Sustainability and Indoctrination in the New University of Delaware Plan
May 1, 2008
by Adam Kissel
As I wrote yesterday, the University of Delaware Faculty Senate is poised to restore the highly politicized indoctrination program that was roundly condemned last year, even by the faculty themselves. But the Faculty Senate should reject it.
UD's Student Life Committee insisted that "Respecting the moral autonomy and intellectual integrity of students should be a primary goal of all Residential Life programs."
Unfortunately, the new ResLife proposal still does not come close. The program still tries to change students' "thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions."
Below, I itemize the many specific items in the proposal showing that ResLife has specific, highly politicized "learning outcomes" in mind. ResLife is trying to manipulate the residence halls so that they become an "environment for learning." And if ResLife gets everything it wants, that environment will be ResLife's version of "sustainability" all the time.
Saying that the programming will be optional is hard to swallow. After all, how can a freshman, first day on campus, opt out at a time of great social pressure to do the activities everyone else is doing, and without full knowledge of what the program really entails? Furthermore, given how cynically and aggressively ResLife has pursued this program, they have lost the benefit of the doubt. A truly optional program to discuss sustainability could be perfectly permissible, if that's all it is, but it is clear from the University of Delaware's record that ResLife is planning something that goes far beyond an ideological class or club. These are the same people who called the program a "treatment" for students who ResLife has tagged as morally and ideologically deficient.
Here is a catalogue of evidence that ResLife still intends to go full-forward with a politicized "sustainability" agenda, following the order of sections in the proposal. There is much more than what I can put in this list. In ResLife's hands, sadly, even neutral terms like "citizenship" do not mean what regular folks think they mean.
Although the Student Life Committee recommended that the main educational priority statement of ResLife be rewritten, here's how they did it:
The Residence Life program encourages students to become engaged and active citizens by understanding how their thoughts, values, beliefs, and actions affect the people with whom they live and by recognizing their citizenship responsibilities at a local, national, and global level.
Here ResLife simply changed the words "responsibility to contribute to a sustainable society" to "citizenship responsibilities." First of all, ResLife already knows what everyone's citizenship responsibilities are. The educational task is "recognizing" them, not debating them, according to ResLife. The sentence also is a bit strange grammatically: we have responsibilities as global citizens? Can anyone say "begging the question"?
Proposed 2008-2009 Program Goals
Actually, later in the document, ResLife calls these goals what they really are, to ResLife: "the seven learning outcomes":
- Explore their personal skills, values, traits, and attitudes.
I do not see how the faculty can trust ResLife to help students explore their values and attitudes, at the least, when ResLife all along has been judging students on the basis of their "congruence with citizenship values" as defined by the sustainability agenda Remember the student who was written up after she resisted the question about when she discovered her sexual identity?
- Recognize how history, background & culture affect one's perspectives.
This is something resident assistants are qualified to teach?
- Understand their own and others' concepts of justice.
What do the political science and philosophy faculty have to say about ResLife trying to teach about comparative views of justice? How can ResLife adequately address the scholarly debate about concepts of justice? How is ResLife going to define all these different concepts of justice?
- Develop a personal and career plan that considers their contributions to society.
The activities in the proposal, especially those for upperclassmen, show that ResLife intends to pressure students to make "sustainable" contributions, those which promote the progressive "sustainability" agenda—and not those which do not. ResLife should be serving all students, not pressuring them to go into certain fields.
- Learn to articulate their point of view while respectfully engaging in dialogues about different ideas.
Isn't this what happens in classrooms all the time? Aren't the faculty the ones who are best at this?
- Explore the connections that exist between the concepts of sustainability, personal choice, community, and citizenship.
There you have it, "sustainability" as the keystone of the ResLife agenda.
The activities shall "facilitate the building of a sustainable community"—as defined by ResLife.
Cornerstones of the Program
RA "conversations": these look like the one-on-one sessions as before. I do not trust ResLife with this at all. What will the oversight be? Will RAs know not to ask invasive questions? Will they be instructed to focus on diversity and tolerance and sustainability, or will they genuinely listen and respond to what each student actually wants to talk about? And how could RAs, students themselves, really be qualified to have these seemingly therapeutic conversations?
Floor meetings: "will include discussions of sustainability" in relation to the students' lives. Quite so—see below.
Complex Community Council Structure: ResLife seems to be trying to bypass Constitutional protections by devolving power down to student bodies. To the extent, however, that the student-governing bodies have been given any power to officially punish by ResLife, these bodies are acting in the name of UD and the state, so there had really better be nothing unconstitutional in the rules established by the CCCs. Unconstitutional rules may not be binding on all students if they have the force and power of UD behind them.
Door decorations: will these again be the sustainability decorations with the "three interlocking circles of sustainability"? It is telling that ResLife does not tell us.
- "The Many Perspectives on Sustainability" - problematizing the term does not fix the problem. The multiple perspectives are not "on" sustainability but all of them are "related to" sustainability! That is, they are not pro and con but seem to be different kinds of pro.
- "Individual Consumption Introduction" - a sustainability activity that seems intended to pressure students not to consume "unsustainably"—not to use products that aren't ‘fair trade,' for instance
- Opening Day Floor Meeting - "community expectations" would be ok if we didn't already know that ResLife has specific ideas about what a "community" is and what students will be expected to conform to
- Community Meeting - likewise, on "community standards," the RAs last year were instructed to pressure students to include very specific things in the various agreements among students. Can we expect anything different this year? By the way, ResLife has a special position called "Graduate Assistant for Community Standards."
- Bulletin Boards: "monthly sustainability tips" are to be the central theme all year.
- The October floor meeting will ask students to bring in their "favorite material possessions" to discuss "issues related to sustainability."
- Interactive bulletin board: "How do you define love?" - this could be a great topic. I should note, however, that an earlier draft called this topic "Gay Marriage & Civil Unions," so we can predict what the RAs will highlight first on the bulletin board. Again, this may be a great discussion if treated honestly, but I have little trust that ResLife can handle even the most meritorious topics without coercion and without disrespect for the right of private conscience.
- Sustainability Definitions - "introduce students to key sustainability terms and concepts" - I hope that this is not a return to Shakti Butler-inspired ideas that, for instance, all whites are racist oppressors.
- Unplug America Day - for those who don't know, "The ‘Unplug America—Give Mother Earth a Rest Day' campaign was introduced in 1992 by Indigenous Peoples to invite all people to show our love and respect for our Mother Earth and all the sacred Life Circles by challenging unhealthy patterns of consumption and the continued production of poisons that destroy our environment." Nothing politicized there?
- The November floor meeting will also be about sustainability: RAs will lead discussion of the "environmental impact of consumptions patterns through a simulated ‘shopping' exercise." Note to faculty: you might want to see this exercise ahead of time. Here's an example.
- "Sustainable vacationing": in December and January, students will be encouraged to travel "in an environmentally friendly manner" and to travel only to "eco-friendly vacation locations."
- Guilt trips (that's my term): "At each social event, information will be posted on walls and event supplies to inform students of the economic and environmental impact of the event and items."
- Community Resource Tracking -students will be encouraged to monitor their "consumption patterns."
- Discovery Wheel: UD faculty, see the values that ResLife proposes to teach through this "diversity" module: http://www.thefire.org/index.php/article/8961.html
- "Dueling Documentaries" on sustainability: will there really be an anti-sustainability documentary? I doubt it. The faculty might want to know which films are they thinking of? Al Gore's and which other one?
September floor meeting: "levels of engagement and leadership" seems innocent in itself, but it recalls the final exercise that freshmen were subject to last year, when students were pressured to identify which of thirty commitments they would make in college based on their "level of activism." Their choices included these:
1. Create an anti-prejudice slogan for your floor, such as "I Don't Put Up With Put-Downs."
17. Investigate the cultural diversity of various performers [brought] to campus.
30. Examine your textbooks and course work to determine whether it is equitable, representative and multicultural.
Indeed, ResLife still wants students to emerge as change agents by their senior year. Students will be "encouraged to choose a sustainable goal." They are to be subject every month to a series called "Sustainably Staffed," where ResLife promotes "the connections that exist between sustainable decision making, a community, and citizenship" and highlights a UD staff member who fits ResLife's vision of responsible citizenship. They are to learn about "common business practices and their connection to sustainability." The primary, constant ResLife message to students will be that in order to be responsible citizens, they must choose "vocational paths that compl[e]ment sustainable practices"—again as defined by ResLife.
Floor Vision: this is to be dictated by the RAs. Why is this needed? Can't the students just live in peace without having a highly specific ideology manufactured for them?
Learning Outcomes Introduction: here is where ResLife admits that the seven "program goals" are actually "the seven learning outcomes." Freshmen apparently don't get to know the secret, but upperclassmen do.
"Sustainability" Stakeholder Agreement activity: UD faculty, don't you want to know what this activity entails before you approve it? Here's one possible example of the intent.
Map It Out: another sustainability exercise dedicated to discussion of "where sustainable decision making, community, and citizenship intersect."
The November "sustainability tip" is on "corporate America and sustainability."
Metaphor Meeting: students will "pick a metaphor that illustrates their view of sustainability." Amazingly, students will be allowed to "understand themselves more completely by applying abstract concepts to communicate with peers"—are the faculty not already doing this in class after class? And how do philosophy professors feel about RAs' ability to manage such discussion?
The RA conversation that sets up the spring semester is all about sustainability:
During this optional conversation, students will be asked to reflect on their fall semester with specific consideration for their feelings and opinions about sustainability. Subsequently, students will have another opportunity to set semester goals with their RA (with focus on sustainability and engagement goals).
"Media Contest: The Citizen I want to be...": this ham-handed activity speaks for itself. Note that again the program goals are revealed as "learning outcomes":
This program is for those students who choose to explore each of the seven learning outcomes. Through this essay, video, paper, poem, song, or other creative endeavor, the student can present a point of view on all of the learning outcomes while answering, "Describe the citizen you want to be." Winning submissions will be available for all students to view and winners will receive gift certificates to the University Bookstore.
In April, "information about deforestation will be disseminated." The RA conversation for April again is primarily about careers in sustainability.
Predictably, the debate topic in May is "sustainability."
Appendix 1: The Life of a Resident Assistant at UD
Here is where the non-learning aspects of an RAs job are mentioned. This material is, by and large, what RAs are traditionally supposed to be doing, and it's what RAs past and present have told me they want to be doing—not participating in ResLife's re-education of students.
Appendix 2: Assessment Plan
UD should be careful here not to break federal law on human subject research—remember last year's program, when students were quizzed on which genders and races they were willing to befriend or date?
Among other things, the main proposed survey (which is apparently very common at colleges today) asks students to reveal how they feel about the degree to which "fellow residents are tolerant" and "fellow residents are respectful." Will UD be willing to reveal such data in order to help the public know the results of ResLife's program?
Appendix 3: Residence Life Programs at Other Institutions
Note that ResLife seems to be taking a single, specific "learning community" at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the "Sustainability Learning Community," out of context by making sustainability the central theme for all UD students in the residence halls.
Indeed, to ResLife, "sustainability related missions and educational emphasis areas [are] rapidly catching up" to the other programming in residence life departments around the country. This is ResLife's final statement in defense of making a highly politicized sustainability curriculum the central theme of the University of Delaware residential experience.
To me, even the abbreviated summaries of these other, supposedly analogous, ResLife programs around the country shows that those other schools are much more diversified and much less evangelistic about their programming.
Again, all of this is online, so see for yourself.