Unity College President Dr. Stephen Mulkey called on institutions of higher education to “kill the silos” that prevent sharing across academic departments and said “there can be no higher value proposition [in higher education] than meeting the imperative of sustainability.”
Asked to deliver the keynote address only hours before the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education annual conference in Minneapolis, Minn., Mulkey addressed a diverse group of more than 2,300 campus representatives, including faculty, students, sustainability officers, staff, administrators, and presidents, together with business, nonprofit, government and community members, to celebrate and inspire sustainability solutions and innovations.
“Higher education has an ethical obligation to be the foundation of a sustainable civilization,” Mulkey said to a standing ovation from those in attendance in Minneapolis.
“To see the Unity College model of transdisciplinarity and sustainability in higher education be validated with a keynote speech and a rousing reception at a national conference is deeply humbling,” said Unity College President-elect Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, who formally assumes the presidency in January. “It’s a blueprint for which Dr. Mulkey was the architect, adding to Unity College’s leadership position in higher ed nationally as America’s Environmental College.”
Mulkey’s leadership at Unity College led to the school to divest its endowment of the top 200 fossil fuel producers, igniting a national campus movement that recently reached $3.6 trillion in divested assets.
For that and other reasons, AASHE recently recognized Unity a sustainability leader in AASHE’s influential 2015 Sustainable Campus Index, conferring first ranking on the school in the areas of Energy and Investment.
The 2015 Sustainable Campus Index highlights top-performing colleges and universities in 17 areas.
The Energy subcategory recognizes institutions that are reducing energy consumption through conservation and efficiency, and switching to cleaner and renewable energy sources. The Investment subcategory recognizes institutions that make investment decisions that improve the long-term health of endowments, support sustainability innovation, encourage better corporate behavior, support sustainability in the community, and help build a more just and sustainable financial system.
“Sustainability is something we build into all our practices,” said Unity College Sustainability Director Jennifer deHart. “Whether operationally, financially or in the curriculum, what we heard from Dr. Mulkey in Minneapolis is what we see every day on campus in Maine.”
In addition to exhorting the ethical obligation of practicing sustainability in all aspects of university operations, Mulkey called on schools to break down traditional academic barriers between departments.
“Kill the silos,” was the clarion call. “Higher ed needs to refocus on interdisciplinary programs, practice systems thinking, scenario analysis, inter- and transdisciplinary studies.”
“Employment will not be an issue for students with transdisciplinary sustainability skills,” Mulkey said, adding that pursuing sustainability in all academic, operational, and financial matters can also be the salvation for higher education.
According to AASHE, the annual conference is designed to help empower higher education to be a foundation for a thriving, equitable and ecologically healthy world. The event brings together emerging and advanced sustainability professionals, senior leaders, students, faculty, staff, businesses and media for a four-day conference that celebrates and inspires campus sustainability innovations. This year’s conference was titled “Transforming Sustainability Education.”