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Campus naturalist

Writer Barry Lopez proposed some time ago that a university have a student with appropriate skills receive a stipend to do research, record data, and inform the public about the natural environment of the campus. There would be a title like University Naturalist or College Naturalist. Over time, data about the ecology of the campus and the region would accumulate, and people might take a wider interest in both. I think his proposal was in the final chapters of Crossing Open Ground. I haven’t heard of any campuses that have picked up on this idea.

One other virtue of the idea is that it models a public writing role for students on campus. So much of the work they do is never read outside the confines of the classroom. Surely some of the work students do could be shaped so as to have value for a wider audience. Imagine how much of the alienation of higher education would be drained away if that were so.

PS. Here is an earlier blog entry with a somewhat different brainstorm about Lopez’s idea:

I was reading the last essay in Barry Lopez’s essay collection called Crossing Open Ground yesterday when I came across his suggestion, in the final essay, that a university appoint a campus naturalist to study, preserve knowledge about, and teach about the natural history of the campus. I thought immediately of the St. Joseph River here at IUSB. Said by some to be polluted so thoroughly that one shouldn’t touch it, the river glides past our campus and through downtown South Bend, forming the scenic core of the city.

Imagine a botany course that studied the natural history of the river, posting its findings on a weblog every few days, and accompanied by a history class that placed the river in the context of North American history, perhaps for a couple of weeks, and an anthropology class that also had a unit contextualing the river from that discipline’s perspective, and a sociology class that studied the social systems that spring up around rivers, and so forth. All of them could post their findings on the weblog, and then shape the best of it into a more lasting presentation on a wiki site. Link the whole package to the university’s home page, so there was almost always new content there from student-conducted research, along with all sorts of other new content that ought to be generated on a campus weblog. I would think that other campuses would send students to the site, high schools would send their students to the site, regional newspapers would visit and write stories, donors would pop by once in awhile to see how their money is being spent and see new things each time they visit, and so forth. And students would see that knowledge is something people like them make, preserve, present, not consume.

I like that last sentence: “And students would see that knowledge is something people like them make, preserve, present, not consume.”

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