Auburn University's Office of Sustainability released its second annual United Nations (UN) "Sustainable Development Goals" (SDGs) report for 2019 to 2020, praising its faculty for researching and teaching topics involving critical race theory (CRT), feminist theory and environmental activism. 

The UN developed its 17 SDGs in 2015 to foster a "global partnership" between countries to "recognize that ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests."

The goals include:

  1. No Poverty

  2. Zero Hunger

  3. Good Health and Well-being

  4. Quality Education

  5. Gender Equality

  6. Clean Water and Sanitation

  7. Affordable and Clean Energy

  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth

  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

  10. Reduced Inequality

  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

  12. Responsible Consumption and Production

  13. Climate Action

  14. Life Below Water

  15. Life on Land

  16. Peace and Justice Strong Institutions

  17. Partnerships to achieve the Goal

When Auburn's President's Office was made aware of the report Thursday afternoon, it issued a statement to 1819 News saying: "This document is the result of a research project undertaken by a group of students and faculty associated with [the Office of Sustainabability] and does not reflect the official positions of Auburn University. Consistent with the Auburn Creed, this university is dedicated to creating an environment that fosters the free exchange of ideas while protecting the integrity and human dignity of everyone in this community."

The SDG report, authored by Maris Laney of the Hunger Solutions Institute at Auburn's College of Human Sciences, insisted that, as a land-grant university, Auburn is designed to "provide practical solutions to pressing societal issues, make higher education more accessible to a broader segment of American citizens, and spur economic and social opportunity and development."

Auburn Office of Sustainability Director Mike Kensler said the SDGs are about "creating a hunger-free world" and told 1819 News that Auburn's reason for issuing this report was not to raise money but to display the university's commitment to the SDGs.

"[Auburn is] already doing things to get grants," Kensler said. "It's not because of being a member of … or because we wrote this report that we get grants, but it can be evidence of the work that we've been doing … that would help tell the story of why Auburn could deserve a grant. So we didn't do this to raise money. We wrote it to tell the story of what we're already doing … to fulfill our commitment as a land grant."

The AASHE is a climate activism organization that advocates for "universal climate education," pushes for banks to revoke financing from fossil fuel companies and promotes a "New Deal for Higher Ed" intent on creating federal policies that increase higher education funding and cancel student debt

Throughout the report, the Sustainability Office touted various "studies" courses, controversial faculty research themes and its Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI). 

Proponents of DEI bureaucracies and policies claim they promote the representation and participation of different identity groups. However, conservative critics have accused the methods of not fulfilling their alleged purpose. According to a new resolution from the Alabama Republican Party (ALGOP), the policies "have actually stifled intellectual diversity, prevented equal opportunity and discriminated against anyone who dissents from these policies."

ALGOP recently passed the resolution to ban DEI programs and policies in state-funded agencies and universities at their meeting in February.

State Rep. Ed Oliver (R-Dadeville) proposed a related bill in the Alabama House of Representatives earlier this year. If passed, it would ban all public education institutions from "promoting or endorsing, or requiring affirmation of certain divisive concepts related to race, sex or religion." 

Though Auburn has its own DEI Office, other colleges on its campus include smaller DEI Offices. 

1819 News asked Kensler whether Auburn was concerned about the pushback against DEI from conservatives in the state. He said Auburn is aware of the pushback, but he was not equipped to speak on behalf of the university.

Conservative critics have also condemned controversial "studies" programs for being unabashedly left-wing, ideologically driven and encouraging of activism. 

Some of the course curricula cited in the SDG report include LGBTQ studies, race, gender and sexuality, philosophy of race and gender, social justice, society and equity, "Latinx" student advocacy, anthropology of gender, gender development and culture, history of women, sexuality, law, beauty and culture and feminist theory.

The report also cited several research themes such as CRT, "black identity," "literary cultural and queer theories," "questions of manhood, masculinity and vulnerability," "public relations and diversity issues," "corporate social responsibility," "social justice," "diversity in public policy," "feminism criticism," "gender relationships" and "systemic change."

Kensler said that he believes these issues are largely misunderstood but reasserted that he's not in a position to speak on behalf of the university.

Much of the report highlighted the university's efforts surrounding "climate change action."

"Taking urgent action against climate change and its impacts is essential to building a sustainable world for everyone," the report reads. "Severe weather and rising sea levels affect everyone, but marginalized people groups and the poor are disproportionately affected. If climate change is left unchecked, the consequences will be ecosystem destruction, food and water scarcity, and conflict."

According to the report, Auburn intends to continue implementing SDGs across campus.

"Increasingly, professors are developing curricula that incorporate SDGs into student learning," Laney wrote. "Auburn University can begin to formally link course content to specific SDGs, which has already been done informally through this report. Auburn University can also encourage faculty to enhance and expand course content specifically related to the SDGs. Engagement with research and outreach will increase as Auburn University dives deeper into the SDGs that are already well represented and strengthens the SDG areas in which Auburn University is invested to a lesser degree."

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