This week's interview is with David Barnhill, Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh. The University recently received media attention for becoming the first Fair Trade campus in the United States. In the interview below, David discuses what this designation means, the reasons for pursuing it, and the steps that were required.
As Director of Environmental Studies and Professor of English, David's work typically focuses on the academic components of sustainability. He plays a key role in the University's Winnebago Project, a sustainability faculty development workshop that seeks to integrate sustainability into the curriculum and across disciplines (see AASHE's resource on similar workshops offered at other campuses). Continue reading to learn more about the work David and the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh are doing.
If you are interested in participating in the AASHE Interview Series or wish to nominate someone to participate please email me. To read past interviews, click here.
The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh recently became the first Fair Trade campus in the US. Could you describe what this means, the process the university went through, and why the campus pursued this initiative?
The declaration means that the university supports the Fair Trade movement and will purchase and sell Fair Trade products as much as is feasible in dining services, catered events, offices, and stores. It also will promote Fair Trade and the Fair Trade products on campus through an integrated marketing campaign.
We started selling Fair Trade products and had our first Fair Trade Festival in 2005. In the fall of 2007 we started a campaign to become a Fair Trade University. This involved, among other things,
shaping an initial proposal, based on the Fair Trade University criteria in the United Kingdom
working with our dining services provider, Sodexho, to bring more Fair Trade to campus
consulting with the administration concerning their Request For Proposals for the new dining services contract
speaking with the Fair Trade Towns movement concerning the resolution (as there is no national Fair Trade University governing body)
working with the university administration on the wording of the proposal
bringing the proposal to the four governance groups. By early May of 2008 they all voted to support the resolution.
sending the proposal to the University of Wisconsin legal department to make sure the proposal was appropriate—small changes were made (summer 2008)
having the new wording re-approved by the four governance groups (late summer 2008)
the Chancellor declaring that we are a Fair Trade University (Sept. 2, 2008)
UW Oshkosh has been committed to sustainability and greening the campus throughout this decade. We also affirm the responsibility of the university to take stands for social justice and ecological integrity. For instance, in 2002 we became one of a handful of campuses that officially endorsed the Earth Charter
. Supporting Fair Trade is an extension of those commitments.
What other campus sustainability initiatives are you working on at the moment?
We have a comprehensive 124 page Campus Sustainability Plan
that outlines sustainability efforts in various aspects of operations. We have been working on energy and water conservation, use of alternative energy, and recycling for years. The Campus Sustainability Council
is working to expand our efforts to other areas
TEACHING & LEARNING:
We are working on making the campus a place where learning about sustainability is a central part of the campus culture. Some of this is done in university-wide events, first-year orientation, and residence hall programs. But as professors we have special interest in infusing sustainability into the curriculum. In 2007-8, two of our faculty received training by AASHE in offering faculty workshops, and we offered our first Winnebago Project
faculty college in May of 2008. This year the university sent two more faculty to participate in AASHE training, and this May we will offer another Winnebago Project workshop. In addition, last year the faculty senate approved a list of essential learning outcomes
which included “knowledge of sustainability and its applications.” We are currently involved in a campus-wide discussion of what this goal means, how we can teach it, and how we can assess it.
How did you get started in campus sustainability?
It started soon after I began my first teaching job at Guilford College in North Carolina. Guilford is a Quaker college where social responsibility is part of the life of the college. I was there from 1986-2003 and taught courses on religion and ecology. I was involved in the Environmental Studies Program, student groups, and campus events. In 2003, I came to University of Wisconsin Oshkosh as Director of Environmental Studies and became Co-Chair of the Campus Sustainability Council.
What campus sustainability success are you most proud of?
I would have to say becoming the first Fair Trade University in the country. On the other hand, as a professor, making the curriculum a key part of our sustainability efforts is what most engages me and should have the broadest effect on our campus.
In what area(s) do you see the biggest room for growth in the campus sustainability field?
How are you incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into your work?
Our affirmation of the Earth Charter was our first public commitment to the social dimensions of sustainability. Support for Fair Trade is a specific application of that commitment and a way to talk to students and faculty about how the ecological and social dimensions are integrated. The most difficult but most important issue is incorporating the social dimensions of sustainability into the curriculum. Some are concerned that if we include the social dimensions, professors will be indoctrinating students with their political agendas.
How are you tracking your progress toward sustainability?
We are activating a comprehensive environmental audit of our operations. We are using the reporting system of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. We are interested in AASHE’s STARS
system that is under development. The key means of tracking our progress is an Annual Sustainability Report that our new Director of Campus Sustainability
will write. In all these we need to be our own best critics.
Is there a particular insight (learning experience or “ah-ha” moment) you have had working on campus sustainability?
It was when I learned that the United Kingdom had over sixty universities that had declared themselves to be Fair Trade Universities, and then discovered that no universities in the U.S. had done so. It was an obvious opportunity to help jump-start a national movement in higher education.
How are your sustainability efforts funded?
The administration has created a substantial budget for campus sustainability. Our Director of Campus Sustainability is researching grants opportunities to supplement that budget.
In what ways are students involved in your work?
We have students on the Campus Sustainability Council. Students will be increasingly involved in the campus audit and researching sustainability for us. This semester we are offering for the first time a course on campus sustainability with projects focused on the university. We expect to have an increasing number student interns working on sustainability every semester.
Are you involved in efforts to advance sustainability in curriculum at UW Oshkosh? How?
I am one of the professors who co-leads the Winnebago Project. I’m also part of the university-wide discussion of what sustainability. And as Director of Environmental Studies, I’m very much involved in making sustainability a major part of our program.
What are you most looking forward to in 2009?
Making progress in terms of sustainability in the curriculum. But what I’m most looking forward to in 2009-2010 is my sabbatical!