Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Sustainability in the mission

Apoplexia: the silent killer for those critically reading institutional documents.

My characteristically apoplectic response to these sorts of materials was triggered very early on in my review of the current 2011 draft of the UVic Strategic Plan, in fact in the second column of the Plan's second page. Under the header "We are committed to" are seven points, mission-critical imperatives if you will, and the university declares its vision there to be promoting the continued growth of the existing social order. Most of it sounds good enough, if perhaps predictably non-measurable and PR-ish, but there's next to no awareness visible of the university's role in ecology or natural systems. (Yes, the vocabulary for talking about nature is tricky. Never mind that right now.)

Really, there's only one point in the mission statement where it could be said that the university is perhaps maybe preparing to address questions of sustainability:
  • We are committed to: ... promoting the development of a just and sustainable society through our programs of education and research and the stewardship of our own financial and physical resources
Wait - we promote the development of a just and sustainable society through the stewardship of OUR OWN financial and physical resources? Failing to run a deficit = promotion of a just society? Accepting the provincial government's funding envelope leads to greater justice for all?

Granted, the bullet point specifies that such promotion also occurs through "our programs of education and research," but five words on academia and nine words on money and materials? That's an imbalance of rhetoric that signals a parallel imbalance in institutional preference. If this university's operations have a larger effect on achieving a just and sustainable society, then we should maybe read that as a condemnation of our programs of education and research. If our programs of education and research are in fact deeply committed to achieving a just and sustainable society - and they are (here and here, for probably the two best examples) - then my only response is to read this mission-critical bullet point to be signalling the administration's ignorance of this university's programming and research expertise.

This bullet point cannot be left unrevised, as the Plan's only allusion in its mission to questions of justice and ecological sustainability. If all my complaints only lead to one change, this had better be the one, or it's clear no one was listening.

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