A group of critical scholars from Radboud University set out in a statement what is needed to take truly sustainable steps within the university. This calls on the campaign to also consider other forms of science and education.
Coming up with a campaign theme means making choices, as is the message in the new campaign, which focuses on species extinction. Countless numbers of species have already become extinct, mainly due to human intervention. Highlighting this aspect is primarily a starting point for the university to see sustainability in a broad context. We explicitly link the value of sustainability to other values that the University holds dear, such as equal opportunities for all, in a free and just society. Radboud University in particular, with its wide range of disciplines on that one campus, is an ideal place to research sustainability in that full light and teach it to our students. We have already shown this ambition in the previous campaign in 2021, when it was the first university in the Netherlands to make the topic of sustainability part of all curricula. Since then, all students have been introduced to this subject in some way after graduation, as per our ambition.
Coherence of science
The university can only deliver on this promise thanks to a wide range of scholars with a commitment to and knowledge about sustainability, from lawyers to chemists, from biologists to political scientists, from doctors to literary scholars. More than two hundred of these scientists have united in the Radboud Center for Sustainability Challenges. Part of this group signs the October 2023 statement, Sustainability statement for higher educationIt contains challenges for science to take real steps towards a sustainable society. According to the statement, this requires further study of the coherence between all aspects – interdisciplinarity. In addition, it also provides assistance to parties outside science, governments, businesses and citizens, to arrive at a sustainable agenda in consultation – across disciplines.
To prevent the campaign’s message of sustainability from getting bogged down in rhetoric, the statement identifies at least two key challenges. The first responds to the drive to link sustainability to climate and nature-related issues only, at the risk of ignoring fundamental fundamental questions. As we look to a more sustainable world, whose world are we talking about? Can you talk about sustainability without including the voices of people living in poverty and injustice? How can you give a voice to nature or animals, for example by forming animal rights? Without attention to power structures, politics and justice, sustainability remains an empty shell, according to the statement. The second challenge is directed to science itself. According to the statement, contemporary education supports the status quo, with an emphasis on knowledge of measurable data. Education in the service of change must extend beyond today’s world, by also thinking about the desired future. “Education values what we can measure, rather than what we value,” the statement said. Followed by a call to think critically about the role that teachers and scholars can and want to play: are we insiders about society as it is now, or advocates or activists for a truly different society?
A roadmap for thinking
Such questions cannot be answered simply. For many years, many lecturers and scholars at Radboud University have been thinking about shaping sustainability in education and research, and in all this thinking and practice, the statement can be read as a roadmap for further thinking. It is summarized in five main themes: the tension between knowledge and politics, between humans and non-humans, between environment and justice, between North and South and between education for knowledge or education for transformation. In all of these points, the statement sets out concrete action points, because doing nothing is not an option in any case. The campaign’s message—we are now threatening our future, too—can be read primarily as a message through the lens of the manifesto. Not to give up. But continue to think about a sustainable society and take action.