The Worst Campus Codeword
The academic left is fond of buzzwords that sound harmless but function in a highly ideological way. Many schools of education and social work require students to have a good “disposition.” In practice this means that conservatives need not apply, as highly publicized attempts to penalize right-wing students at Brooklyn College and Washington State University revealed. “Social justice” is an even more useful codeword. Who can oppose it? But some schools made the mistake of spelling out that it means advocacy for causes of the left, including support for gay marriage and adoption, also opposition to “institutional racism,” heterosexism, classism and ableism. Students at Teachers College, Columbia, are required to acknowledge that belief in “merit, social mobility and individual responsibility” often produce and perpetuate social inequalities. Even in its mildest form “social justice” puts schools in a position of judging the acceptability of students’ political and social opinions.
Now the left is organizing around its most powerful codeword yet: sustainability. Dozens of universities now have sustainability programs. Arizona State is bulking up its curriculum and seems to be emerging as the strongest sustainability campus. UCLA has a housing floor devoted to sustainability. The American College Personnel Association (ACPA) has a sustainability task force and has joined eight other education associations to form a sustainability consortium. Pushed by the cultural left, UNESCO has declared the United National Decade of Education for Sustainable Development 2005-2014, featuring the now ubiquitous symbol of the sustainability movement – three overlapping circles representing environmental, economic and social reform (i.e., ecology is only a third of what the movement is about).
Only recently have the goals and institutionalization of the movement become clear. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability is Higher Education (AASHE) says it “defines sustainability is an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.” When the residential life program at the University of Delaware – possibly the most appalling indoctrination program ever to appear on an American campus – was presented, Res Life director Kathleen Kerr packaged it as a sustainability program. Since suspended, possibly only temporarily, the program discussed mandatory sessions for students as “treatments” and insisted that whites acknowledge their role as racists. It also required students to achieve certain competencies including “students will recognize that systemic oppression exists in our society.” At a conference, Kerr explained “the social justice aspects of sustainability education,” referring to “environmental racism,” “domestic partnerships” and “gender equity.”
Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars (NAS) says, “It turns out that virtually the entire agenda of the progressive left can be fit inside the word ‘sustainability.” Adam Kissel of the educational watchdog group the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) wrote: “Documents written or promoted by residential life officials demonstrate that sustainability is a highly politicized comprehensive agenda including positions of such topics as affirmative action, gay marriage, abortions, corporations and worldwide distribution of wealth.” In addition, the movement apparently features codewords within the master codeword “sustainability.” “Secure livelihoods” and “strong economies” seem to mean redistribution of existing wealth, not economic development to create new wealth.
The sustainability ideology obviously comes with many problems attached. It is semi-covert. Though institutions such as UNESCO and AASHE acknowledge that environmental concern is only part of the program, most people have no idea what they are buying when they support sustainability. The program contains conventional liberal ideas, but it has a strong streak of hate-America radicalism, as well as contempt for free markets and traditional values. It is not an educational program at all. The social and economic nostrums are pre-packaged, with nothing in the literature about reaching out for discussion and analysis of nostrums the movement doesn’t already hold. Like many schools of social work and education, the movement has lost sight of the distinction between instruction and indoctrination. The leaders don’t want to discuss. They have doctrines they want to impose.