Florida Students Petition to Make Mandatory Sustainability Course Optional

Ashley Thorne

Remember Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU), the Earth Charter U? It requires all students to take a course called the University Colloquium: A Sustainable Future to instill "an ecological perspective" and “community awareness and involvement” (two of FGCU’s nine university-wide student learning outcomes) in students. Required reading for the course is a 2008 FGCU publication, the University Colloquium Reader, as well as State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World. Students take field trips to places such as the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and they must participate in ten hours of mandatory service projects. Upon completion of the Colloquium, students take an assessment to measure how well they learned “an ecological perspective” and “community awareness and involvement” for the university’s student learning outcomes (SLO) records.   

FGCU thus teaches the highly contested idea of anthropogenic global warming; engages in voluntyranny; mandates student action on behalf of the “imperative for ecological sustainability”; and buys in to the self-justifying mediocrity of the outcomes movement. The University is forthright in its efforts to provide across-the-board sustainability education; students who choose to attend FGCU doubtless know what they’re signing up for. 

But a group of students at have decided they’d like to be free of such cult-like eco-devotion and still attend Florida Gulf Coast University. The Eagles for Liberty, a libertarian and objectivist student group, has written a petition to make the Colloquium course optional rather than mandatory. Its president, Brandon Wasicsko, corresponded with me through an email exchange. Wasicsko said that the Eagles for Liberty will present the petition to the president, provost, and administrators coordinating the Colloquium once it is signed by 1,100 students, 10% of the student population. The petition currently has 251 signatures. Among the reasons it gives for its request are the following: 

  •  If the course is intended to share opinions and promote discussion, it should offer diverse viewpoints in the required course materials. 
  •  If the course is intended to present scientific information, it should avoid politically motivated material (such as An Inconvenient Truth and The Story of Stuff) and utilize only objective data.
  •  Presenting subjective opinion as objective science is not desirable in an academic environment.
  • If the material presented in the Colloquium course is as important as claimed, students will voluntarily opt to take the course based on their own self-interest.  

Signers have the opportunity to leave a comment. Here are some notable remarks: 

  •  “The majority of the Students who have taken Colloquium have come out the class hating it, which defeats the original purpose of the course. Making the class a choice or providing alternatives is a much better solution for promoting a better attitude toward the environment.”  
  •  “I'm an Environmental Science major and I can't stand these biased [...] classes.” 
  • GIVE US A CHOICE - I'm not a [sic] Enviro-Socialist and don't need to be indoctrinated as one... 
  • Us liberals can't stand it, either 

Wasicsko also created a Facebook group (“Colloquium: Give Us a Choice”) that in just over a week of existence has gained 771 members and has become a forum for discussion of the petition and the Colloquium. Shawna J argues there that the course is mandated for a good reason—to help fulfill the University’s clearly stated mission:  

Changing the curriculum because of freedom of choice would be changing the outlook of the University. Mandated IDS courses uphold the mission and should continue to be required. 

But James Crews, a self-proclaimed liberal who believes in global warming, says: 

Colloquium is drudgery for more reasons than the supposed “liberal bias.” [...] I don't like Colloquium because it brings together a class of uninspired pupils and an uninspired instructor to talk in circles and get nowhere. [...] Having this class to appease some dead orange magnate as a sincere act of atonement for pillaging the local ecosystem really makes no sense. 

Recall that Florida Gulf Coast University was built on a swamp in the late 1990s. After that, the thought process seems to have gone, “Oops. We’re supposed to be an environmental school but our very existence has drained the local swampland. How can we make penance? I know, let’s teach our students to help preserve swamps!” 

Back on the Facebook page, Todd Bursztyn protests the use of taxpayer funds to teach an ideology: 

Suffered through this course years ago. Did I learn a few things? Yes. Did I leave the course feeling somewhat enriched? Perhaps. Was I bombarded unendingly with a one-sided viewpoint that is not only politically biased but irrelevant to my aspirations as a student and professional? Absolutely. The idea of a MANDATED course, especially one that flirts so coquettishly with glorified propaganda, is downright irresponsible, particularly in a STATEUNIVERSITY that is supposed to uphold the virtues of cognitive liberty and comprehensive education. You don’t see FGCU mandating a course in religion, capitalism, or political or military philosophy, do you? Of course not. For some reason, this institution (and only this institution) has DECIDED FOR US what is most important, and what should be left by the wayside. 

Bursztyn’s sentiments coincide with Wasicsko’s clarification of the objective: 

This petition does not seek to place a value judgment on the course material, but rather to suggest an alternative method of implementation: one that promotes free choice, not mandates, as a way to further academic freedom.  

Wasicsko says the message the Eagles for Liberty are trying to send to university officials is that “your method is improper, your ideology is based on faulty premises, and your course fails to meet its stated objectives year after year.” He says some students are offended by the campaign, but that the Eagles for Liberty—while happy to hear the concerns of others—are determined to proceed in “the ethical and professional manner that we have utilized from the start.”  

We at the National Association of Scholars salute these efforts. While there is arguably value in having a core curriculum for all students (now a nearly extinct concept), the purpose of such a curriculum should be to make sure students graduate having taken at least basic courses in core subjects such as mathematics, science, literature, and history. Sustainability and the premises of the Earth Charter are not core subjects, and the Eagles for Liberty are right to recognize this. We hope the administration at FGCU gets the message.  

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