Friday, October 28, 2011

Environmental Language: 2011 draft plan

UVic's 2011 draft Strategic Plan uses language unacceptably.

Words have power. The words we use are signals to our readers or listeners, not simply a transmission vehicle for meaning. Through the vocabulary alone of its strategic plan, UVic will inevitably portray itself as a particular kind of institution - or alternatively, UVic will be interpreted as a particular kind of institution based on the vocabulary that dominates its strategic plan.

It seems from the 2011 draft Strategic Plan that UVic has little official interest in a leadership role in matters ecological or environmental, such as climate change, environmental justice, conservation of natural areas or wilderness, or the study of these issues. More than that, if the plan's language is to be believed, the university seems not to want even to be seen to have such an interest.

Some statistics:
  • the Plan does not once use the words "ecology," "ecological" or "ecologically";
  • of the Plan's 17 uses of words like "sustainable" (-y, -ity, -bly), only 3 could be considered related to ecological sustainability; and
  • while the Plan does use the terms "environment" and "environmental," only 4 of the 37 uses are related to the non-human environment. By far the majority are like those on p.2: "learning and research environment" and "environments for work and study." The utterly non-ecological phrase "learning environment" is used fully 11 times in this document, for example, nearly three times as often as references to the ecological environment.
In sum: Only seven of the Plan's fifty-four occurrences of words normally associated with ecological issues (less than 13%) are used in their traditional sense; the other forty-seven occurrences (more than 87%) belong to the category of human social engineering.

This vocabulary represents, at best, a thorough co-optation of environmental language for non-environmental purposes.

In my initial submission to the committee, I asked for either of two remedies: that alternative phrasing be found so that this co-optation can be avoided, OR that additional material be included to redress this imbalance. I no longer find this to be adequate, because both remedies are essential. The approved plan needs to use the language of environment and sustainability with an awareness of ecology, AND the university needs to include objectives and strategies that would bring it up to at least a minimally respectable level.

At this point, the university's draft plan suggests that it's happy not doing ecological work. This is demonstrably not the experience or desire of many of its community members - and it's certainly not mine. To precisely that extent, this draft Strategic Plan is not representative of the University of Victoria's community.

Additional posts in this blog will analyze particular items in the draft plan, and propose alternative objectives and strategies that would in fact reflect the ecological commitment shared by at least some members of the university community. For now, I assert only that the vocabulary of the 2011 draft Strategic Plan comprises a significant misrepresentation of the university community's intentions and actions related to questions of ecology, environment, and sustainability thereof.
NB: This post is based on my initial written submission to the drafting committee, but goes further in the implication it draws from the discourse analysis.

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