Thursday, November 3, 2011

"Environment" isn't yours

Let me try this another way: Give us back the word "environment"! UVic, I need you - need you - to keep your corporate hands off of the language we all use to talk about ecological concerns.

I have never thought of the words cognate with "environment" ("-al," "-ally," etc.) as yours rather than ours, or really as strictly ours rather than open to you as well, but this document's use of these words must be deeply distressing to anyone with an interest in the environment, as that word "environment" is traditionally and widely used. The draft Strategic Plan uses the terms "environment" or "environmental" forty times in twelve pages (eleven, excluding the title page), and we might maybe think that this frequency reflects a somewhat green sensibility.

My question is simply, should the use of the word "environment" be linked to questions of sustainability? To answer this, let's look at the specific instances of these words.

As I've objected elsewhere in this blog, the draft Plan uses the terms "learning environment" eleven times, "research environment" or "environments" three times, and "teaching environment" "and "student service environment" once each (for fully 15 of the 40). The preponderance of these references is problematic at best, but I've already said that. It's the diverse other uses that have me cranked up today.

The second page alone, for example, refers to "a high-quality research and learning environment," to "environments for work and study," to "the changing environment for post-secondary education" (all-caps, in a title), to "a personally engaging and intellectually stimulating learning environment," and to "the University of Victoria’s unique, high-quality broader learning environment." Further along in the Plan we meet the "policy environment," a "resource-constrained environment," and the library's "welcoming physical and virtual environments."

And honestly, I call BS on all of this. Give me back my damn word!

Sometimes you mean "setting," sometimes you mean "context," or "legislative framework" or "economy" or "zeitgeist" or a half-dozen other things. The one thing you do not consistently mean is in fact the word you keep reaching for, "environment." By co-opting the word "environment," by stealing it and spraying it across this plan in all sorts of places where it's just not called for, you've sacrificed precision in your own expression, and you've betrayed this university community's long history of environmental research, teaching, and action.

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