February message from the BFA chair: Community climate: Repairing our foundation

February 24, 2014

The University of Colorado Boulder needs climate change. No, not the weather related climate change, but climate change within our community. This is the climate that creates the work environment in which we spend the majority of our waking hours. This is the climate that we have the ability to affect and if we have the will and desire, to change. This is the climate that forces us to confront the fact that, “Knowing what's right doesn't mean much unless you do what's right.”1

Last month I spoke of the need to discuss academic freedom along with rights and responsibilities of our community. This month I am pushing this call one step further. As recent events have demonstrated, we cannot afford as individuals or as a community to ignore our climate issues. Harassment, bullying, professional respect, and personal responsibility are real issues. As a community, we need to have a discussion of what climate means at CU-Boulder.

Achieving such awareness is difficult. Our climate was not created overnight, nor will we fix it overnight. We are also not the only university community facing a climate issue. But, we can be the university that sets a model that others can aspire to be. That is not a trivial goal and it requires serious commitment. As I speak to experts on this campus regarding this topic, I realize that this is going to take a well thought-out combination of formal and informal actions to achieve climate change. I would like to put forward three steps that we as a faculty can do as a starting point to support climate change.

  • Build Awareness – Every person on this campus brings experiences from the past that shapes their perspectives and attitudes. We need to be aware of these experiences that shape their individual perspectives. I have mine. My perspectives are shaped by the fact that my father was shot and killed when I was young by white supremacists that were angry that he was Jewish and hired an African-American to manage our family-owned restaurant. My two older sisters and I were therefore raised by a single mother. That experience shapes my perspectives on bullying, expectations, and many other things. My story is not unique. Every person in this community has stories that shape their perspectives. We need to be aware of the stories of our community. We need to take the time to talk to each other as colleagues. My challenge to you: carve out time from your schedule this week to have coffee with a colleague and learn something new about them. Build your personal awareness.
  • Break the Silence – Climate change requires discussion. A discussion challenges individuals to join together to create a movement. A movement challenges individuals to join together to develop a critical mass that fosters change. If we are successful in creating a critical mass that desires and demands climate change, then our community has the ability to make a difference. However, each of these steps requires us to take the time to listen to what others are saying – their concerns and their perspectives. This brings me to my second challenge: get involved with a committee or a workshop on campus that addresses campus climate. Join your voice to others.
  • Join the Discussion – Building on the call for a discussion on academic rights and responsibilities, I am charging the faculty to participate in a campus-wide series of seminars addressing the comprehensive topic of climate including rights, responsibilities, academic freedom, environment, personal responsibility, and professional expectations among others. Let’s work together – faculty, students, staff, and administration – to host a series in the fall that focuses on climate change. However, as a first step in this process, let’s work together to host a workshop/symposium this semester that sets the stage for the series. Specifically, let’s host a forum that brings in experts to discuss how we begin the process of building awareness. Let’s start the conversation by opening the door to understanding.

I recognize the hard work that every person in this community is doing. We all understand the lack of bandwidth we have to take on one more commitment. Many of us feel like we are already close to, or have exceeded, the breaking point. However, our climate affects everything that we do in our community. It is the foundation of our collective success. It is what makes the essence of CU-Boulder. We as a community need each one of us to step up and answer this challenge – we need to initiate climate change. You will be surprised at the number of people who will thank you for taking the time to join the discussion.

 

The ideas presented here are those of the author and do not represent any official position of the Boulder Faculty Assembly. Please contact the author at paul.chinowsky@colorado.edu with any comments.

 

 

1. Theodore Roosevelt

 

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