supplying equipment and materials to the campus?
For construction and maintenance of buildings, all institutions of higher education need to look closely at buildings such as Oberlin College’s Adam Joseph Lewis Center or Middlebury’s Bicentennial Hall, which are the latest examples of sustainable design and construction. For resource poor HBCUs especially, innovations such as photovoltaic energy supplies, energy saving thermal walls and floors, and water recycling, which are all present in the Oberlin building, can serve as models for future campus construction. Other examples of environmentally responsible initiatives in campus waste management, transportation and landscaping abound. Cost benefit and life-cycle analyses can show that funds can be saved from these activities over the long-term. For HBCUs, this should be a strong incentive to increase their commitment to environmental action.
Developing Ecological Literacy and Environmental Intelligence In HBCUs
To make the jump from ecological literacy to environmental intelligence, HBCUs need a vehicle that can provide support while serving also as a catalyst for change with respect to attitudes and dispositions towards the field. This mechanism could be a center established by a consortium of institutions and supported partly by external funding. This center would serve as a point of data collection on environmental issues and on the work of the HBCUs in the field. It would thus serve as a tracking service on the progress being made in extending the work. The center would also be the motivator in pushing the work forward by disseminating information on a constant basis through a website. It could also provide incentives to keep the work moving forward by offering recognition to those institutions that were making a serious effort towards environmental activism and modeling. Innovative methods of presenting environmental studies could be tested through the center with research on existing programs providing an on-going evaluation of best practices in the field.
Dr. Collette M. Hopkins is Associate Director for Partnerships for the Research Center for Science and Technology at Clark Atlanta University. She can be reached at CHopkins@admin2000.cau.edu. Professor Trevor A. Turner is an associate professor in the department of Educational Leadership at Clark Atlanta University. He served as chair of the department for five years and as dean of the School of Education for nine years, from 1992-2001. Dr. Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.