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BLUFFTONS MISSION REQUIRES INCOME GAP DISCUSSION: HARDER
Bluffton Universitys mission demands campus attention to the growing problem of income inequality between "haves" and "have nots" in the United States, university President Dr. James Harder said Tuesday (Sept. 13).
Speaking at the annual Presidents Forum in Founders Hall, Harder urged his student, faculty and staff listeners to think critically, personally and globally about the universitys 2011-12 civic engagement theme"Public Health: Promoting Wellness for Self and Community."
"Evidence of the serious negative impact of growing inequality is visible everywhere we turnboth in our own country and globally," the president said, pointing out that economics is among the forces that affect individual health and well-being. "Yet it has become almost fashionable in some quarters to dismiss any attempt at serious discussion of income inequality. It is my belief that our educational mission requires attention to the issue of rising inequality."
His address also covered environmental stewardship efforts and other campus initiatives, as well as accomplishments from the past year.
"We live in a world that is being rapidly transformed by the twin forces of information technology and liberalized world trade," said Harder, who earned his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Notre Dame. Quoting from an article by Chrystia Freeland, global editor at large for the Reuters News Agency, he continued that productivity gains from those forces are "huge," and "massive amounts of new wealth are being created," but most American workers have missed out and the result has been "a jaw-dropping surge in U.S. income inequality."
"During the boom years before the economy fell apart," he said, "65 percent of all income growth in the United States went to the top 1 percent of the population. Recent evidence indicates that the trend is resuming once again."
Reflecting, too, on the 10th-anniversary aftermath of 9/11, he noted that "spending so much on security concerns is now taking a toll on other things we need for health and wellness, including education and access to other basic social services and public goods such as parks and public recreational opportunities."
Harder expressed hope that questions about the legacy of 9/11 relative to Americas health, and those about income inequality, will become part of the campus discourse this year during study of "our civic obligations" regarding promotion of wellness for self and community.
"I firmly believe that Bluffton has a particular role to play and a particularly important perspective to bring on these topics, whether at the interpersonal or at broader levels," the president asserted.
"By virtue of Blufftons mission and our historic peace church values, we are called to be radical in the same ways that Christ was radical, putting our best energies into building real public health through faithful living based on life-giving and community-nurturing activitiesactivities built on values of trust, hope and love of otherseven of the stranger."
Shaped by that peace church tradition, Bluffton defines its mission as seeking to prepare students of all backgrounds "for life as well as vocation, for responsible citizenship, for service to all peoples and ultimately for the purposes of Gods universal kingdom."
The civic-engagement goal of wellness promotion "should be a very high calling for all of us," Harder added. He cited a Harvard study, now running for more than 70 years, through which researchers have identified seven factors as predictors of healthy aging in Americanspersonal strategies for adapting to trouble, education, marital stability, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, exercising and maintaining a healthy weight.
The president outlined environmental stewardship initiatives he said "will inform the way we use resources at Bluffton," including a "sustainability commitment" plan produced last academic year by a Student Senate committee.
Harder announced he will sign the commitment document, which seeks to identify practical steps the campus can takeand is already taking in some casesto reduce, reuse and recycle material items. It also asks the university to work toward a long-term transition to cleaner energy, including ensuring that all new construction meets the "silver" standard or higher in the U.S. Green Building Councils Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) system.
Blufftons Health and Fitness Education Center, under construction north of Marbeck Center, is expected to be the first LEED-certifiedsilver or possibly goldcampus building. The 60,000-square-foot center will also be the universitys largest building upon its opening, scheduled for next fall.
Another environmentally friendly change that has already occurred, the president reported, was the replacement of all residence-hall washing machines this summer with 31 new, high-efficiency commercial washers. The machines use 22 fewer gallons of water per load than their predecessors, which, based on annual student laundry volume, is expected to save about 726,000 gallons of water this year. Thats enough water, he noted, to fill the Founders Hall basketball floor to a depth of more than 21 feetwithin five inches of the ceiling rafters.
Harder said he will invite faculty and staff to serve on a committee that will lead the sustainability effort. Its work will include completing campus inventories in areas such as energy and water consumption, recycling and paper use; making action plans; and periodically submitting reports to an existing national network of environmentally concerned colleges and universities.
On another environmental front, he acknowledged the work of the volunteer Bluffton University Nature Preserve Committee, which has been making improvements to the nature preserve under the leadership of Willis Sommer, retired vice president for fiscal affairs.
Committee members have removed diseased ash trees, improved trails and restored trail access on one side of the eight-acre lake in the center of the preserve, Harder said. In addition, he said, the group has studied and made proposals for needed improvements and repairs to the college cabin, barn and swinging bridge at the preserve, and has helped gather ideas and recommendations for its future use.
Among other efforts to connect practices with university values, plans are in the works for a permanent outdoor prayer labyrinth and for the use of restorative justice principles in the student discipline process.
A campus group has been working on a proposal for the prayer labyrinth, which would be for individuals use as an aid to spiritual reflection and growth, the president pointed out. "We will utilize the energy and creativity of interested faculty, staff and students in the religion, art, peace and conflict studies and campus ministries areasand perhaps othersto develop and help construct a specific design for a Bluffton prayer labyrinth, most likely located on the grass somewhere near the east-side bank of the Little Riley Creek," he said.
He also mentioned ongoing efforts to create the opportunity at Bluffton for students to be certified as professional dietitians, and to offer three-year undergraduate programs to interested students. "Currently, 13 of Blufftons majors can be completed in three years by a qualified incoming student, and more are being reviewed," he said.
The proposed program for dietitian certification would join the universitys most recent health-related additionsthe undergraduate public health program unveiled this fall and the evening social work classes offered to working adults for the first time last fall. Those academic enhancements were among the accomplishments the president listed from the past year, along with the Health and Fitness Education Center groundbreaking and reaccreditation of the education department by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education.
Bluffton public relations, 9/14/11