Bringing It

Bringing It #33: A Reflection on Climate Change, Books by College Presidents, News & Queries

February 26, 2020

Dear friends,

This issue of Bringing It features two reflections. Our friend Jessica Lax at Ashoka U describes the ideas that are guiding the important work she and her colleagues are beginning on climate change education. And David reflects on the fact college presidents are issuing a spate of important new books on the future of higher education.

What Our Partners Are Doing: Educating Students on Climate Change

We’ve been hearing from our friends and readers about  the imperative for higher education to grapple deeply and systematically with climate change.  Our friends at Ashoka U have also been taking this on, and Jessica Lax sent us this post about their important work:

Adding a few classes on climate science isn’t going to be enough to prepare tomorrow’s leaders. Climate change requires systems change. We need to ask how we can fundamentally reimagine the student experience so that graduates are prepared to lead society in a period of unprecedented transformation. 

At Ashoka U we’re in the early stages of identifying which educational experiences have the highest potential to equip climate leaders. We’re starting with four ideas that we see as the basis of what high-impact climate change education should look like: 

1) Go beyond theory to empower learners to take thoughtful climate action. This requires giving students many opportunities to create real change on a variety of levels, as part of both their curricular and co-curricular experience. 

2) Value many different ways of knowing. This could include integrating Indigenous knowledge, lived experience of the negative impacts of climate change, or insights and perspectives from across academic disciplines.   

3) Start with self-awareness. Learning about climate change means coming face to face with potential societal collapse, and the guilt of how your own lifestyle is contributing to that. We need educational experiences that help students process eco-anxiety, take individual action, and find radical hope as they chart their path forward. 

4) Engage everyone. We’re looking for institution-wide responses to climate change, as well as examples of institutions that are mobilizing those far beyond their walls to take climate action. 

What ideas do you have about high-impact climate change education? Reach out to Jessica at [email protected] with your thoughts (and include us as well at [email protected]).

What We’re Reading: Is It Just Me, or Are College Presidents Writing More Books?  (A comment from David)

I’ve been reading a flood of books by current and recent college presidents. The list includes Robot-Proof  (Joseph Aoun, Northeastern), Beyond the University (Michael Roth, Wesleyan), Designing the New American University (coauthored by Michael Crow, Arizona State), and just in the past month or so, The Empowered University (coauthored by Freeman Hrabowski, University of Maryland, Baltimore County), and Leading Academic Change (Elaine Maimon, Governors State). They’re wildly different. I heartily agreed with some and heartily disputed others. But they all struck me as timely, significant, and sometimes inspiring.

Big books by college presidents aren’t a new thing. Decades ago, figures like Chicago’s Robert Hutchins, Berkeley’s Clark Kerr, and Princeton’s William Bowen made their bones as public intellectuals by writing about the value, problems, and future of higher education. But with a few exceptions, we haven’t heard that voice much in the past twenty years. In an era of fiscal stress, enrollment and completion pressures, and culture wars, the role of the college president has grown increasingly managerial. And (at least to my ear) the books that presidents published tended to focus on institutional challenges and stakeholder conflict—how-to manuals for navigating hard times.

Times are now, if anything, even harder in higher ed. And maybe that accounts for the feistier, more ambitious, more intellectual voice of these new books. Aoun’s manifesto for a “humanics” that melds liberal education with technological change, Crow’s call for a new kind of innovative mega-university, Hrabowski’s account of making UMBC more student-centered, inclusive, and publicly-engaged—these volumes are about making change, not managing challenges. They stake big claims for their vision of the future of higher ed.

The new author-presidents are more diverse than their Ivy-League predecessors; they come from every corner of the academy, and that’s a good thing. But I’m excited that they are renewing and recasting the role of the college president as public intellectual and public writer.

Query: How is COVID-19 Affecting You?

Coronavirus is spreading with ferocity. Day by day, we hear reports of the effects of COVID-19 on higher education: students being pulled out of study-abroad programs, concerns about declining international enrollments, apparent episodes of harassment against Asian and Asian-American students. We are interested in information—not rumor—about how the epidemic may be affecting your institutions, your students, and your work.

The Winter Issue of our Triannual Newsletter is Out Today!

Check out our most recent issue, on the topic of recentering perspectives that have been traditionally silenced or pushed to the margins in higher education. You may also view all of our past issues. Interested in submitting an article in the future, or have ideas for themes we should touch on? We’re always eager to hear your thoughts: email us at [email protected].


David, Caitlin, Mercedes, and Kate