Higher Education in the Environmental Century LLC

Gainesville, Florida, 9 February 2016.

HEEC v1.1

Stephen Mulkey, PhD, principal


Today I am announcing the creation of an LLC dedicated to providing practitioners in higher education guidance for administration and curriculum development to support a sustainable civilization.

(Mulkey CV)

The model for Higher Education in the Environmental Century LLC (HEEC) is based on four principles:

  • Environmental and sustainability issues that will determine the future of our species are best addressed through the transdisciplinary process of knowledge management.
  • The administrative structure for such academic programming must provide legitimacy and resources for faculty and administrative units engaged in transdisciplinary collaborative research, teaching, and outreach.
  • In accordance with the tenets of academic freedom, faculty have the power and responsibility to transform the delivery and content of curriculum as a means of fostering a new generation of integrative thinkers and adaptive resource managers.
  • The social sciences and humanities have equal importance to the physical and natural sciences in the development of transdisciplinary approaches to the central issues of the environmental century.

Over the coming months I will be recruiting individuals and assembling resources to make HEEC a viable and useful enterprise. I expect that this service will be most useful to institutions in need of reform in order to survive in the foment of the disrupted higher education marketplace. Secondarily, as the sustainability economy continues to grow, graduates with transdisciplinary skills and comprehensive understanding of adaptive management will be increasingly in demand. Services of the kind offered by HEEC will be useful for transforming the canalized workings of the academy to meet the coming challenges.

Your enquiries and suggestions are welcome at: EnvironmentalCentury [AT] gmail.com


Statement of need

Academic programming at most U.S. institutions is largely the responsibility of budgetary silos (colleges within universities, departments within colleges) and these units have little incentive to develop integrated holistic approaches to address the problems facing humanity. Instead, top-down hierarchical dissemination of traditional discipline-based knowledge is the accepted model for teaching, research, and outreach. Tenure and promotion are awarded almost exclusively for scholarly activities within a designated disciplinary niche.

Specialization has characterized the development of U.S. institutions during the halcyon years following WWII. Funding for higher education was driven by the space and arms races and technological innovation was favored over development of integrative approaches for adaptive management of problems. Addressing the most pressing issues of our era will require global scale management of natural and human resources. Such management is poorly addressed by disciplinary specialization, but instead can result from a transdisciplinary approach to learning and scholarship. Transformation of the academy will require wholesale restructuring of administrative and faculty processes. Expertise and leadership is needed to drive this restructuring.

Economic drivers

Climate change is the greatest challenge in the history of our species. As the environmental century unfolds, proactive adaptation and efforts to mitigate the causes of climate change and environmental degradation will become major drivers of the global economy. The business opportunity inherent in this response is immense. The retrofitting of the built environment will be a trillion-dollar industry. Similarly, managing forests, freshwater fisheries, marine fisheries, and wildlife will be a growing concern as climate zones continue to shift. Private businesses which presently specialize in environmental impacts and assessments will move into this market and become active managers of natural resources. Similarly, huge opportunity exists in managing transportation and land use. Adaptation in agriculture represents a new frontier in the natural sciences.

The development of this economy is well underway and will grow dramatically in the coming decades. In 2011 the Brookings Institute showed that the “clean economy” had continued to grow and outpace the traditional fossil-fuel based economy during the recession of 2008. This trend continues to aggressively grow as the cost of renewable energy has become competitive with energy derived from fossil fuels.

Market value for higher education

Small to intermediate size private institutions are struggling to maintain enrollment as disruptive factors such as online learning and the soaring costs of operation have affected the higher education industry. In the Midwest and Northeast of the US, many public institutions are similarly struggling to maintain market share.

Embracing the opportunity to create sustainability programming can improve the financial bottom line for institutions of higher learning in the following ways:

  • There is a substantial and growing market of high school graduates who are unwilling to have careers that are driven only by the need to earn money. They are seeking meaning. Similarly, there is a growing number of college matriculates who believe that they must be part of a global solution to our ongoing environmental long emergency. Building programs to meet this need will improve recruitment and retention, and thus revenue. Providing this kind of programming will increasingly be considered the norm, rather than a specialty of certain institutions.
  • Much of the increasing cost of higher education has been driven by a fundamental inability or unwillingness of administration and boards of trustees to find efficiencies and economies of scale in the delivery of curriculum and academic programming of the institution. College leadership has sought to improve recruitment and retention by building upscale facilities in the hopes of attracting and keeping paying students who do not require steep discounts to matriculate. In an effort to shore up revenues, administrations have increased tuition and fees, and created new revenue streams through programming for online, nontraditional, evening, and summer students.Clearly  it is time to restructure the delivery of mainstream academic programming to achieve efficiencies that can reduce costs. This need is congruent with the need to build holistic integrative problem-focused programming. Integrative academic programing can be intrinsically more efficient and cost effective.
  • Faculty are facing extreme challenges to their privilege to operate without accountability to the financial bottom line of their institutions. Tenure, which historically has often been a sinecure, is under threat throughout the U.S. system of higher education. There is a widespread perception that reform in faculty employment is overdue and urgent.Instead of defending the status quo, faculty would be well served to begin the reform process from within. Implementing many of the reforms proposed here can afford faculty the ethical high ground from which to argue the sanctity of academic freedom. Faculty are the best informed group to begin this process and have an ethical obligation to do so. Failure to embrace this opportunity will result in further erosion of faculty respect, privilege, and autonomy. By leading reform, faculty will not only re-establish their value and improve their prospects, but also improve the financial viability of their institutions.

Products and services

With the appropriate staffing and resources, HEEC LLC can develop the capacity to deliver the following products and services for administration and faculty. HEEC will engage in active listening and dialog with principals of the administration and faculty in order to determine which of these and other appropriate services are needed.

  1. Fostering operational efficiency and sustainability readiness through management of organizational structure can have an enormous impact on expenses. HEEC is not concerned with operational sustainability of an institution as determined by energy efficiency, waste streams, building management, construction, food service, or transportation.  Instead, HEEC will help an institution address organizational structure and accountability as the primary means by which operational sustainability can be advanced.
  2. Community colleges in the U.S. will be the front line provider of practitioners to retrofit the built environment for sustainability and build new sustainable infrastructure. Existing trades programs will need reform and access to expertise in order to train these graduates. HEEC will facilitate the reform of these programs.
  3. HEEC will act as a consultant for improving an institution’s STARS rating with respect to administration, finance, curricular, and cocurricular performance. STARS is the rating system developed by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and is widely used as the principal indicator of the sustainability performance of an institution. The criteria for the STARS rating will be used to guide the reform process.
  4. HEEC will coordinate sustainability marketing messaging with an institution’s designated brand and marketing developer.
  5. HEEC will address administrative structure with respect to implementation of integrative transdisciplinary programming. This may involve merging or eliminating departments or colleges within the university. Governing boards will need to fully endorse this process, and HEEC will act as a liaison to foster understanding among board members.
  6. HEEC will work with faculty leaders to redesign curriculum and the teaching and learning process to foster the production of graduates who can participate in the building of a sustainable civilization. HEEC is capable of addressing undergraduate and graduate curriculum.
  7. HEEC will facilitate the development of tenure and promotion guidelines and processes to support recognition for faculty who engage in transdisciplinary teaching, research, and outreach.
  8. Where appropriate and when requested to do so, HEEC will act as an advocate for faculty bodies and individuals who choose to embrace reform in the face of inappropriate criticism for doing so.













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