By Hans Morsink
When the Methodist Archives were built, the university cut down a goodly number (ten I think) of mature oak trees that were not sick. I wrote a letter trying to stop that from happening but had no success. The meetings were held while the students were on January break and the town was told that there was only one faculty member who objected. That was me and I had no tenure. I have ever since felt guilty for not speaking up more forcefully for the lives of those beautiful trees.
Now we are decades later and last Friday, as a retired faculty member, I went to hear the president tell faculty and staff about Drew’s plans for the future. It was a clear, well organized talk. But it ended in once again making me feel guilty about not speaking up for healthy trees. At the end she said that no one should hold back any question, but also that her dogs needed to go to the bathroom. I have a dog and he also often needs to go pee-pee. So I had a choice of helping out her dogs by not prolonging or speaking up for the 21 healthy and mature trees that are slated to be cut down for the sake of, as the president put it, the “beautification” of the EC parking lot. It was a mistake to hold my question.
When I first hear about this plan the rationale given was that Drew needs more parking spaces for the big events in the Forum. I did not see that because these 29 extra parking spaces will not significantly alter the need to bus people in for those big events. But the present “beautification” rationale is worse than the specious parking reasoning. It contradicts what Drew stands for. We emphasize the beauty of our campus, pride ourselves on having a green dorm, and until recently we called ourselves the university in the forest. We still are that, though I agree with our new emphasis on the university and the city.
When I came home I saw in the New York Review of Books an article by Freeman Dyson entitled “The Green Universe.” It feels good to know that we at Drew are working on that by having an environmental sustainability office and quite a few courses that deal with that very subject. But we also need to practice that on our campus, which is what my mother meant when she told us that if we wanted to change the world we needed to begin with ourselves, one tree at a time. I see a conflict between cutting our identity into the backs of the new chairs in the commons and at the same time cutting down on our tree holdings.
Adding these 21 healthy trees to the earlier 10 of the Archives creates too much environmental guilt for one man to bear. So I asked the Acorn to relieve my guilt by publishing this query: can Drew afford to cut down 21 healthy trees? I say “no,” not even (philosophers will understand this phraseology) for the sake of beauty-itself. As pretty much the most expensive college in the state we are stuck with “Noblesse oblige” and need to realize that form those to whom much is given much is required. We have an arboretum full of beautiful trees. Let that wealth not trick us into thinking that we can afford to cut down even one healthy tree for no good reason. The road is already safe and beautification should not be made a conflict with or override the environmental sustainability of the universe or our campus.
Hans Morsink is a Professor of Political Philosophy, Emeritus