Editorial: Unsustainable developments

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On Sept. 8, The Brown and White editorial board published the second editorial of the semester discussing an issue that we expected to see at the center of Lehigh’s future decisions: Climate change and sustainability. 

In the editorial, we anticipated the completion of Lehigh’s 2020 sustainability plan and were optimistic about the future steps Lehigh would take to become a leader in sustainable institutions. 

Two months later, the sustainable development minor has been cut after losing funding from various offices on campus.

This decision not only impacts students pursuing the minor, but it profoundly impacts how Lehigh leads — or fails to lead — as a university. 

According to The Brown and White, program director, Don Morris, is disappointed in the decision:  “The environment is at stake as is the quality of human life. What kind of world do we want to be living in?” Morris said. “Lehigh is on the wrong side of history on this issue.”

As a higher education institution, Lehigh has the resources to ensure a more sustainable future, and has students eager to use these resources. The university pushes to become an R1 university, but without an emphasis on sustainability, Lehigh’s research will lack a critical variable in modern education and research. 

Whether students plan to pursue engineering, business or the arts, sustainability will be at the forefront of successful, impactful careers. 

According to Durhan University Business School professor Carol Adams, the successful leaders and businesses of the future will prioritize sustainability. In her report, Paul Drunkman, CEO of the International Integrated Reporting Council, commented that “The company of tomorrow will operate in a different capital market imperative where rewards are in terms of a responsible business which creates value for itself and for its stakeholders in the long term… with sustainable business and a sustainable planet/society being intrinsically connected.”

Ironically, the claim that the program cannot continue due to lack of funding is an unsustainable mindset. While private universities function as businesses, the businesses of tomorrow will prioritize their relationships with the world and environment around them, regardless of the cost.

The sustainable development’s website is currently in “hiatus” mode, but student-leaders and activists deserve the resources to act urgently in response to the threat of climate change. The lack of an adequate explanation leaves students unsure if they will be able to pursue the goals that sustainable development minor supported. 

Two months ago, the editorial board looked toward the future with optimism, entrusting that the university understood its profound impact on the climate. But as the administration continues to blindside students, its commitment to a sustainable campus and a commitment to its students is questionable. 

Sustainability is not just an issue for environmental scientists. It is a reality that will continue to impact all fields of study now and into the next century. Lehigh claims to be an institution that understands that, “In the very real perils and possibilities of the world, difficult questions require intense and extended study.” 

Cutting a program committed to answering some of the most pressing and critical questions facing society today contradicts what the university claims to stand for. 

Students who were pursuing the minor deserve an explanation beyond funding. If the university fails to commit to a sustainable future, Lehigh will see the consequences. A failure to lead in creating a sustainable future will come at a cost. 

It is far beyond time to invest in programs that exemplify the university’s commitment to sustainability. Lehigh’s failure to provide students with adequate resources to develop skills as sustainable leaders is a disservice to our student body, and the change we hope to make upon graduation.

Lehigh’s administration should invest in a sustainable future before it becomes an institution of the past. 

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2 Comments

  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Also on Nov 7, 2019 an article was written on this subject. “Members of the Provost’s Office and members of the College of Arts and Sciences dean staff were not available to comment.” Have any administration “members” become available in the last week.

    “Lehigh’s administration should invest in a sustainable future before it becomes an institution of the past.” For reasons stated before, the new College of Health at Lehigh will be a large part of Lehigh as a sustainable university. I think the Environmental Engineering may be one of Lehigh’s contributions to overall sustainable development as well as its committed graduates.

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