Posted by: ericgrimsrud | October 28, 2017

The leadership of St. Olaf College needs to be changed

In order to appreciate where my comments here are coming from, it would be helpful to also inspect my previous posts on this website that involved my alma mater, St. Olaf College of Northfield, MN. These posts can be found in the May of 2015, April, September, November of 2016 and February and October of 2017 archives of this blog. I should also point out at the onset, what has been happening at St. Olaf College has also been happening at many and perhaps most other colleges and universities in the USA. That is, over the last ten years our colleges have provided more lip service than real action against the relentless advance of global warming and, as a result, have not provided appropriate leadership for their students and alumnus.

With all due respect to the specific example of President David Anderson of St. Olaf College (StO), I believe that he should be moved to some other position at that college – one that suits his keen interest and accomplishments in the humanities – but one that does not require so much knowledge of and interest in the sciences and the physical world in which we are now so desperately challenged to preserve.

The present state of affairs at St. Olaf College is as ironic as it is sad. Last week, I received that beautiful publication from StO labelled its “Global Issue” that was discussed in my previous post in which our “Pretend World” was described. While relating many wonderful stories concerning the personal experiences of StO students who have recently taken advantage of their Studies Abroad programs, there was no mention at all of the extremely high carbon footprint of such programs and how they could be reduced. Therefore, this particular international studies program seeks to understand the challenges of the world while it simultaneously adds to one of its greatest.

If President Anderson had been able to follow the scientific news on that subject over his 10 years at StO, he would realize by now that the entire world, including StO, must stop using all fossil-driven technologies as soon as possible. This would include, of course, high carbon footprint transport by aircraft for which non-polluting sources of energy are not yet readily available. In StO’s “Global Issue,“ there should have at least been some discussion of how StO students could get to and from these far off places without adding to the already overpowering greenhouse gasses of our atmosphere. The fact that this question is not easy to answer does not mean it should be ignored.

In his recent messages to the StO community, President Anderson has embraced the slogan “Oles can and Oles will”. The emerging problem at St. Olaf College, however, in taking appropriate and courageous action against global warming is that “their President won’t”. He has failed to give the greatest problem before all of mankind the attention, actions, and leadership it requires. It is relatively easy today to replace outdated methods of electrical power production on one’s campus with the renewables and to divest one’s resources from the non-competive coal industries. This is because both of those actions are financially advisable. To go the rest of the way towards a fossil fuel free world, however, takes both wisdom and more courage than St. Olaf College has shown.

Therefore, at this point, I think President Anderson should be thanked for his decade of service at St. Olaf College and replaced by a leader who better understands the primary importance of both the humanities and sciences in the retention of and improvement in the human condition on this planet, including that of future generations. Hopefully, other colleges and universities will follow suit.


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