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A Tale of Two (or More) Sustainabilities: A Q Methodology Study of University Professors’ Perspectives on Sustainable Universities
Paul Sylvestre, Tarah Wright, Kate Sherren

Published: 20 March 2014 by MDPI in Sustainability
MDPI, Volume 6; 10.3390/su6031521
Abstract: If change for sustainability in higher education is to be effective, change efforts must be sensitive to the institutional culture in which they will be applied. Therefore, gaining insight into how institutional stakeholders engage with the concept of sustainable universities is an important first step in understanding how to frame and communicate change. This study employed Q methodology to explore how a group of professors conceptualize sustainable universities. We developed a Q sample of 46 statements comprising common conceptions of sustainable universities and had 26 professors from Dalhousie University rank-order them over a quasi-normal distribution. Our analysis uncovered four statistically significant viewpoints amongst the participants: ranging from technocentric optimists who stress the importance of imbuing students with skills and values to more liberal arts minded faculty suspicious of the potential of sustainability to instrumentalize the university. An examination of how these viewpoints interact on a subjective level revealed a rotating series of alignments and antagonisms in relation to themes traditionally associated with sustainable universities and broader themes associated with the identity of the university in contemporary society. Finally, we conclude by discussing the potential implications that the nature of these alignments and antagonisms may hold for developing a culturally sensitive vision of a sustainable university.
Keywords: education for sustainable development, organizational change, pluralism, Q Method, Sustainability in Higher Education
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