President Casey unveiled his thoughts on Colgate as the institution celebrates its 200th birthday next year by detailing the history of Colgate, what makes Colgate unique and what we should be focusing on in the future. In his vision, he noted a commitment to intellectual rigor, discussed the unique scale of Colgate and gave insight into how to attract outstanding students. Yet, I found one important facet missing: sustainability.
Sustainability, specifically environmental stewardship, was lacking in Colgate’s distant past. In 2009, quite recently in Colgate’s long history, President Rebecca Chopp signed a commitment to carbon neutrality by 2019. Thus, it’s understandable that President Casey chose not to include sustainability in briefly describing the highlights of Colgate’s 200-year history. What I find questionable, however, is the lack of its inclusion in the future vision of Colgate. Climate change will impact many aspects listed in President Casey’s vision: the campus, study abroad options, student population and more. So how will this shape the resilience of this institution?
The middle section of the “vision” details the “Intangibles of the University” – President Casey mentions that the “beauty of the campus” is something that shapes our sense of place. While I can’t argue that Colgate isn’t beautiful, it seems to me that this pride is somewhat superficial, as compared to the two other intangibles: the “energy of the campus” and “Colgate’s scale.” The beauty of the campus can be useful to attract top-quality students and can be an often-memorable aspect of alumni’s time at Colgate. Thus, it can be partially justified to include the campus aesthetic in the vision, but why can’t we also be proud of our commitment to sustainability? When I graduate in just a few weeks, will I tell others how pretty Lathrop Hall is or how it received LEED certification? To clarify, I am not arguing that Colgate should abandon its campus architecture and style in favor of “uglier” buildings. In my vision of Colgate’s future, I don’t picture a stone building if it’s not also resilient to the predicted impacts of climate change. It’s possible to commit to beautiful, as well as energy-efficient and livable buildings.
While this Vision Statement is simply one of numerous ethos guiding this university, the fact that the current president does not value sustainability enough to include it is concerning to say the least. Colgate has made many sustainable commitments: to carbon neutrality, to formation of the Sustainability Council, Green Building Standards and more, but there is a commitment that is missing: one on behalf of everyone. The two full-time staff members of the Office of Sustainability can only do so much to enact change on this campus. Even more, it shouldn’t be only their job to create a culture of sustainability, it should be on all of us. We need an entire student body, faculty, staff and administration to fully dedicate themselves to sustainability. Then, we might see more change in our classrooms, residence halls, sports teams, offices and yes, even the president’s Vision Statement for Colgate’s future.
Contact Revee Needham at [email protected]