Unity president calls for major reforms at U.S. colleges

At national forum in Baltimore, Mulkey says colleges must realign for “environmental century”

BALTIMORE — Unity College President Dr. Stephen Mulkey will present his recently published research on the state of environmentally-focused higher education Thursday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

Mulkey will outline how, despite urgent need for interdisciplinary education reform to solve critical environmental and sustainability challenges, most interdisciplinary environmental and sustainability (IES) programs have limited resources and unequal standing relative to traditional U.S. college disciplines.

“Ecologists expect climate change and human resource use to have severe consequences for living systems over the coming decades,” Mulkey said. “Higher education has an imperative to produce integrative, holistic critical thinkers, capable of understanding complex tradeoffs among possible solutions to environmental problems.

“This is not vocational work,” he said. “Students need skills that have been drawn from the full array of disciplines necessary to address environmental and sustainability problems.”

“Dr. Mulkey’s leadership role delivering symposia at the ESA annual meeting shows the curriculum he’s helped transform at Unity College is leading the way when it comes to sustainability science and educating the next generation of environmental leaders,” Unity College Executive Vice President and Chief Academic Officer Dr. Melik Peter Khoury said.

In Baltimore, Mulkey will co-present “Curriculum Reform for Sustainability in the Environmental Century” based on a paper he co-authored in the most recent edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

In that paper, titled “Interdisciplinary Environmental and Sustainability Education: Islands of Progress in a Sea of Dysfunction,” Mulkey writes:

“Universities must structurally reform to support IES programs … and strongly support initiatives to more effectively support the integration of IES knowledge across all higher education curricula.

“Traditional disciplinary departments, which dominate university structures and were created decades before most IES programs, often have a monopolistic grip on hiring, firing, and the tenure-granting process,” Mulkey wrote with co-authors Shirley Vincent of the National Council for Science and the Environment and J. Timmons Roberts of the Institute at Brown University for Environment and Society and Department of Sociology.

The conference marks the 100th anniversary of the Ecological Society of America, the world’s largest professional organization of ecological scientists, representing 10,000 researchers, educators, natural-resource managers and students in North America and 90 countries. Mulkey has been an ESA member since 1977.

President Obama addressed the conference on Aug. 10 via video message, viewable here.

“It is an honor for Unity College to be represented by invitation at this conference,” Khoury said. “It underscores the growing national presence of Unity College, and the importance of what our graduates achieve in their studies here.”

About Unity College

Unity College proudly celebrates its 50th year in 2015. The first institution of higher education in the nation to divest from fossil fuel investments, Unity is committed to educating the next generation of environmental professionals. Sustainability science lies at the heart of its educational mission, with 16 environmentally focused undergraduate majors offered on campus. For more information, visit unity.edu.

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