Ecoversity: Towards a Sustainable Future

By Julie Matthews, Steve Garlick and Timothy F. Smith.

Published by Journal of the World Universities Forum

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

For decades scientists, environmentalists and social scientists have been pointing to a crisis of sustainability. They have been detailing and debating evidence of the impact of resource depletion, species extinction, deforestation, warming oceans, changing seasons and melting ice caps. However, it was not until the late twentieth century that governments and political leaders came to see that no issue of politics, economics or society or policy would be unaffected by the sustainability crisis because, as David Orr observes, sustainability is ‘about the terms and conditions of human survival’. Problematically however, ‘we still educate at all levels as if no such crisis existed’ (Orr 1992, 83). We argue that universities need to step up to the task of education for a sustainable future and play a leading role in generating critical debate and innovative action. Until recently, modern universities were largely self organising institutions embodying a unique set of paradoxes and contradictions, many of which confounded normative understandings of organizational structure (Marginson & Considine 2000). It is the unique structure and relative institutional independence of universities that we suggest offer important possibilities for leading the way towards sustainable futures. The role of universities in servicing the professional and ideological functions of emergent 18th century European nation states was moderated by awkward compacts and informed by a synthesis of old and new traditions, international culture and unique forms of authority. While contemporary managerial, marketing and entrepreneurial directions in universities raise cause for concern, we argue that universities remain in a unique position to locate themselves at the hub of social change debates and solutions. Universities should have a ‘larger purpose, a larger sense of mission, a larger clarity of direction in the national life’ (Boyer 1996, 20). An important element of creating an environment of on-going critical discourse around sustainability issues in universities is the combination of science and civics through a process of ‘bounded conflict’ or social learning (Milbrath, 1979; Lee, 1993; Smith and Smith, 2006). This paper argues that ‘ecoversity’ is an important concept for universities. It underlines the contemporary climate of global urgency relating to unsustainable development, ecological illiteracy, global technocracy and civil insecurity and the role of universities in generating critical debate and innovative solutions to complex issues. An ‘ecoversity’ approach may thus serve as a future manifesto for higher education; a proposal and a provocation to action that draws resources from what we have already anticipated and hoped for education. In short, an ecoversity approach demonstrates the importance of universities’ critical and scholarly role in both research scholarship for the greater good, and the professional education of future generations.

Keywords: Sustainablity, Ecoversity, Futures

Journal of the World Universities Forum, Volume 2, Issue 3, pp.113-124. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.153MB).

Julie Matthews

Director of Research, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, The University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia

Associate Professor Julie Matthews A/Prof Julie Matthews is a sociologist and education researcher. She is Director of Research in the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of the Sunshine Coast and a member of the Sustainably Research Centre Her three current projects address: sustainability and higher education; international education and community engagement; and climate change adaptation. Research interests also include visual research methods, feminism and postcolonialism.

Prof. Steve Garlick

Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Science, Health and Education, The University of the Sunshine Coast, Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia

Professor Steve Garlick is an adjunct professor at the University of the Sunshine Coast, and a member of the Sustainability Research Center. He was formerly Professor of Regional Engagement at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Professor of Regional Development at Swinburne University of Technology and Professor of Regional Development at Southern Cross University. He is currently the Vice-President of the Australian Universities Community Engagement Alliance (AUCEA)andinvolved in IMHE/ OECD projects on evaluating higher education and regional development. He has and has led projects in Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands and Canada. He has seminal works on the role of higher education in regional development and community engagement and is a regular international and national speaker on these subjects. In recent years he has predominantly written about the role of human capital, ethics and the human native animal divide and community and regional engagement.

Prof. Timothy F. Smith

Director Sustainability Research Centre, Faculty of Science, Health and Education, The University of the Sunshine Coast, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

Professor Tim Smith is Director of the Sustainability Research Centre at the University of the Sunshine Coast. Prof Smith has also led the social science research and education portfolios of two national research centres, Coastal Cooperative Research Centre and Catchment Hydrology Cooperative Research Centre. In addition to several academic appointments (eg University of New South Wales and Griffith University. Professor Smith has also led numerous projects relating to sustainability and has authored or co-authored numerous publications in this area, including the book ‘Australian Estuaries: A Framework for Management’ released in 2001. Dr Smith has given keynote addresses or invited seminars in Australia, Italy, China, New Zealand, Fiji and the United States.

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