The issue of climate change is well-known, and although its cause may be debatable, it is certainly a reality we all face. In this way, it becomes the obligation of educational institutions at all levels to further the research and discussion in this arena. Sustainability is especially important for higher education, which is the last step of formal education before we embark into our professional careers. Our decisions, both at work and at home, are directly influenced by the information we retain from school.
Cal Poly is well-regarded in its ability to educate students to become top performers once they graduate. This is further indicated by the recently proposed partnership between Saudi Arabia and Cal Poly – they selected Cal Poly because we are one of the best. But can we continue to call ourselves the best if sustainable design still remains vacant from the majority of classes? Maybe, but not for much longer.
During my past four years at Cal Poly, I’ve noticed that the administration seems to have a one-track mind and it starts and ends with money. President Baker’s constant fundraising campaigns have helped enormously to update facilities and increase enrollment, neither of which contribute to a meaningful education, because really, buildings don’t teach classes, professors do. It is the role of the administration to perpetuate new waves of learning, not just those that generate revenue.
Because we are a public institution, students are stakeholders of Cal Poly, which means we have the power to dictate focus and direction for our university. All too often we give up this right, or our voices are ignored in favor of those carrying checkbooks. But grassroots efforts for student-led initiatives continue to thrive.
Consider a major like environmental protection management, the enrollment of which has grown faster than most in the last few years. This sends a strong message: students realize the importance of understanding the relationship between humans and the environment. But even with experts in this field graduating at a rapid rate, how are the rest of us becoming prepared to tackle similar issues in our own majors? Yes, there are minors in sustainable agriculture or environments available, but shouldn’t we be doing more?
Now consider a typical economics class: lecture after lecture, it’s all about money. Sure, it’s an economics class, so money is an obvious part of the course, but the decisions we make as professionals extend beyond the budget. Ecology and social equality combined with the economy make up the principles of the triple bottom line (as opposed to single) and should be included in every economics class. I’m not blaming the professors; the fault falls on those who fail to provide adequate resources for professors to make these necessary updates.
If the focus of our core classes continues to cut sustainability out of the curriculum, students will be the ones who suffer. We will graduate without adequate knowledge of how to propagate sustainable ideals, and we will lose our competitive edge as Cal Poly alumni.
The alternative is to take action into our own hands, speak out and talk to our professors about what more we can do. Sometimes all we need is a friendly reminder, a push in the right direction, and we might all be able to look forward to a greener future.
Erica Janoff is an industrial engineering senior and a Mustang Daily liberal columnist.