Modeling Sustainability at the University of the South

Lyle A. Brecht 2007

The Sewanee Environmental Stewardship Center: A Proposal for an Interdisciplinary Center at Sewanee to Discern And Develop Models for Teaching, Learning and Living Sustainably DRAFT FOR DISCUSSION May 2007 The University of the South Sewanee, Tennessee
There is a lovely valley that runs from Ixopo into the hills. These hills are grass-covered and rolling, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it…. for the ground is holy, being even as it came from the Creator. Keep it, guard it, care for it, for it keeps (us), guards (us), cares for (us).

In a world increasingly experiencing social, economic and environmental distress, how do we respond? Although we may lament for a world in peril, we are called even more to hopeful action. Such hopeful action demands the discernment of new models for teaching, learning and living sustainably; models of stewardship that define what sound leadership looks like in the twenty-first century. In response to this call to action, how might The University of the South (“Sewanee”) come to discern and model lived stewardship? How might we best prepare our graduates to join those who participate in creating solutions to the world’s great problems? Given that we preach and teach most powerfully through our actions, how can Sewanee best explore how environmental stewardship might be defined for the 21st Century? Sewanee, perhaps uniquely among U.S. institutions of higher learning, has the opportunity to pursue a leadership position in discerning and developing models for teaching, leaning and living sustainably. The following proposal describes an agency for change: a Center that fosters a focused process for personal and institutional change. As members of an institution founded on faith we realize that real stewardship involves not only changes in policy, but also growth in mind and heart, a spiritual awakening. Such stewardship calls us to dialogue among practitioners of religion and science, the social sciences and the humanities, faculty, staff, students, and members of this community. Real stewardship cares about not only what happens out there, but also what happens in here and between us. It considers the prior question of good stewards: “What is it we wish to sustain and protect?” and answers with the values we hold dear: love, hope, prosperity, and freedom. The Goals and Objectives of the Center: Sewanee serves as a “crown jewel” of the Cumberland Plateau – “one of the most beautiful and biologically diverse places on the planet." Few colleges, and fewer major research universities, have both the spiritual and natural physical endowments that Sewanee offers. If the Sewanee environment and its spiritual, moral and ethical compass constitute some of the most unique and important aspects of its character, then Sewanee has an opportunity to emphasize these strengths. Only then can Sewanee more fully achieve its natural potential and thereby compete most effectively with other highly ranked liberal arts colleges and universities that are pursuing environmental stewardship and sustainability initiatives.
“As educators know, the deepest things people learn in an educational setting come not from the formal content of lectures and discussions but from the ‘hidden curriculum.’ That curriculum consists of the rules, roles, and relationships that are played out as people interact in that setting. One can teach a course of democratic values, but if it is taught in an authoritarian way, the students are learning not to be citizens but subjects.”

We propose a Center dedicated to encouraging discernment and developing models for teaching, learning, and living sustainably. This Center would draw on resources available to the University from all Departments of the College, the School of Theology, and Sewanee’s Physical Plant Services (PPS), as well as the Province IV Environmental Ministry of ECUSA. For example, the Center could provide funding for a spirituality program at the School of Theology; discernment and contemplative pedagogy training; bringing well-known environmental teachers to the College as Fellows for extended residency teaching activities; ecosystem management and environmental planning initiatives for the Domain; student/faculty research in best practices for living sustainability; LEED certification standards for building retrofits; hands-on, experiential learning and the development of innovative curriculum designed to develop new models for teaching, learning and living sustainably by utilizing the best ideas in a wide range of disciplines, including the humanities, the natural and social sciences, and religion and theology. Discernment would be an ongoing adaptive process. The development of contemplative discernment practices would enable Sewanee to better determine which types of technology and management practices might best reflect the values it espouses. Implementation of these new approaches and practices then would provide the test of that discernment, leading to further refinement of the discernment process as well as deeper understanding of the social and scientific/ technological aspects of the new approaches.

Complex systems; not simple or complicated systems All disciplines are involved; not a few disciplines or one program (e.g. environmental studies) Process-oriented; how sustainability initiatives are developed are as important as outcomes Long-term perspective; organizational learning from many small initiatives

Sustainability: (1) responding to today’s planetary emergency; (2) by re-engineering existing systems; (3) to promote learning that: (4) generates ideas and actions; (5) for moving from high EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) dependent systems, and (6) the devaluing of natural inputs to: (7) lower thermodynamic states and (8) valuing natural inputs (9) without producing collapse or (10) violence.


Extensive use of the Sewanee Domain’s outdoors by all disciplines In-service training opportunities for faculty and staff Curriculum development supporting grants Voluntary participation of faculty, staff, and students


Identify activities that take time that are not central to core initiative Deciding what not to do is as, or more, important than deciding what to do Initiatives, to be sustainable, must have a budget


If the present institutional culture is not sustainable, then: Focus on cultural change process in order to even begin to develop models for sustainability Otherwise: Band-Aid effect. Adding sustainability to an already overloaded, time-constrained situation

Ongoing, interdisciplinary, parallel systems of discourse Collegiality; sharing what works Small, incremental steps towards sustainability models rather than one overarching idea Does not require “permission” or “buy-in”


Either work from and within a given budget, or Develop program ideas that can attract new funds

“The Cumberland Plateau is part of one of the largest temperate hardwood forest systems in the world and is home to the highest concentration of endangered species on the continent, as well as the highest concentration of cave and cave invertebrate species in the world. “Due to its unique biological composition, the Cumberland Plateau has been listed as a "Global 200" biological hotspot, and has been named a "biogem" by the Natural Resources Defense Council. More than 30 species of amphibians, 62 species of bird, and 84 species of butterfly find their place in Sewanee year after year.”
See “Sustainability on the Sewanee Domain,” a report prepared by students from the College and the School of Theology for the class: The Many Sides of Sustainability, April 25, 2007.

“One of the buzzwords of recent years has been 'sustainability'.... what the word points to is the sense of obligation that most of us share at some deep level - the obligation to hand on to our children and grandchildren a legacy that helps them live and flourish.... Perhaps a good resolution for the New Year would be to keep asking what world we want to pass on to the next generation - indeed, to ask whether we have a real and vivid sense of that next generation.” Dr Rowan Williams: 'God doesn't do waste' sermon, January 1, 2008

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