With the first draft of Macalester’s strategic plan released earlier this fall, conversations about the lack of language around the College’s plan for environmental sustainability have already sprung up around campus.
Along with other students and organizations worried about this, MCSG representative Rick Beckel ’15 co-wrote an op-ed addressing some of the current concerns about this aspect of the plan.
“I got together with several people to write that. It was a combination of several different people that have been working on sustainability issues during their time at Macalester,” Beckel said, adding that members from everything from MacCares to MCSG had agreed to sign on to the op-ed. “We just tried to get a diverse group of students to represent the broad swath of students that are concerned about this issue.”
The main issue that they identified with the current draft of the Strategic Plan is how “‘sustainability’ is narrowly conceived as a concern for financial security. This year’s Strategic Plan bypasses a more holistic understanding of sustainability as an essential component of the school’s future and our education.”
Sustainability Manager Suzanne Hansen of the Sustainability Office is also concerned.
“The Sustainability Advisory Committee last year wrote up a document that we submitted into to the strategic planning process, but none of those recommendations” appear in the draft, she said.
Beckel, who also works in the Sustainability Office, and Hansen share concern that the lack of language about sustainability in the Strategic Plan will reinforce the idea that current sustainability initiatives, including becoming zero-waste by 2020 and carbon neutral by 2025, remain largely the responsibility of the Sustainability Office.
“Sustainability at Macalester is often seen as being under the purview of the Sustainability Office,” Beckel said. “And that’s problematic because it’s not just the Sustainability Office’s job. It really should be a concern of everybody.”
Provost Kathy Murray, a member of the Strategic Planning Committee, addressed these concerns from the committee’s perspective via email.
“We could not possibly include everything that the college values within a strategic plan, so we chose to focus on things that we thought we needed to change in order to make the college more distinctive,” Murray wrote. “The President has invited staff and students involved with our environmental sustainability efforts to think about things they think we need to do differently with our sustainability work in order to add to our distinctiveness and submit those to the committee. If those ideas rise to the level of strategic initiatives, we will consider including them. It’s important to know that the fact that something is not in the plan does not mean that we do not value it.”
Furthering the conversation
Because the 10-year time frame of the Strategic Plan does overlap with the timelines for the current sustainability initiatives on campus, integrating parts of the Sustainability Plan from 2008-09 into the broader plan may seem like a logical next step for those concerned about the future of sustainability at Macalester.
“I think it’s difficult, because it goes back to a bigger question of ‘how do different plans interact with each other?’” Student Liaison to the Board of Trustees Lisa Hu ’15, who also signed on to Beckel’s op-ed, said. “Is it actually going to be helpful to import a lot of the Sustainability Plan into the Strategic Plan? […] What I’m more concerned about is the fact that these documents don’t even reference each other.”
Beckel also acknowledged the difficulty of finding the right way to expand the Plan’s definition of sustainability.
“Would it be better for us to create a new section solely focused on sustainability? Or would it be better to try to integrate these ideas into each of the subheadings?” he said. “I think at this point the larger categories of the Strategic Plan are mostly set. So at this point … we would be trying to integrate sustainability into those subheadings.”
As far as making sustainability a part of what makes Macalester distinct, both Beckel and Hansen referenced the overlaps between sustainability and internationalism, a value that was referenced within the plan.
“They’re both systems-level thinking that allow people to understand more world issues more holistically, and I think Macalester would be well-suited in prioritizing that in tandem with internationalism,” Beckel said.
“I think our purpose is to be graduating people who are global citizens at the other end,” Hansen said. “And part of that global citizenship piece is how to live sustainably wherever you happen to be.”
For all four, student comments are key to getting the issue formally added to the plan. A forum run by the MCSG president and the student liaison to the Board of Trustees is in the works, where students will be able to ask questions and discuss concerns they have about the Plan.