Jake B. Schrum, President, Southwestern University

When it Comes to the Environment, Our Students are an Inspiration

Sometimes I wonder where the American people will find the leadership to tackle environmental issues. Climate change and the rapid depletion of our natural resources are just two of the issues that need immediate attention.

While many of our national leaders do not seem to be serious about addressing these issues, fortunately we have found another source of leadership: college students.

This spring, Southwestern became the second university in Texas to sign the Talloires Declaration, an international effort to promote environmental sustainability in higher education. Other colleges are participating in similar efforts. More than 320 of my fellow college presidents have signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, which asks colleges to develop and publish plans to reduce carbon emissions. Colleges that sign this commitment must agree to obtain at least 15 percent of their energy from renewable sources.

“These students, as the leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today, are bringing their energy and creativity to build a world where everyone can survive and thrive.”

These initiatives are coming from our students, not administrators. At Southwestern, students worked diligently for nearly a year to build support on campus for the Talloires Declaration. In many cases, they are the ones educating the educators.

Students aren’t waiting for formal documents to be signed, though. As you will read in the cover story of this magazine, they’re setting up “green” residence halls, planting organic gardens on campus, forming co-ops to sell locally produced food, and organizing “e-recycling” events. They’re also focusing their academic work on the environment. This past academic year, we had a first-year student who designed a low-cost solar water heater and a graduating senior who did her capstone project on different composting methods that we could implement on Southwestern’s campus. One of our 2007 graduates will be staying on campus for another year to work on environmental initiatives as an AmeriCorps/VISTA volunteer.

Our students see the direct connections between sustainability and issues of justice for all inhabitants of this planet — human and nonhuman. They realize that patterns of consumption impact the lives of people in every corner of the world, and are increasingly interested in issues related to “environmental justice.” These students, as the leaders of tomorrow and the leaders of today, are bringing their energy and creativity to build a world where everyone can survive and thrive.

I am inspired by the leadership that our students are providing, and hopeful that when it comes to the environment, the next generation will do better.


Jake B. Schrum ’68
President, Southwestern University