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Institutions purportedly dedicated to the life of the mind often suffer

their own peculiar version of the twineless baler problem. Ideally,

however, no institutions in modern society are better situated and

none more obliged to facilitate the transition to a sustainable future

than colleges and universities. If the public dialogue about sustainability

gets beyond symbolism and down to hard realities, it will be

because a much more fully educated and morally energized citizenry

demanded it. What would it mean for educational institutions to

meet this challenge?

For one thing, it would mean fostering, in every way possible, a

broad and ongoing dialogue about concentrated economic power and

the changes that will be necessary to build a sustainable economy. I

know of no safe way to conduct that conversation that would not

threaten the comfortable or risk losing some of the institution’s financial

support, a sensitive topic when the average cost of a college education

is becoming prohibitively expensive.

Furthermore, colleges and universities ought to equip students,

by every means possible, to think systematically, rationally, and, yes,

emotionally about long-term technological choices and how such decisions

ought to be made. That discussion, too, would raise contentious

issues having to do with the meaning of progress and economic

growth. And it would implicitly challenge the unbridled

freedom of inquiry, if the extreme exercise of that freedom undermines

biological order, democratic institutions, and social stability

that gave rise to it in the first place. Issues of “who gains and who loses

from unrestricted inquiry will press heavily on the university”

(Michael 1993, 201) and cannot be dodged much longer.

Finally, the cynical view, pawned off as “objective” social science,

that humans are only self-maximizers must be revealed for what it is:

half-truth in service to the economy of greed. Increasingly, the young

know that their inheritance is being spent carelessly and sometimes

fraudulently. I believe that a sizable number know in their bones the

truth of Goethe’s words that “whatever you can do or dream you can,

begin it, boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” What they may

not know is where we, their teachers, mentors, and role models stand

or what we stand for.