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Interprofessional Sustainability Education: Inglis Living Laboratory

This September UM will inaugurate a new approach to sustainability, linking its two centuries of history to a third century of innovation and vision. Yet it has no cost-effective solution to space for the School for Environment and Sustainability (SEAS), no site that would anchor the new school and catalyze celebration and participation from the wider UM community. As such UM leadership should reopen a question hastily called for a close vote by Regents at their last meeting, to carefully consider instead a mixed residential and engaged learning experience at Inglis that could anchor an inter professional sustainability education program connecting students, instructors, donors and community members. To do so would leverage the charm of the intimate Inglis house property. A “Green Team” of donors and thought leaders could gather on football weekends for tailgating in the courtyards where Gerald Ford once stayed for the games. These new “GardenGate” events and other targeted fundraising would showcase how on our campus—in our state—Blue leads Green.[1]

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The wider program should integrate sustainability with fields like engineering, medicine, law, social work, design, and arts and sciences. Using Inglis to anchor these meetings of minds would also to enable pedestrian and green transport circuits between north and central campus across Ann Arbor’s developing Huron River banks, and now bikeable Geddes Rd.

Most importantly it would create a living laboratory for our integrated sustainability studies at several scales from local to global, and preserve a tradition, reinventing it for the future.

 

The time is right; along with SEAS, in Fall 2016 the Sustainable Living Experience (SLE) will house roughly 70 first-year students in West Seeley Hall of the Oxford complex at the Arb. Rather than trying to wring a one-time savings of a bit over 100 USD out of an uncertain sale price, the university should dedicate tuition of seven students to be housed in the historic Inglis mansion to that property’s upkeep, as a core for further fundraising from current donors, and from graduates and neighbors over time. Residential use for a small handful of students could take one of several forms: Female athletes with an interest in sustainability who need to run those hills daily? International graduate students successful at a competitive fellowship for admission? Top performing students from a pioneering highschool senior level curriculum on sustainability implemented around the state or world in partnership with our Academic Innovation and Third Century platform?

Whatever the form, residents and other workstudy and enrolled students could then avail themselves of EXTANT INFRASTRUCTURE for composting, irrigation and storage, greenhouses for seedlings and sensitive plants, raised fenced beds for food and/or flower production, an historic heirloom orchard site and hillsides with a balance of native plants that have been painstakingly maintained over the last two decades. Peer learning would be consistent with the use of the place historically by the Inglis family, and with their charitable intent for UM community members to enjoy and contribute to the property. It would also “hook” students into sustainability activities, increasing capacity for work around the arboretum and other properties such as the Mathai Campus Farm.

 

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Stakeholders from within UM include but aren’t limited to :

Instructional faculty seeking seminar rooms or space for sustainability capstone or freshman seminar teaching that would mix secluded charm with experiences of sustainability in practice.

 

Global Engagement Teams fostering an ethos of “linked living laboratories” between our university and our third century partner sites (Gabon, Ethiopia, Haiti) for problem-driven engaged learning

 

Energy Researchers seeking a residentially zoned site to use in teaching microgrid solar potential to a generation of students when campus sites cannot yet be thus used due to our utility contracts

 

Sustainable Food Systems scholars seeking residential sites within walking/biking distance to bolster broader student participation

 

Medical Research Teams seeking a retreat that is walkable from the Med School, and evokes links between environmental and human health that are becoming better and better understood in our time

 

Accredited Landscape Architecture Program Participants who might both design and implement projects on the nine acres

 

Neighbors from the Regents Drive and Arboretum perimeter areas who fear sale and redevelopment of that property. Many would incline toward donation or even legacy gifts of their lots and homes to the valuable hilltop buffer zone around the perimeter of the Dow Prairie, to further build out over time what one student quipped could become an “Arb Quad” with community mandates for education and use that link our campus to nearby schools and other institutions.

 

Because the house is so graceful and intimate these uses will create lifelong memories not only in successive generations of student residents, but also hundreds or thousands more:  SLE cohorts who graduate from the Oxford property, grad and undergrad SEAS cohorts, seminar groups who study there or athletic teams who might volunteer and attend GardenGate events, even affiliated researchers or thought leaders who will see it as a place for the meeting of many kinds of minds for sustainability visioning and implementation. All of this bodes well for maintenance of the house, caretaker’s cottage, and land which is historically and geographically positioned to serve as a strong pillar in the University’s growth as a greener campus. It will be like similar properties at Yale and peer institutions, where historic buildings serve as centerpieces for communities that support the study of contemporary cutting edge trends, or even like Harvard, where historic homes  artfully integrate with more modern construction. Would that mean some capital now for compliance with code? Yes, but those costs might compare favorably to building a new sustainability school, or defending the university against succession, charitable intent and conferral challenges arising in campus and city communities who care about Inglis at present.

 

Instead, Inglis ought to be a living lab for interprofessional sustainability education—ought to become the “home” of cross campus visioning and a crucible that seeds new practical skills. Deans from SNRE, Engineering, Social Work, Education, and other schools have already expressed strong support for such a vision. Many faculty and staff who have attended the legendary dinners in that house know its magic. For the university to sell off and destroy that magic rather than amplifying it for the third century seems worse than short sighted; it is sad. Far from elitist, as the hard working Inglis himself knew, such magic should be more a part of UM students’ and Ann Arbor community members’ experience.