By Richard Vedder
Universities are notorious for going wild for the latest liberal fad. This year, the big thing is sustainability, whatever that is. These fads all cost money, often do little but appease some local bleeding hearts on campus, but add to the rising cost of college.
That was brought home to me yesterday when I was asked to "dialogue with" our campus's Sustainability Coordinator. Sizable amounts of university resources were used to produce a little webcast presentation on whether we should engage in a campaign on my campus to get persons to buy goods from local farmers to help the planet (this is no doubt one of our university's innumerable Earth Day or Earth Month or whatever it is activities).
Our $47,265 a year sustainability czarina argued that we would be more environmentally conscious if we bought goods from local farmers. I rebutted that my sensitivity to the environment is not altered in the slightest if I eat lettuce made in Mexico rather than Ohio and, what do you have against helping starving farmers in Third World countries? Putting aside the absurdity of the idea, why do we have a Sustainability Coordinator in the first place? When you add in the $53,349 Recycling Coordinator, fringe benefits, some secretarial help, etc., we probably spend conservatively $200,000 a year to make liberals feel good about themselves -- and that does not consider the costs of collecting the used bottles, papers and cans. But are we saving the planet if the cost of implementing recycling exceeds the revenue received from recycling goods? If it costs us $50,000 to recycle plastic each year and, because of a near non-existent market, we get only $5,000 in revenue, are we not imposing costs on Planet Earth? All those trucks hauling recycled plastic are polluting the air, depleting non-renewable energy sources, contributing (allegedly) to Global Warming, etc.,etc. Does sustainability add or subtract from the environment? Who knows? Who cares? We do it to raise the self esteem of a few do gooders, socking it to students who pay the bills. I have a friend who claims that if he were made president, he would serve spotted owl canapes at his inauguration. I am not that insensitive to environmental issues, but my friend may be no more harmful to the environment then some sustainability coordinators who pollute the intellectual landscape of many campuses.
I am not making this up. My university is changing credit card providers. All users of university credit cards are told they must attend a two hour training session on how to use the new credit cards (called pcards for some reason). Only in academia. I don't use a university credit card, so am not impacted, but if I did I think I would burn the card in protest (no doubt sending the environmentalists up the wall). The same people it takes two hours to learn how to use a credit card are educating our youth!