Universities vs. Students: Alternative Solutions are Never Discussed

After viewing a segment from Democracy Now! on a campus protest at Harvard (Divest Harvard) against the school receiving and using endowments from investments into fossil fuels, one major question stood out to me that Professor Naomi Oreskes had pointed out:

But my view is, if you don’t support divestment, then you ought to be proposing some kind of concrete, substantive alternative. And that, to me, was missing from the conversation.

That is the one problem I am seeing in the Divest Harvard video. Although I agree that reducing investments into fossil fuels is a good first step towards recognizing that relying on non-renewable resources is not feasible for the long-haul of the planet and all of its inhabitants, investments being put into “socially responsible companies” instead is also just as questionable. The wording itself is vague as the video does not go into detail about such wholesome alternatives and whether they are truly more sustainable environmentally and economically (the university still needs money to run so professors can be paid and services can continue to be offered etc.; we are still a capitalist/consumerist world), nor does the interview segment touch on what the alternatives could be, contradicting the movement of encouraging thoughtful discussion on both sides, leaving the impression that the movement is simply politically charged rather than constructive and problem solving.

I also believe that aside from avoiding discussing viable solutions, the movement is so focused on maintaining environmental sustainability and instigating political change that they disregard the sustainability of the university system and the economics involved. In my previous post, I discussed how sustainability encompassed many aspects such as politics and economics, not just the physical environment. The National Association of Scholars report on this movement provides a more well-rounded perspective on this issue, which includes many aspects that were ignored by the Divest supporters and actually offers up recommendations on how to truly analyze this issue in a mature and scholarly fashion based on facts, not vague statements and personal attacks.

At some point this movement will exhaust itself. Such causes are fads. Economic reality will assert itself and freshmen will yawn at yesteryear’s enthusiasm. But in the meantime, the divestment movement is doing significant damage. It affronts academic freedom, the tradition of civil debate, and the purpose of higher education—along with free markets, republican government, and individual liberty. The movement offers nothing but symbolic scorn toward the major supplier of energy in modern economies. The fossil fuel divestment movement, like most popular fads in higher education, would benefit from close scrutiny. This report is a start. But there are more questions to be asked, and more people—students, professors, trustees, government officials, public observers, parents, alumni, and scholars—who should ask them.





Systems Thinking vs. Linear Thinking

I enjoyed reading the introduction and first chapter of Donella H. Meadows’ “Thinking in Systems; A Primer” as she explained a different way of thinking, which consists of everything having its own system while also being part of a bigger system. Many things are interconnected and more complicated than a simple A-to-B linear connection. Our world is not linear. One quote in particular stood out to me:

I don’t think the systems way of seeing is better than the reductionist way of thinking. I think it’s complementary, and therefore revealing.

Within our class, scientific reductionism was mentioned. It is a method of simplifying complex ideas and concepts by breaking them down into smaller pieces and parts of a whole. Similar to Meadows’ opinion, I do not believe this method to be inherently wrong or terrible. I believe scientific reductionism is necessary to introduce new students or apprentices to an idea or concept, as it is new and often unheard of to them and simply thrusting them into the concept in all of its entirety would overwhelm most, if not all in the very beginning. I would have been extremely overwhelmed, confused, and terrified if my flight instructors threw all the concepts that are involved and interconnected with aviation (physics, aerodynamics, meteorology, mechanics, math, navigation) on the first demo day back when I was 15. Breaking concepts down in the beginning allows for building on top of these base blocks as the student/apprentice advances, in which they develop the ability to connect all the parts and pieces into the system without overwhelming themselves.

If we were to strictly teach systems thinking over reductionist thinking, then it is no better than what we already have. By allowing for both methods to be acknowledged and implemented at a reasonable pace, we can observe a concept/theory/problem from many viewpoints rather than one, therefore increasing our understanding of it as a whole rather than limited to one angle and the probability of successfully solving an issue is increased.

Source Material: http://www.ess.inpe.br/courses/lib/exe/fetch.php?media=wiki:user:andre.zopelari:thinking_in_systems_a_primer.pdf