ENVIRONMENTAL STEWARDSHIP FOCUS OF BLUFFTON UNIVERSITY'S ACADEMIC YEAR
With the new academic year underway at Bluffton University, President James M. Harder took some time during the annual President’s Forum, Sept. 11, to explore the institution’s new civic engagement theme—"Environmental Stewardship: Living in a Natural World"—and how he foresees it shaping academic and student-life programming throughout the year, as well as personal lives.
The year’s civic engagement theme was chosen in response to the Bluffton University Student Senate’s "Go Green: Marching Towards Environmental Awareness" campaign in March 2007, which raised campus community awareness about environmental issues.
President Harder began his remarks by reflecting on the history of Bluffton’s natural campus environment—how a long tradition of environmental stewardship has created it since the school’s founding in 1899.
"Today, in 2007, we are the direct beneficiaries of far-sighted individuals—campus leaders in nearly every era of Bluffton’s history—who collectively transformed a relatively stark landscape into the wonderful natural setting that we now enjoy," said President Harder.
In challenging Bluffton’s faculty, staff and students to continue this tradition of environmental stewardship, he spoke specifically of three leaders who worked hard to make Bluffton’s campus into the serene environment it is today.
During his senior year at Bluffton, Oliver "Ollie" Diller, a 1930 graduate, was charged by then-president Dr. Samuel Mosiman with a campus tree-planting effort, resulting in hundreds of campus trees. Bluffton’s fifth president, Dr. Robert S. Kreider left an indelible mark on the institution’s environmental legacy as well,
spearheading the building of environmentally connected Marbeck Center and the development of the 160-acre Bluffton University Nature Preserve, adjacent to the main campus. President Harder also attributed the campus’ environmental sensitivity to landscape architect James Bassett of Bassett Associates in Lima, Ohio, who has consulted on numerous campus design projects since 1959. He is currently assisting with design and landscape plans for the baseball team memorial project to be completed by next spring.
Recalling Bluffton’s strong tradition of environmental stewardship enables students, faculty and staff to begin thinking of opportunities the current Bluffton community has to extend the tradition, said President Harder. "Environmental stewardship is very much in the news these days and is becoming increasingly the subject of political debate. This is the perfect civic engagement theme for a university campus—not just because it is a hot and current topic of public discourse—but because to the extent that environmental damage and environmental change happens, we or our children will not be able to escape its effects as individuals. … Only by thinking together, working together and collaborating can a campus, a region, a nation or a world move forward toward environmental solutions."
In addition to Bluffton’s core values of discovery, community, respect and service fitting well with the chosen civic engagement theme, President Harder said environmental stewardship underlies "the teachings of the Christian tradition," which inform all of Bluffton’s values. President Harder challenged those present to "think globally, but act locally"—thinking of ways we can make a positive difference in our collective environmental future.
Harder recounted initiatives at Bluffton made during the last number of years that are already saving on both energy consumption and the annual budget. These include: energy-saving windows and high-efficiency heating units and lighting fixtures in most all campus buildings and residence halls. The institution’s energy management program uses nighttime ice-making machines to help air condition Musselman Library, Marbeck Center, Yoder Recital Hall, Ramseyer Hall and Neufeld Hall, minimizing stress on the environment and reducing the university’s utility costs. An environmentally sound turf management system was implemented on Bluffton’s athletics fields this summer, resulting in healthier grass while cutting total irrigation water use by about half.
While much has been accomplished, more can always be done when it comes to being environmentally savvy. One area in particular where improvement can be made is in paper consumption, said President Harder. According to Bluffton’s business office, last year alone, the campus used about 3.7 million sheets of paper, which breaks down to about 3,000 sheets per student, faculty and staff member.
"There are untapped opportunities for recycling," said President Harder. "Imagine the benefit to the environment if we could recycle even half of the printed paper we generate each year on campus." He commended the Bluffton University Student Senate for its interest in expanding the recycling program on campus, and pledged his support to achieving this during the coming year as one specific legacy of the environmental stewardship civic engagement theme.
"The environment is not something that any one individual can sustain by him or herself," said President Harder. "Success in environmental stewardship—whether at the local, national or global level—requires a strong sense of shared values and commitment by an entire community."
In addition to discussing environmental stewardship and how the campus will benefit from engaging such a theme, President Harder spoke about opportunities for a potential partnership between Bluffton’s peace and conflict studies program and organizations and individuals in Ottawa, Ohio, to effectively use the restorative justice processes. "The conversations being had," said President Harder, "are about exploring the use of mediation strategies, attention to victim healing and use of restorative justice approaches, where appropriate, instead of the traditional approach of offender punishment." Such a partnership would enable Bluffton students to practice skills in restorative justice and mediation through service-learning opportunities.
In closing, President Harder challenged the audience to think about all the ways in which they can make a positive difference on campus and in others’ lives, considering not only what we do, but more importantly, how we do it, so that one day, others will look back and reflect positively on our life’s work.
Jill A. Duling, public relations office, 9/11/07