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Study: Are Campus Sustainability Programs Wasteful?

Report charges that green initiatives use up scarce resources, stifle debate and compel conformity.

An organization called the National Association of Scholars has released a report that accuses campus sustainability programs of being harmful to the higher education mission because they distort curricula, curtail free inquiry and consume financial resources even as tuition and student debt escalate.

"Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism" charges that the sustainability movement has shut down reasoned debate on campuses by foreclosing open inquiry about climate change, and it criticizes the 685 institutions that have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment for demanding “blind obedience” in place of critical examination of the facts from students and faculty members.

The report notes that students can now earn credentials in sustainability in 1,438 distinct college programs, from certificates to doctoral degrees, but adds that sustainability as a theme has spread across the whole college curriculum, even into seemingly unlikely subjects like English composition, math and psychology.

It also examines how much colleges and universities spend to achieve their sustainability goals. As an example, it notes that the costs of sustainability initiatives at Middlebury College in Vermont far outrun the purported savings as Middlebury spends close to $5 million annually on its sustainability efforts. In all, the report estimates that American colleges and universities spend more than $3 billion per year on sustainability-related programs and initiatives.

Perhaps most controversially, the report charges that many colleges and universities attempt to manipulate students into complying with sustainability goals through promotional material and peer pressure and manipulating them with sophisticated programs designed by psychologists to “nudge” them into new patterns of behavior.

“The campus sustainability commitment represents a significant shift in higher education, away from giving students access to rational and moral knowledge that prepares them for wise, conscious choices, and towards training operations that elicit automatic responses,” stated Rachelle Peterson, co-author of the report.

EDITOR'S NOTE: For a response to the NAS report from a campus sustainability consultant, go here.


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