February 12, 2020 | Bringing It #32: Responding to Climate Change and Opportunities for Changemaking

Dear friends, 

We are excited by your responses to recent issues of Bringing It. We’ve heard strong agreement with Brian Murphy’s post (published in last week’s number), which asked, “How does higher education play a positive role [in confronting climate change]?” Here Gray Kochhar-Lindgren of the University of Hong Kong (HKU) shares his university's efforts:

  • We embed this work in many courses across our Areas of Inquiry: 1) Scientific and Technological Literacy, 2) Arts & Humanities, 3) Global Issues, and 4) China;
  • We map appropriate courses to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);
  • We have developed a Transdisciplinary Minor in Sustaining Cities, Cultures, and the Earth;
  • We are developing a two-year series of courses and undergraduate research opportunities called Critical Zones: Gender, Cities, and Well-Being;
  • We are doing a Case-Competition on the SDGs;
  • We work with Sustainability Offices and curricular initiatives across all the UGC-funded Hong Kong Universities through the Hong Kong Sustainability Campus Consortium (HKSCC);
  • We are working with both student associations and local charities, corporations, and NGOs on this series of issues;
  • We invented GLADE (Global Liberal Arts Design Experiments) to link general education programmes similar to ours in research-intensive universities, out of which we are working with partners to develop shared modules;
  • We mentor student groups from U21's RISE competition around these issues;
  • We do an annual Transdisciplinary Undergraduate Research Exchange with Utrecht University on The-More-Than-Human-City, and issues of sustainability and climate change always emerge.

Across the HKU campus, there are many other initiatives being developed. I think that every university/college should have a flexible curricular plan to address the SDGs/Climate Change; that all of these should be trans-/inter-/multi-disciplinary; and that we should think across scales from the classroom to the university to the community to global partnerships in order to create the most effective and imaginatively rich possibilities for liveable futures.

Another reader, Jeff Frank of St. Lawrence University, responded to our New Year’s call for thoughts:

If we believe that liberal education serves as a foundation for a life of adapting to uncertainty and difficulty, then we must have the courage to live this belief in the present we create for students. A simple test of this is to ask: When is the last time I fundamentally changed my courses, my assignments, and my ways of being with students to respond to the changing present? 

It is exciting to envision what it would mean to free all of the human potential on a college campus to respond to our most pressing problems. Though faculty feel a great sense of responsibility and gratitude to their discipline and their department, the future will mean turning that disciplinary foundation to the problems this generation will contend with now and in the future…. 

...Liberal education remains a great force for good, but much of its potential remains trapped in disciplinary boundaries that will need to be reconstructed in the coming years. Mental health, climate change, artificial intelligence, corporate social responsibility; addressing these are our responsibility as institutions committed to liberal education, not the narrow concerns of departments, centers or courses.

Institutions that can become flexible yet grounded are ones that will engage and prepare students to live the ideals of liberal education.  

We are grateful for the thoughtfulness and passion of these comments. Please keep them coming: we want Bringing It to serve as a forum for the best thinking of the BTtoP community.

Join Ashoka U at the 2020 Exchange
Calling all educators, students, innovators, and thought leaders! Our friends at Ashoka U will host their annual convening, the Exchange, on April 16-18, 2020 in Minneapolis, MN. The Exchange is an opportunity to share learnings related to social impact education, build community with peers, and leave inspired towards action. Register here

With thanks,
David, Caitlin, Mercedes, and Kate