Willamette University’s core values are deeply rooted in what one might call our “human-ness.” This essential humanness is reflected, for instance, in the relatively small scale of our academic activities — activities that permit us to be attentive and vigilant to the particular needs of individual students. Willamette’s culture of community service and outreach is another example of how our educational mission reinforces an essential human virtue. And, of course, the value that we place on interdisciplinary studies, especially on those that have a broad application to human life, manifest this core value.
During the last several months, I have been engaged in thoughtful conversations with faculty, students, trustees and staff about Willamette’s future. I have been particularly concerned to identify academic initiatives that meet a three-pronged test: (1) they represent values recognized widely as essential to our academic mission; (2) they cross disciplines as well as schools and colleges; and (3) they have the capacity to distinguish Willamette as well as make us distinctive, thereby enhancing academic excellence.
These conversations are ongoing, and they have, in very helpful ways, informed certain aspects of my vision of Willamette in the future.
Sustainability — the idea that all individuals and organizations should consider actively their impact on the environment, on the availability of resources, and on the generations that will follow, and proceed in a way that can be sustained with the least detrimental impact — has emerged as worthy of renewed University focus.
Over the past two years, Willamette has undergone a process of re-committing our community to sustainability in ways that will make the University a better place to work, study and live. Through the work of Willamette’s Sustainability Council — comprising students, faculty and staff campuswide — we have been able to promote interdisciplinary study related to sustainability and the environment, improve sustainability and environmental literacy in our curricula, develop activities that enhance awareness of sustainability and the environment, foster strategic initiatives that will have the effect of creating a sustainable culture in University activities, and promote sustainable best practices in the design of new buildings and the renovation of existing buildings.
Sustainability extends beyond environmental to social and economic issues that affect our future. Considered within the context of civic engagement, sustainability is powerful, for it reaffirms a core University value while creating opportunities for practical outcomes that benefit the surrounding community of which we are an essential part.
I believe the Willamette community can agree that sustainability is at the center of what we do as an institution seeking to live by its profound motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born. Whether we are encouraging our students to use their talents to improve the well-being of the communities in which they live, or whether we are working to secure the financial soundness of this institution itself, we understand the choices we make now affect the lives of present and future generations. This is the heart of a liberal education.
This issue of The Scene highlights the efforts and achievements of two Willamette alumni who, through their respective careers, have championed preservation and restoration; the collaborative and interdisciplinary teaching and research efforts of two Willamette professors, and our students’ passion for learning about and actively promoting sustainability, conservation and preservation in all aspects of University life, and beyond.
M. Lee Pelton