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The Sustainable University: Concept and Conception

The Sustainable University: Concept and Conception

Sustainable University” is a kind of phrase to emanate a semantic scent with connotations – traced back to an ages-old polarity, yet always at great fashion in social affairs – seemingly both conservative and progressive. Really? Can we so frivolously mix polarities, opposites, antinomies? Well, let’s see. We are talking about conservatism because university and sustainability are involved in activating if not an “instinct”, at least a “rationale” for preserving/perpetuating the knowledge within people and the resources needed to make it work. As we are also talking about progressivism because both try to do it not in ankylosis, but in advancing such knowledge (i.e., in economics, on the allocation of scarce resources) across generations, and the society learns to evolve through each and every member, who is educated to evaluate. Conservation and progress can work together.

Before we return to this polarity that grinds, for an enduring while, both the profound and profane spirits, we can gloss over a double duality. The “sustainable university” is a concept that can be conceived in a “double-crossing” manner (here not used in a duplicitous sense, but reading the syntagma starting from each of the two ends of that pair of terms), whilst “there are as many opinions as there are heads” (“Quot capita tot sententiae/sensus” – as in the human head even the most objective representations can be moulded upon the utmost subjectivity with which people picture things in foro interno: “one way or another”). Hence, for the reader who has not yet lost patience with this exercise of terminological forensics (yet specific to the university world), let us “break the concept down to (doubly dual) pieces”.

(1 & 2) As for the “double-crossing”, things can stay this way. If we glue the sustainable adjective to the university noun, we speak about this particular educational institution that seeks to impregnate itself with one attribute at great value today, the one speaking of “intergenerational responsibility”, understood in terms of “rationalizing”, “relating” and “reproducing” the ultimately scarce (environmental) resources. If we glue the two words vice versa, we suggest that the university assumes the didactics/pedagogy of and the advanced research in sustainability, beyond the power of its own example – an exercise in civic education and culture, in a world where ensuring a clean environment, reducing pollution and the excessive use of raw materials, avoiding waste and encouraging responsible consumption are also grounds for keen reflection as are topics to be (re)learned.

(3 & 4) As for the “plural views”, we are living a painted landscape in which we must position ourselves in various and colourful... dualities. We can be either believers or freethinkers (regarding the big questions and small answers of the world and life), either idealistic or realistic (regarding the expectations of human nature), either hedonic or stoic (regarding the joys of existence), whether liberal or statist (regarding the ultimate anchors of the social order); and pairs of this kind are endless. We could as well be conservatives – but of what kind?: thorough traditionalists or rough reactionaries?, followers of the sanctity of individual rights or preservers of sinful privileges? – or progressives – but of what kind?: enlightened modernists or moral relativists?, real liberators or chimerical equalizers? The sustainable university is volens nolens part of this symmetrical world, full of asymmetrical interpretations. 

This article is an excerpt from the opening editorial written for the Amfiteatru Economic journal, in a thematic issue devoted to the idea of “sustainable university”. See full issue here.



The Market For Ideas Association

The Romanian-American Foundation for the Promotion of Education and Culture (RAFPEC)

Amfiteatru Economic