The WSES concluded successfully Sunday evening with the presentation of our Outcomes Report and the formal announcement that Tübingen University in Germany will host the 2010 summit. The preceding days were packed with discussions and experience exchange.
I was looking forward to the second theme, University Sustainability, and speaker Leith Sharp did not disappoint. Leith, who directed Harvard’s Green Campus Initiative from 2000 until 2008, described her experience designing and implementing Harvard’s sustainability plan. I found it really interesting to see how a similar school organized its early steps toward sustainability. Although some of the challenges that Harvard faced were different from those I have seen at Yale—and very different that other delegates may face at their schools—most delegates found Leith’s message about the importance of finding people in the university who can be agents of change to be a theme that resonated.
I found discussions on this day to be highly revealing of the differences the delegates face as students and the various obstacles to facilitating institutional change. On one hand, the discussion times were a great chance to learn about other students’ experiences. I heard about campuses that have banned bottled water and schools with programs simultaneously to attract indigenous students and impart indigenous knowledge to “mainstream” students (there were also disheartening stories about schools that are still struggling to get recycled paper or to get students to use trash cans, let alone to recycle). On the other hand, the discussions made me realize that our diversity of situations might make university cooperation as difficult as international political cooperation! I was one of the few delegates from a private university, and my experiences differed markedly from many of the other delegates’. Other students described their public state and provincial universities as often lacking in resources or motivation. The prospects for universities to cooperate look dim when schools worldwide seem most concerned with their mandate to provide education, but as always, leverage points exist. One anecdote that disheartened me was some of the Australian delegates’ description of the way that public Australian universities are struggling to attract students. Hopefully, this situation could provide both an opportunity for students to pressure schools to meet their demands from below and leaders like Yale (perhaps through connections like IARU) to apply pressure from above.
-Julia Meisel, 2010