Dear President Baker

I’m writing to express appreciation for your responsive reactions to my somewhat confrontational challenge at yesterday’s Fall Conference.   Your willingness to acknowledge the need for Cal Poly to do more to promote Sustainability gives me hope that this year will mark a significant step forward in that direction.

My gesture grew out of frustration with the pace of institutional engagement.  Over the past few years, growing numbers of students, faculty and staff have been increasing their commitment to greening the University.  But the magnitude and gravity of the task we face–one you clearly articulated in your remarks yesterday–requires more leadership and resources from the top of the University hierarchy.

I believe this can be accomplished by creating an Office of Sustainability coordinating the efforts of all the divisions that report to you. Sustainability is, among other things, about unifying the University.  I believe that this Office should be headed by a young and yet experienced Sustainability Manager with both academic and organizational credentials.   I believe that Cal Poly has the capacity to attract such an extraordinary individual.  I believe that funding sources outside of our existing ones can be found by our Advancement officers to finance such an office. I believe that this position will become self-supporting within a reasonable amount of time, following the precedent of Harvard and the University of British Columbia among others.

Ralph Wolff’s keynote presentation about the “inconvenient truth” of student performance nationwide and locally and about pressures we face to measure and improve it had no explicit connection with Sustainability, but I believe there is one.  I don’t think being “competitive in world markets” or making lots of money will produce the motivation to work hard and succeed in school that the statistics say is lacking.  I think rather that students need to feel effective in taking on the real threats that face them and their future families.  Primary among them are depletion of natural resources and degradation of natural systems, the climate being most urgent at the present moment.

I come to this conclusion from my own experience as a student many years ago and from my experience as a teacher since then.  For some evidence of the way that being engaged with the issues of Sustainability in the class can measureably improve student skill development and performance, I’d like to refer you to two collections of essays written for the basic writing freshman GE classes I’ve taught over the last couple of years while on FERP. Before the classes started, these randomly selected students had no idea of the course theme.

Thank you for all that you have done for this wonderful institution in the past.  I look forward to continuing interaction.


Steven Marx

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