‘Green’ university removes ‘practices’ sustainability from official mission statement, then rethinks decision
After student criticism and a 121-signature online and paper petition, the BOT might reverse a September 2015 decision to drop the word “practice” from the phrase “practices and promotes environmental sustainability” in the FGCU mission statement.
At the Jan. 12 BOT meeting, Chairwoman Robbie Roepstorff said the word change was “brought to my attention.”
“Maybe it just fell off the radar,” Roepstoff said, “but we used to say ‘promotes and practices,’ and I think that is true to the university. If there’s no opposition from the Board, I’d love to see ‘practices’ put back in there.”
The original draft for the revised mission statement, which was presented to the BOT by Provost Ronald Toll in September, did contain the word “practice,” but the word was pulled out by the BOT in a series of several changes. President Wilson Bradshaw said the BOT will consider Roepstorff’s suggestion.
“We will make those suggestions and bring them back for the next meeting,” Bradshaw said.
The student petition to put the word “practice” back in the statement appeared online Dec. 11, 2015, and was written by FGCU student Brittany Jacobs. Jacobs is the treasurer of Students for Environmental Justice, and called the Sept. 8 decision to drop the word “practice,” “very wrong.”
“FGCU will ‘promote’ sustainability — I mean, what does that even mean?” Jacobs said. “The school brought all of these students here that were under the impression that it was a green school.”
In 2015, Jacobs attended Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps workshop in Miami. FGCU was built on approximately 400 acres of conservation land.
It was recognized in September 2014 as the first Florida institution to be awarded a Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System 2.0 Gold award in recognition of its achievements in sustainability from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education.
Some of those achievements include using solar panels to power several campus buildings, requiring students to take Colloquium, a course which teaches them about the environment of Southwest Florida, and allowing students to develop, grow and tend to an on-campus Food Forest.
This past summer, FGCU was recognized for its sustainability efforts by BestColleges.com, a website that collects and posts school information for prospective college students. On the website’s list of “The 39 Greenest Universities of 2016” in America, FGCU was ranked No. 25.
Maria Roca, an associate professor in FGCU’s Communication and Philosophy Department, encouraged Jacobs to start a petition and enact change after the mission statement wording was adjusted.
“That’s how we get on all of these lists of ‘greenest university’ and all these awards,” Roca said. “If they knew that we pulled that word out of our mission statement, we’re not going to see any of those awards come our way.” Roca was not sure why the BOT made the change in September.
“From what I’ve been told, it’s because of economic reasons,” Roca said. “We understand that, but at the same time, if we’re going to be one of the leading universities teaching about sustainability, we need to be living it also. The idea of dropping out the word ‘practice’ seemed hypocritical and contradictory.”
“It’s become a green-washed institution,” Jacobs said. “It doesn’t feel right. You can bring that out into the world as far as with corporate companies saying that they’re ‘green,’ but not here.”
Activists refer to green-washing as when a company or organization spends more time and money, through advertising and public relations, promoting their environmental practices than working to minimize environmental impact. Jacobs did not attend the BOT meeting, but said she plans to attend the next one to show the board members her petition during public comment.
“I feel empowered to make a difference around campus and around the community,” Jacobs said. Provost Toll agreed with the Board’s decision to reconsider the word change.
“I think what you heard today,” Toll said, “was that in a chance to step away from that and think about it, that word was important, so it was put back. I don’t write the mission statement or put words in or take words out, it’s all done by the Board of Trustees.”