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Aquinas College questions the future of its sustainability initiatives

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Story by Elizabeth Walztoni, News Editor and Anna Schlutt, Staff Writer
Photo courtesy pexels.com

edited 5/02/19 President Quinn has issued the following statement: “We are going to continue to have sustainability as an integral part of what we do, but it’s time to make sure those initiatives clearly align with our mission and strategic plan. There obviously an infinite number of sustainability projects/programs we could pursue, and we cannot do all of them. So, the question becomes, ‘How do we decide what initiatives will constitute Aquinas College’s sustainability work in the future?’ The answer to that question will be those that are in clearest alignment with the overall work of the college, and most further the list of six strategic outcomes.”

Aquinas College’s president Kevin Quinn believes that in the years since sustainability initiatives began here, sustainable practices have become separate from the college’s mission.

“Everything we do here needs to be driven by our mission,” Quinn said.

This mission reads, “Aquinas College, an inclusive educational community rooted in the Catholic and Dominican tradition, provides a liberal arts education with a global perspective, emphasizes career preparation focused on leadership and service to others, and fosters a commitment to lifelong learning dedicated to the pursuit of truth and the common good.”

Quinn makes it clear that he is in favor of sustainability and praises the work of the college’s Center for Sustainability. He adds that the school’s sustainable practices need to align with this mission and have a positive impact on the college and its students. As a result, certain initiatives have been cut.

For instance, six months have passed since the college withdrew from the President’s Climate Agreement. As of May 1, there are no concrete goals or accountability measures established to replace it.

This agreement required the development of a comprehensive climate action plan and the continued submission of an annual progress evaluation. According to Quinn, the $5,000 cost of the agreement was not worth the sustainability benefits of the plan.

Quinn said he was given little information about the agreement when he began his new position in the fall of 2017. He knew that Aquinas had been involved for a number of years and was paying thousands of dollars to continue the agreement, but was not clear on how it benefited the college.

Aquinas College operates with limited funds but receives a huge volume of requests for support from other organizations. Quinn said that he prioritizes expenses that will return some value to the college, and a case was not made to him for the benefits of the agreement.

“Absent strategic thinking, it’s very difficult to prioritize wants and needs,” Quinn said.

According to Quinn, Aquinas was at the forefront of sustainability for many years, but the rest of the country has caught up, and sustainability is now a pillar for many institutions.

“One of the things that I think that we don’t recognize here is the degree to which we’ve won the war in sustainability,” Quinn said. “There aren’t too many organizations of substance that don’t have sustainability as a built-in feature of their entire organizational activity.”

Whether Aquinas has “won the war” is subjective, but it appears that without support from faculty, staff and students, sustainability will take a back seat in the college’s future. Quinn is theoretically interested in taking new strides for sustainability, but only if this aligns with the goals of the cabinet and the mission of the college.

“I think there’s a really strong case to be made for sustainability, but if we’re gonna own it and be special about it, it has to fit together,” Quinn said.

He added that the direction of the college’s sustainability focus will be revisited by the Aquinas Board of Trustees and the president’s cabinet this summer.

Members of the president’s cabinet next meet in June, and Quinn has tasked them with creating sample strategic plans. He has not directed the contents of these, but says that if sustainability is not included he will find it “very telling.”

Student input will not be a primary part of these discussions, as Quinn feels students are unequipped to make strategic decisions. However, specific projects will be opened for feedback, and the college’s committees that deliberate on these issues have student representation.

“I’m in favor of everything until it has a price tag,” Quinn said.

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