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Call for the Foundation

Call for the Foundation of "A College of the Atlantic for Europe"

This call is for the constitution of a private College of Human Ecology in Germany, offering a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Philosophy program, following the model of the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine USA. It is encouraged by the president of the College of the Atlantic.

A Liberal Arts College for Germany

Today, colleges and universities in Germany are facing enormous challenges, tasks, and overall structural changes. This can only be compared with historical events such as the introduction of Humboldt’s educational reforms in Germany in the 19th century. The changes within the organization and content of study programs at universities and schools in Europe, especially the adoption of the Bachelor- and Master programs, enhance the mobility and flexibility of students within the European Union. These changes and the related solidification of the general courses of study, specific subjects and disciplines will offer better educational opportunities for students attempting to make their way through the “higher education jungle” in Germany. Some students feel more constrained under the new system, and unchallenged with gaining new knowledge and using the knowledge they have achieved already. Such students often consider the new educational procedures as “over-schooled” and “annoying”. Although they are in the minority, these students are primarily seeking a more diverse and free study environment to provide greater possibilities for developing their individual talents, interests, and skills. In Germany, the ever-expanding universities, which are financed by the state, can no longer satisfy the demands of these students. What is missing in Germany is a system of small, private colleges like many of the liberal arts colleges in other countries, which offer a greater variety of programs, subjects, and courses, on the one hand, but also boost competition within the German educational system, on the other.

A University for the Studies of Sustainable Development in Action

Global dimensions characterize the world in the 21st Century. Next to the major challenge, climate change, it is also important to counter the non-sustainable use of natural resources — namely, air, water, soil, and biotic recourses — with new methods of conservation and sustainability practices. Therefore, the first thing to focus on would be to offer an innovative, experimental, but also deliberate environment to the new generation of students, for developing their talents and interests. Instead of reciting the old and familiar, the discovery of the unknown should clearly have priority. Rather than working off stocks of knowledge, students should be supplied with a flexible study environment, which can easily adjust study contents, faculty, and procedures concurrently to meet the changing needs of students. Although there already are quite a few private universities in Germany, some of which commit themselves to the above-mentioned ideas, there is no specific, purposeful approach toward dealing with the ecological challenges, based upon bridging the disciplines of human and natural sciences, which would affect current educational methods and research, but without constraining internal growth and individual study interests. The Eco League (www.ecoleague.org), a network of American and colleges is a good example to show that it is possible to build that bridge as an operating platform for young people's needs, but also to establish it as a carrier for sustainability practice. Led by the College of the Atlantic (www.coa.edu), this group exemplifies the achievements of a university, which has committed its program of study to sustainable development.

Das College of the Atlantic

The College of the Atlantic, founded in 1969, has a current capacity of 275 students in degree programs, namely, the Bachelor of Arts or Master of Philosophy in human ecology. It follows a tradition of nearly 80 years in human ecology, which began in 1930 at the University of Chicago and which was also the origin of empirical, interdisciplinary studies. The programs of the College of the Atlantic concentrate on projects, the shape of which is largely determined by the talents and skills of participating students. There are two mandatory seminars in the first year, introducing the thinking, research, and learning model of human ecology. All further seminars or study content are selected by the students, whose progress is accompanied and overseen by mentors supporting them on their journey through the 40 disciplines and subjects represented at the college. Every seminar has a maximum of 12 students. Study is project-oriented, allowing students to develop and alter their projects and study plans step-by-step all the way to graduation. Accordingly, there are various topics and subjects to choose from, but all of these are connected or relate to specific local issues, inhabitants, or problems in the region; at the same time, topics can overlap. The College of the Atlantic is a special institution, which, not least because of its regional inter? and correlations, and structure, makes strong impression on the country through its ventures and unique research content. From Bar Harbor, located on Mount Desert Island in Maine, the college cooperates not only with the nearby Arcadia National Park (one of the oldest national parks in the US) or the regional water resource management facilities of the neighboring counties, but also invests in extensive maritime and coast-related fields of research (e.g., modern studies on whales began here), as well as aspects of tourist, museum, and exhibition management, or procedural matters in planning and participation. Not only do science and research follow the principles of sustainable development, but also the organization of the college itself. College of the Atlantic was the first campus to be honored with the Zero Waste Graduation in 2005. Ultimately, the professional success of the graduates is what speaks for the concept. Of course, this is also a matter of financing. At the moment annual tuition and fees amount to approximately $28,000, and the costs for student housing and board add up to another $8,000 per annum. At the same time, however, the American grant program comes supports about 70 % of the students with financial aid.

A Private University in Germany Modeled on College of the Atlantic

Over the last 10 years several private colleges were established in Germany (1). Most of them are sponsored directly by companies or corporations with powerful interests in economic matters and appropriately tailored education, for example, the Beisheim School. The Zeppelin University in Friedrichshafen also stresses economic interests, but supports extensive extracurricular studies. Up to now, however, no college like the College of the Atlantic has been established within the German-speaking countries or Europe as a whole. This call is intended to fill that gap. We propose to constitute a private college on the model of the College of the Atlantic. For these reason appropriate concepts for scientific work, study, organization and administration, locality, region, as well as finance and scholarship management need to be established vis-à-vis present socioeconomic conditions in Germany and Europe.

Organization and Administration

The conception of the college includes a step-wise development. In this respect, The German Society for Human Ecology not only represents a network from which a significant part of the faculty could be drawn, but could also serves as an institutional committee securing the quality of teaching and research at the college. There will be a scientific advisory board elected from this network, attending the college throughout Europe. If the first step of establishing the college as a local, European branch of the College of the Atlantic succeeds, one of the major advantages of this would be that parts of the administration could remain in the US initially. In this way, the college could pace its growth appropriately, gradually developing independent in Germany and Europe. For the present, the most pressing matter is to find the optimal location for the various segments of the organization and administration, especially as financial issues take on increasing import in this process.

Financing and Grants

Developing an adequate financing model for a private university in Germany is certainly one of the prior tasks. Compared with the US or other Anglo-Saxon countries, the German grant and scholarship or stipend system needs to be re-constructed on various levels, despite the fact that, during the last few years, fiscal conditions for founders and donors in particular have improved. It is important that sponsors be motivated and made supporting partners in all of the planned projects and various proposals. Once more, the College of the Atlantic would be reference point for getting started, even if the basic conditions in the US vary from those in Europe. Experience gathered over the years with the American model of financing private colleges and universities allow us to estimate with a relatively high degree of accuracy the amount necessary to establish a solid financial basis for this cross-Atlantic endeavor. Furthermore, the College of the Atlantic also offers us a plethora of experience with fundraising and cooperating with supporting groups and individuals, which would be useful to us in building up and developing a "College of the Atlantic for Europe".

Region and Location

The location for the college should be selected on the basis of existing possibilities to thematically connect and combine research contents with the social and environmental structures of the region where it is to be sited. The UNESCO Biospheres program provides a good example of this. Our site selection should be guided by precisely this example. Initial contacts have already been made.

a) The island of Ruegen and the Suedostruegen biosphere

b) The Spreewald biosphere in the south of Brandenburg

c) The Tal der kleinen Emme in Switzerland and the Entlebuch biosphere

Study and Graduation Program

Focusing upon the interests and skills of the students, study and scientific procedures at the proposed College of Liberal Arts are designed to create a free study environment based upon the flexibility, ideas adaptability, and individual backgrounds of students and lecturers. At present, the methods of accreditation in Germany are not only very time consuming, but also often quite counterproductive. For now, it would be very beneficial, especially in the planning and conception phase of the college, to apply the terms of study from the College of the Atlantic, already accredited in the US. In the long run, this could also lead to some kind of transatlantic graduation program. We still need to determine how such a program could be introduced in Europe and the US as formally acknowledged transatlantic final study degree. Concerning content and form of the basic curriculum, the main questions are: What languages will be used officially? What role does language play in general, concerning development, discussion, practice, etc.? Of course, for the college in Germany, English and German would be the basic languages initially, although the question is open as to other additions and flexible practice, depending on who takes part in what program, bringing the college to life. Particularly, in the initial stages of development, it will be helpful to recruit the college teaching staff from the network of the German Society for Human Ecology.


Research at the proposed college will be linked closely to all other programs, ventures, and facilities. The design will be determined in detail depending on the region where the college is located. Nevertheless, some of the topical focuses will directly refer to the nucleus of human ecology. Next to emphasizing problem and practice orientation throughout the development of strategies for integrated regional sustainability management, there are further aspects of importance such as basic theoretical questions about coherences between evolutional and social concepts, linguistic issues, methodological procedures of participation, and trans? and interdisciplinarity. In the course of this, human ecology not only takes into account interdisciplinary environmental work and research, but is also devoted generally to encouraging and supporting cross-disciplinary projects in research, science, and off-campus practice. Human ecology connects theoretical models and traditions of thought in all participating fields of human, social, and natural science, and engineering, with their scope of application building being the bridging concepts for disciplinary cooperation as well as specific research projects leading to transdisciplinary dialogue which, at the same time, does not attempt to undermine the autonomy individual disciplines. Human ecology stands for a scientific and theoretical link between the disciplines and their practical areas, considered as a problem-complex. Human ecology focuses upon the needs of a knowledge and information-based society, and challenges the connected problems and demands, which need to be observed and processed in a scientific environment.

On the Way - Step-by-Step

This call is a result of a series of discussions within the German Society for Human Ecology and beyond. At the same time it is an invitation to take part in the new study group, "College of Liberal Arts and Human Ecology," initiated by the German Society for Human Ecology. The concept was introduced and discussed at the international meeting of the Society for Human Ecology, in October 2006 in Bar Harbor, Maine, including members of the board of the College of the Atlantic. As a unit of an extended concept of fundraising, this call should complement and advance a general survey of appointing and achieving a scientifically profound concept of the college for 2007. At the same time, talks with possible partners from the biosphere reservations will be undertaken. In May 2007 we will present the current development on the conference of the German Society for Human Ecology "Higher Education for Sustainable Development". The goal is to welcome our first students and get the college into operation modus within two years.

Berlin, October 2006
Dr. phil. Wolfgang H. Serbser
Dr. rer. nat. Jadranka Mrzljak