Liberal Education

From the Editor

Many colleges and universities today are working to integrate the concept of sustainability into key areas of institutional practice. They are committing to pursue climate neutrality, establishing new offices of sustainability or campus-wide sustainability committees, opening campus sustainability centers, “greening” campus buildings and requiring LEED certification for new construction projects, conducting greenhouse gas emissions inventories, transitioning to tray-less dining, and implementing a host of other initiatives, many of which bring students, faculty, staff, administrators, and members of the local community together to address sustainability issues on campus. Through these efforts, colleges and universities are serving not only as models for responsible resource stewardship but also as vibrant laboratories for innovation and for the development of advanced sustainability practices.

But how does an institution’s commitment to sustainability affect the core academic mission? How are sustainable practices adopted by campus operations connected to research, teaching, and learning? How is the concept of sustainability being incorporated into the academic program, and what new pedagogies are emerging in response? The authors in the Featured Topic section of this issue address these and other related questions, with particular attention to what all this has to do with advancing the aims of liberal education.

In the lead article, Neil Weissman, provost and dean of Dickinson College, presents an overview of the progress being made in turning educational attention to sustainability, and concludes that “sustainability has the potential to vitalize and validate liberal learning in ways that both deepen our practice as teachers and engage us meaningfully with the wider world.” I want to thank Neil, a member of Liberal Education’s editorial advisory board, for first proposing the topic of this issue and for providing invaluable advice and assistance in shaping our treatment of it.

The authors of the second featured article provide a detailed look at one especially successful model of faculty development, which is designed to inspire creativity in faculty members’ responses to sustainability challenges. Peggy Barlett and Geoffrey Chase, creators of the Piedmont/Ponderosa model, explain how the model can be adapted by campuses seeking “to broaden an environmental approach with the ‘triple bottom line’ of sustainability (economic and social, as well as environmental dimensions), to create sustainability minors or majors, or to integrate sustainability issues across the curriculum.”

Finally, the University of Richmond’s Mary Finley-Brook, Megan Zanella-Litke, Kyle Ragan, and Breana Coleman argue that campus-based renewable energy projects provide opportunities to advance liberal education at institutions of all types and sizes. “To demonstrate frequently over-looked synergies” between campus operations and the academic program, the authors present five mini case studies showing how renewable energy projects at five liberal arts colleges—“a subset of higher education institutions rarely assumed to be leaders in the field of energy technology”—are engaging students across disciplines and encouraging critical analysis and experiential learning.

Previous Issues