The University of Tennessee mission statement and vision declare goals of the university such as enriching the lives of citizens locally and globally, promoting environmental development, and producing ethical leaders. These goals cannot be met without a focus on sustainability. In many ways, UT does fulfill its mission statement and vision. But it is lacking in one major way. These goals will never be fully met if the University does not emphasize a focus on becoming a sustainable school, and more importantly educating its students on this major global issue.
UT has shown leadership in several sustainability initiatives. The renowned recycling program, the signing of the Climate Action Plan, and other initiatives through the Make Orange Green campaign have demonstrated this leadership. But the University of Tennessee is not utilizing its resource for an easy and inexpensive way to have global impact: the thousands of students who graduate from this institution each year. These graduates take their UT education and put it to work in all corners of the world. If they each understood the importance and major issues surrounding sustainability, the impact would be immeasurable.
An emphasis on sustainability education is not only beneficial to the cause, but to the University as well. If UT wants to remain competitive in a changing world, it must educate its students to be successful in that world. A student prepared for success must enter the workforce with an understanding of global issues; with climate change, an impending food crisis, and the threat of diminishing oil supply, sustainability will undoubtedly be one these key issues.
If UT plans to produce successful, knowledgeable graduates, it needs to require every student to take a course in sustainability. Since sustainability is such a vast topic, it has applications in nearly every career and industry. A variety of courses should be offered, each with a different topical focus. This way each student can learn about sustainability as it relates to their chosen majors and careers. Each college within the University should be responsible for offering sustainability courses which focus on issues relevant to the colleges within that major. For colleges with majors for which sustainability has few applications, a general course should be offered which covers various topics such as climate change, food, and energy sustainability.
Furthermore, the University of Tennessee needs to offer a sustainability degree program. These programs have been growing in popularity throughout schools in the U.S. and internationally, and UT needs to offer a similar program in order to remain a competitive academic institution. Undergraduates have shown particular interest in these programs; Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability had an enrollment of 300 in its first year, and the graduates’ well-rounded knowledge in sustainability and its applications has helped them get jobs. As businesses develop a growing concern for the environment, jobs in sustainability will become more popular. The University of Tennessee should strive to fill as many of those jobs with its own graduates as possible.
This cost of this plan is very minimal compared to other sustainability initiatives, such as an overhaul of the University infrastructure to work towards a carbon-neutral goal or increase efficiency/sustainability. This plan only requires the implementation of the requirement, the accommodation of the classes, and the cost of instruction. However, the impact is immense. The University of Tennessee will produce graduate who have a good understanding of the global issue of sustainability and are prepared for success in a changing world, and they will carry the UT name with them throughout this success.