An Open Letter to the Dean

The letter below was written and edited by a group of students from EUC, and is not the work of the Writing and Journalism Co.

Their project was triggered by the realization that the education we’re receiving is not preparing us for the reality of the environmental and climatic crises we are facing. Our education is misleading us in that it...

  • Does not teach students about the environmental and climatic crises and their energetic, geopolitical, social and economic impacts.

  • Feeds into old narratives of a world, which will not exist much longer.

  • Does not teach students plausible solutions or prompt them to find alternatives to global issues.

Thus, they wrote this letter to communicate their fears to the administration, discuss alternatives, and shape EUC’s education in a way that adequately prepares all of us for the world we’ll live in.

If you wish to sign their letter, you may do so here:

Dear Prof. Jacobs,

Welcome to the EUC community! It was a great pleasure getting to meet you at the Dies Natalis. We are writing this letter to you with the Dies in the back of our minds. It was great to see that the climate and ecological crises we are facing were addressed during your unofficial inauguration. This is a solid first step towards acknowledging the severity of our situation. However, we believe EUC must do more to prepare its students for a future that will be shaped drastically by these crises. With this letter, we hope to make our concerned voices heard, and suggest educational improvements so that the EUC community can prepare for what is coming.

The crises we will face

We are facing serious environmental, energetic, climatic, geopolitical, social and economic crises that are reaching points of no-return (Servigne & Stevens, 2015). All of these crises are interconnected, influencing and feeding into each other in positive feedback loops. If industrial countries such as the Netherlands continue with their current standards of living and business as usual, the earth will reach a four-degree increase in temperature by the end of the century (Wallace Wells, 2017). This means going back to temperatures and climatic conditions that the Earth has not faced in 30 million years by 2030, and 50 million years by 2150 (Burke et al, 2018). Evidently, the human species has never faced such environmental conditions. To form an idea of what exactly this may look like, we can go back to the heatwave in Europe in 2003 that killed an average of 2000 people per day with only one additional degree above pre-industrial times. At four degrees of warming, this heat wave would be a normal summer for Europeans (Wallace Wells, 2017). Other problems that are already being faced in some regions of the world will become global trends, including plagues of new diseases, deathly air pollution, famines, wars, and economic collapse, all triggered by the change in climate driven and accelerated by humans.

We often hear that economic growth can save us from anything. Permanent economic growth on a planet with finite resources is impossible, however, and our current economic system will therefore collapse. Every degree of warming will cost an average of 1.2% in GDP, and there will be a predicted 23% loss in per capita earning by 2100 due to the previously mentioned crises. There is a 12% chance that climate change will reduce global output by more than 50% by 2100, and a 51% chance that it lowers per capita GDP by 20% or more by then, unless emissions decline (Wallace Wells, 2017). For comparison, the Great Recession lowered global GDP by about 6%, in a one time shock. Finally, the climate crisis can lead to the collapse of financial markets, since the assets which back our current financial system will be vulnerable to the issues mentioned above (Davenport, 2019).

People might reject the aforementioned scenarios as unrealistic and far-reaching apocalyptic narratives, yet recent developments indicate that things are not going nearly as well as we would hope: Permafrost and ice sheets are melting eighty years earlier than scientific predictions. CO2 emissions are still on the rise, while IPCC reports state that reducing global emissions to net zero in the next decade are paramount to halting the changing of our climate (Global Carbon Budget, 2019). International leaders are unable to agree on even the most basic changes needed, as an uninspiring and toothless closing statement of the recent Madrid summit showed (Harvey, 2019). In the meantime, Donald Trump, the leader of the free world and greatest consumerist country in the planet, cyberbullies a 16-year old girl rather than taking concrete action to protect the people that he has a responsibility over as the President of the United States. The clock is ticking, and meanwhile, nothing is happening.

The fundamental issue is that our current system, with its imperatives for growth and expansion, for consuming land, water, and all parts of the biosphere beyond the capacity for regeneration, is bringing the planet to the brink of ecological collapse not conducive to human and other species’ life (Weston, 2014). All these crises will occur within the next 50-100 years, and many are already occurring now, yet our education is not preparing us for this future. Instead, we are simply learning to reproduce the ideas that have led to these crises in the first place.

The future of our education at EUC

The point of education is to prepare the youth for the reality they will face, as well as to give them the tools to navigate this world and address the problems of their generation. Yet, our EUC education is not preparing us for this future, nor warning us about it. Rather than persistently discussing our troubling reality, we are still learning about the system as if it were not on the verge of collapsing, and we’re taught to reproduce the ideas of outdated generations. Ideas that are simply infeasible to pursue any longer. Indeed, if preparing students for the future is an essential part of any education process, it is absolutely imperative that EUC provides us with “knowledge, skills and values necessary for a sustainable society” (Everett, 2008, p. 249). If these are the basis for a successful education, how come a student can still graduate from EUC without having ever addressed the horrifying future described above?

We have to navigate towards sustainable education, which “implies the survival, the security, and beyond these, the well-being of a whole system, whether this is seen at local level, such as community, or at a global level” (Sterling, 2010, p. 512). The crises we face can only be addressed when their multiple dimensions are considered, transcending academic fields (Everett, 2008). PBL was created to put real-world issues central, but instead it is isolated from the world we live in (Noordegraaf, Kloeg & Noordzij, 2019). Finally, staff and students at EUC have the moral duty to take responsibility for the global challenges the world is facing, as we have the skills to address these obstacles moving forward. However, our curriculum does not give anybody the space to enact the world citizenship we are supposedly educated on.

We believe that our education needs to be more interdisciplinary, as the crises we are addressing above will not affect future generations depending on their diploma, but rather as a whole. We need to understand that society is constructed and therefore a malleable system. Additionally, we have to understand how the ecological system of our planet works. Thus, we need a curriculum in which the humanities, life sciences, economics and social and behavioral sciences meet. This approach embodies “critical thinking, human solidarity and a recognition of our being both a part of and interdependent with the broad ecology and the human community” (Weston, 2014, p. 76). This in turn would be a true fulfillment of EUC’s mission and vision (“Mission and Values” EUC).

Therefore, the changes we propose are the following:

First of all, we believe there should be a mandatory course in the first year Academic Core Courses about the climate crisis and how it is perpetuated by the society we live in today. We believe that all EUC students must be aware of the gravity of the climate crisis, as their future is at stake, and what they learn at EUC will ultimately define how they handle their future. This course should be multidisciplinary, because the climate crisis is not a single, separate, economic, environmental or technical issue (Weston, 2014, p. 61), but rather at the intersection and cooperation of disciplines, and would give us the tools necessary to discuss problems we face, while possibly finding the solutions to guide us through our increasingly insecure futures. We also believe that there should be a greater focus towards the climate crisis in every major, as it is a crisis we will all be facing, regardless of what area of study we choose.

In reference to Gera’s speech at the Dies, we believe that in order to prepare us for a future in which the crises mentioned above will be a reality, PBL must be restructured. We need an education which is truly problem based. Instead of abstract vignettes designed to guide us to predetermined learning goals, we believe that we need problems rooted in real-life challenges and that there should be space for us to develop our own questions as well as come up with our own answers. In short: PBL should be more open-ended while rewarding curiosity and creativity. We do not solely want to acquire knowledge, we also want to learn to apply this knowledge in real-life case studies.

Finally, EUC must recognize that its curriculum currently does not leave space for students to enact the critical world citizenship they are supposed to be educated towards. The workload at EUC, manifested in a high volume of self-monitored assignments and readings, becomes often overbearing to the point that students are constantly exhausted and their mental health suffers. Thus, students become nearly incapable of engaging with societal issues outside of their school-time and critical world citizenship loses its meaning. Students must be able to find time and energy outside of their university education to invest themselves in the causes they care about, as our education exceeds the four walls of a classroom.

To recap, the changes we want to see implemented are:

  • A course in the Academic Core addressing the climate crisis and related societal issues.

  • An incorporation of the climate crisis into every major.

  • A focus on interdisciplinary education.

  • Reform of PBL and problems rooted in real-world scenarios.

  • A reduction in work-load.

We have many concrete ideas on how these changes could be implemented and how EUC could be improved. We look forward to sharing these with you. We anticipate your response and hope to see the implementation of these changes moving forward.

We hope this letter inspires you to work on building an education that prepares students for a future world in which they can take responsibility for global challenges and truly embody what it means to be a critical world citizen. We look forward to building this new EUC with you.

References for our citations can be found here:

Est. 2018

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