By George Sibley
Professor John Hausdoerffer is running wild at Western State Colorado University in Gunnison – but not with the conventional 20th-century “born-to-be-wild” wildness.
His is a disciplined, philosophically grounded wildness, most recently manifested in Western’s December announcement that the university (which 25 years ago barely had an Environmental Studies minor) now has a School of Environment and Sustainability, which Dr. Hausdoerffer – Dean of the new school – has worked with other faculty to create from a mix of existing and new Western programs. The new school assembles a place-based but globally-visioned smorgasbord of sustainability transition initiatives and public land initiatives ranging from Mountain Resilience to Environmental Diversity and Justice.
Western has already begun to show up on national surveys of top schools for environmentally oriented programs; under Dr. Hausdoerffer’s leadership the new programs will put Western ahead of many larger and wealthier universities – less fortuitously located and less creatively imagined. Western has finally ceased being embarrassed by the long-obvious fact that most students come here for the mountains and outdoor recreation, and has begun incorporating its advantageous locus into programs in a living laboratory for helping students re-create themselves for the 21st century.
At the heart of Hausdoerffer’s vision lies a concept of wildness, both really new and really old. Despite an obvious talent for negotiation and management in the cultural environment of academic politics, Dr. John (as students call him) is first a philosopher, in his academic preparation as well as by natural inclination, at home with other modern nature philosophers like Gary Snyder, Rod Nash, Vandana Shiva or Winona LaDuke, all of whom he has brought to Western’s autumn Headwaters Conferences.
California philosopher-poet Gary Snyder has long wrestled with the distinct concepts of “wilderness” and “wildness,” and he and Dr. John tag-teamed on it at a Headwaters conference several years ago, planting the concept of working wild.