University President Judy Genshaft tried to do the right thing by signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment on April 12.
The commitment is basically a promise that USF will do its part to slow global warming.
As laudable as this goal may be, subsequent talk of how USF is actually going to uphold this commitment reveals that it may be utterly toothless and based upon sketchy group ethics.
Consider that the commitment is voluntary – there’s no organization that will actually enforce whether USF or other committed institutions are upholding their green goals, and hence no way to ensure that the commitment will be translated into action by signatories.
Without a means of enforcement it’s arguable that the commitment could lose its meaning and its ability to impact the environment, as it is ultimately based on an honor system.
One idea for lowering emissions is turning off the lights at unused University buildings at night. Now, the idea of turning off unnecessary lights is not bad – it could save USF money and energy – but the idea that the University would consider turning off lights for environmental friendliness even if it were a safety concern is disconcerting.
As reported in today’s Oracle, Linda M. Whiteford, associate vice president for academic affairs and strategic initiatives, said a darker campus could be a safety issue, but turning off the lights would save a large amount of energy.
“It’s the quintessential conflict of individual needs and rights over group rights,” Whiteford said. She is charged with upholding the commitment.
Sharon Hanna-West, Exide distinguished lecturer of ethics and sustainability in the College of Business Administration, expressed similar sentiments.
Only two years after 57-year-old USF student Ronald Stem was shot and killed in the parking lot of Magnolia Apartments and following a fall semester that featured an epidemic of bicycle thefts, it seems a little ridiculous to consider lessening immediate student safety for a long-term environmental goal.
There’s also the money issue.
USF is in the midst of a budget crisis. There’s a hiring freeze, and the University must shave 15 percent off of its budget. Apparently, though, there’s money for climate steering committees and initiatives for the University to uphold an unenforceable commitment.
“They (the administration) agreed that even if it costs money, it’s the right thing to do,” Whiteford said.
The seeming lack of pragmatism embraced for an unenforceable climate commitment – taking the form of devaluing student safety for the sake of the environment and spending money the University doesn’t have – is unacceptable. USF and its students should do what they can to slow global warming, but they have to look at what is most important for the University: green PR, or practical solutions in face of budget cuts and challenges to student safety.