Wisconsin-Oshkosh Set to Indoctrinate

May 30, 2008

As Samantha noted yesterday, the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh (UWO) Faculty Senate has approved a set of "Learning Outcomes" that include "knowledge of sustainability and its applications" under the umbrella of "responsibility." Pressuring students to achieve not just knowledge but also values, beliefs, attitudes, and habits in line with a highly politicized concept of sustainability is an unconscionable violation of students’ right to freedom of conscience.

I do not exaggerate here. Just read for yourself the 20082012 Campus Sustainability Plan as of February 2008. Jump to page 42 under "Teaching," and you will find that "sustainability" is a social and political agenda, not just a set of ideas about environmentalism (which in itself should be a matter of free debate rather than a set of official teachings from on high). You also will find that UWO intends to infuse this agenda everywhere on campus, so that students cannot escape it:

In the classroom, sustainability has a broad meaning that touches a wide array of disciplines and methodological approaches. It is a big-tent concept that embraces the ideas of financial security, social justice, and environmental responsibility. The Presidents Council on Sustainable Development has stated that "Education for sustainability is a lifelong learning process that leads to an informed and involved citizenry having the creative problem-solving skills, scientific and social literacy, and commitment to engage in responsible individual and cooperative actions. These actions will help ensure an environmentally sound and economically prosperous future." Education for sustainability, then, provides students with a sense of environmental and social citizenship and with the knowledge and skills needed to work effectively for sustainability. Achieving this goal requires that students encounter the key concepts of sustainability multiple times throughout their college careers, and in a variety of venues. Courses that focus on sustainability should not be limited to a few programs or to a single college; rather, they can and should be taught across all Colleges and Departments.

However, learning does not stop when students leave the classroom. It also takes place in residence halls, guest lectures, campus events, and research experiences. Therefore, this section of the report suggests a variety of ways that UW Oshkosh can improve the way that it teaches sustainability both inside the classroom and outside of it.

Long Term Vision: Link the university’s formal teaching mission and informal teaching opportunities to develop understanding, attitudes and habits that promote sustainability. [emphasis in original]

And that’s just from the section’s introduction. If students could escape the agenda before, they won’t be able to much longer:

Consider ways to ensure that every college student encounters the concept of sustainability. One possible way to accomplish this is to make sustainability an aspect of our Liberal Education Reform, including the possibility of a general education requirement that concerns sustainability. [emphasis added]

This seems to be where UWO is headed, and if so, it will be another sad chapter in the history of liberal education. Will UWO become one more place where "liberal education" means pressure to hew to a specific agenda of social and economic reform? Or will any new gen ed requirement permit students the freedom to develop and choose their own values?

Is the University of Delaware experience with ideological indoctrination of students in the residence halls just an anomaly? Doubtful. See p. 45 on initial efforts in the UWO residence halls. Another idea is to withhold benefits from students who are not on board with the agenda, like this one:

Establish incentives to encourage students to not bring a vehicle to campus. One suggestion was that a student who elects not to bring a vehicle to campus would get his/her first choice in the selection of a residence hall. (p. 31)

The UWO advocates of a sustainability agenda should let their values compete freely in the marketplace of ideas rather than imposing them on students before they have even stepped foot on campus.