University Reform in an Era of Global Warming


By C. A. Bowers


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This book is especially timely for reasons related to the current efforts on the part of several national organizations to promote sustainability reforms in courses in all academic disciplines. The American Association for Sustainability in Higher education is in the forefront of this reform effort. Replacing an inefficient campus infrastructures was easy when compared to the challenges of engaging faculty in discussions of how the content of their courses continue to reinforce the deep cultural assumptions that gave conceptual direction to the individualistic/consumer-dependent lifestyle that that is now widely recognized as unsustainable. The chapters address a number of especially daunting challenges, with the main one being that many faculty who were graduate students in the last decades of the 20th Century continue to think within the same conceptual frameworks they acquired from their mentors. Their mentors were unaware of environmental limits, as well as the metaphorical nature of language that reproduces the ecologically problematic cultural assumptions that, in turn, have become part of today’s students’ taken for granted world. Several chapters address such limitations of these 20th Century conceptual frameworks as the way academic freedom in now being use by many faculty in the social sciences, humanities, and professional schools to justify ignoring not only the ecological crisis, and the failure to ask whether such traditional areas of inquiry, such as the thinking of Western philosophers and other abstract theorists, will be useful to students as they face the life-changing environmental impacts of climate change. Two other key issues that must be taken into account if sustainability reforms are to be introduced in courses across the academic disciplines include the need for faculty to understand the many ways in which the emphasis on print-based theory fosters abstract thinking, thus further strengthening the long-held myth of individual intelligence. The need to understand cultures as ecologies and the difference between individual and ecological intelligence are also discussed.


The book also contains a discussion of the university administrators’ essential role in holding faculty accountable for engaging in extended discussions of the language issues such as the linguistic colonization of the present by the past, the recursive cultural patterns that are being represented as the latest progressive ways of thinking that are the basis of many of today’s conceptual double binds, and how to foster the students’ awareness of the different ways that ideologies, technologies, and silences are undermining what remains of the cultural and environmental commons. The critique of current misconceptions that underlie different disciplines, as well as the resistance of many faculty to taking the ecological crisis seriously, are balanced with extended discussions of alternative ways of thinking about language, the connections between print-storage (which is amplified by computer-mediated learning and communication) and the ways in which oral traditions foster awareness of contexts and patterns of moral reciprocity (and thus ecological intelligence). In effect, the book provides the conceptual framework that needs to be the focus of faculty discussions, if these discussion are going to help faculty avoid the misconception that adding a couple of readings by environmental writers or learning about ecologically sustainable community practices will enable students to make the transition to a post-industrial way of thinking.


Education, Environmental Studies


Paperback or eBook, 195 Pages

ISBN 0-9660370-4-9 (Paperback)

ISBN 0-9660370-5-7 (eBook)




Chapter 1 Rethinking the Mission of the University

Chapter 2 Slowing the Rate of Environmental Degradation

Chapter 3 Conceptual Double Binds that Must Be Addressed in Reforming Higher Education

Chapter 4 How the Western Philosophers’ Legacy of Abstract Thinking Marginalized Awareness of the Cultural Commons, Other Cultural Ways of Knowing, and Environmental Issues

Chapter 5 Perhaps the Most Difficult Reform to Undertake: Addressing the Linguistic Colonization of the Present by the Past

Chapter 6 The Cultural Mediating Role of the Professor—Across the Disciplines

Chapter 7 The Misuse of Academic Freedom in an Era of Global Warming

Chapter 8 The Leadership Role of Presidents, Deans, and Department Chairpersons

Chapter 9 Why the George Lakoff and Mark Johnson Theory of Metaphorical Thinking Fails to Address Linguistic Issues Related to the Ecological Crisis

Chapter 10 Educational Reforms that Foster Ecological Intelligence References




Praise for the book:


Bowers’ deep and thoughtful critique of the university in the context of cultural colonization and ecological destruction lead to recommendations for reform that go to the root assumptions of higher education. It is radical in its approach and refreshing for its willingness to challenge higher education dogma.



—Paul Rowland, Executive Director, Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education




If you are interested in deep educational change then it is essential to understand how colleges and universities reproduce embedded cultural assumptions. Chet bowers cuts through to the essence of this challenge. Read Bowers to understand how the reconstruction of the cultural commons leads to resilient ecological intelligence, meaningful academic leadership, and education for sustainable livelihoods.



—Mitchell S. Thomashow, President of Unity College, and author of Ecological Identity, and Bringing the Bioshere Home




Chet Bowers is internationally renowned for his attempts to help university education to transform itself to meet the challenges of the 21st century. This important book does not tell university faculty what they want to hear, but instead tells them what they need to hear if higher education is to move away from the narrow and outdated focus on disciplinary knowledge towards helping students develop the skills they need to build a more sustainable society.


—Arran Stibbe, editor of The handbook of Sustainability Literacy, and convenor of the Sustainability in Higher Education Development Group in Great Britain.




Chet Bowers has consistently held a radical lens to higher education theory and practice and found it wanting with regard to its response to the ecological and associated crises that characterize our age. This collection of essays is no different. Bowers develops his analysis of the cultural and linguistic roots of both the crises and the higher education community’s inertia, and outlines the possibility of reform around an ecological and relational agenda. Each age needs its seers and critics if it is to recognize its own assumptions; Bowers performs this necessary role in this book.



—Stephen Sterling, Professor and Head of Education for Sustainable Development, Plymouth University, England.



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