Using Accreditation to Foster Education for Sustainability in Higher Education: The Implementation of the Peace with Creation Project at Eastern Mennonite University

Using Accreditation to Foster Education for Sustainability in Higher Education: The Implementation of the Peace with Creation Project at Eastern Mennonite University

James Yoder, BJ Miller
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5856-1.ch025
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Education for sustainability in higher education often faces numerous financial and institutional barriers. One overlooked mechanism for the promotion of education for sustainability is accreditation requirements. This chapter studies Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), a Christian liberal arts university accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, which took advantage of this mechanism by choosing education for sustainability as the topic for one of its accreditation requirements, the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). EMU's QEP, Peace with Creation, builds on grassroots efforts and focuses on infusing education for sustainability throughout the undergraduate curriculum. Challenges faced along the path to implementation of the plan included confusion over the definition and scope of sustainability, early fatigue and cynicism by the student body, and uncertainty as to how the now well-supported plan would mesh with other sustainability efforts on campus. Three years into implementation, it has become clear that the accreditation mandate has significantly advanced education for sustainability at EMU, and it is evident that accreditation can apply powerful leverage for integrating education for sustainability into an institutional framework.
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Organization Background

Founded in 1917 in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Eastern Mennonite University is a small, Christian liberal arts university with an enrollment of approximately 1500 students (900 undergraduate and 600 graduate, seminary, and adult degree completion students). EMU is a leader among faith-based universities, offering undergraduate, graduate and seminary degrees that emphasize peacebuilding, creation care, experiential learning, service and cross-cultural engagement. Although not exclusively Mennonite in student enrollment or personnel, the institution maintains a strong affiliation with Mennonite Church USA (Mennonite Church USA, 1995). Mennonite Church USA is one of the Anabaptist Christian denominations (Becker, 2008), all of which include among their central tenets peace, justice and reconciliation with all creation (Finger, 2000).

EMU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges and accreditation was most recently reaffirmed in 2010. One of the requirements for reaffirmation was the development of a Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), “a carefully designed course of action that addresses a well-defined and focused topic or issue related to enhancing student learning and/or the environment supporting student learning and accomplishing the mission of the institution” (SACSCOC, 2011, p. 39). Note that the specific focus or issue of the QEP is not prescribed by the SACSCOC but is rather determined by each institution based on its mission and educational goals.

EMU’s mission statement focuses on the unique identity of the institution and its task of education. Specifically, the statement summarizes the fundamental Anabaptist values of the institution, highlighting a commitment to “care for God’s creation.” This mission-driven commitment to creation care is the foundation of EMU’s QEP, Peace with Creation: Sustainability from an Anabaptist Perspective.

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