2008 Distinguished Lecture Series: Arthur Sacks

Arthur B. Sacks


Arthur SacksDr. Arthur B. Sacks is currently Professor of Liberal Arts & International Studies (LAIS) and Director of the Guy T. McBride, Jr. Honors Program in Public Affairs for Engineers at the Colorado School of Mines. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses and conducts research on the global environment related to development, security, sustainability, cultural expressions and perspectives on environmental issues, and educational strategies to promote sustainability. Dr. Sacks joined CSM in 1993 as Director of LAIS and led the Division for 11 years. He subsequently served as Associate Vice President for Academic and Faculty Affairs, leaving that position in January 2008. He was Interim Chair of LAIS’ Master’s Program in International Political Economy of Resources in fall 2008 until he was appointed Director of the Honors Program in January 2009.

Prior to coming to Mines, from 1976 to 1993, he was in the interdisciplinary, college-level Institute for Environmental Studies (IES) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, ultimately serving as its Director (1985-90) and reporting to the Chancellor. IES had 150 faculty from 50 departments, 400 graduate students in six M.S. and Ph.D. programs, an equal number of undergraduate minors, maintained five research centers, and operated a statewide outreach program. Dr. Sacks further served as Senior Special Advisor to the Dean of the Graduate School (1990-93) and as Director of the University’s Office of International Students and Scholars serving 5,000 international students, faculty, and staff.

He has served as President of the North American Association for Environmental Education (1984-85); as co-founder and Deputy Secretary General of the International Society for Environmental Education (“Education for Ecologically Sustainable Development,” 1981-90); as founding U.S. Chair (1986-91) of Area XII (“Environmental Information, Education and Training”) of the U.S.-U.S.S.R. Agreement on Environmental Protection (his counterpart was the U.S.S.R. Minister of Education); as member of the Education Commission of IUCN (1985-90); and as an environmental advisor to the Ministers of Environment and/or Education of the governments of China, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia, among others.

He is widely recognized as an expert on education and sustainability, has published widely in this area, organized international conferences, given scores of invited talks around the world on subjects related to sustainability, environmental security and higher education, has served as a member of editorial boards for a number of professional journals including Environmental Practices, International Environmental Affairs, and the Journal of the World Universities Forum, and is widely sought after as a reviewer. He has been writing poetry since he was a boy and has published his work in a number of venues over the years. He has been elected as a Foreign Member of the Russian Academy of Education, and as a Fellow of the Society for Values in Higher Education. For 14 years he has served as a consultant-evaluator of the largest higher edu-cation accreditation body in the U.S., the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Dr. Sacks received all of his degrees in English literature (B.A., Brooklyn College; M.A., University of Wisconsin-Madison; Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison). He made the shift to environmental studies in 1976 and has never looked back.


The University has always held a privileged, if not always well understood, place in society. Long thought of as a refuge from the travails of society at large, the University – private or public – has in fact always been engaged in the life of the community as much as it has been engaged in the life of learning. The education of a society’s future generations is inherently an honor and a sacred trust that places the University squarely at the heart of its core social purpose and obliges it, in Harold T. Shapiro’s words, to be both “a responsive servant and thoughtful critic of society.”

This presentation explores the inherent purpose of the University, investigating its responsibilities to: (1) “…provide an environment in which faculty and students can discover, examine critically, preserve, and transmit…knowledge, wisdom and values of the present and future generations with improvement of the quality of life” (University of Wisconsin, 1969); (2) develop mechanisms that enable the anticipation of cultural, social and environmental trends so as to design educational and research programs that are responsive to those trends; and, (3) define, describe, and comprehend the interaction of human and environmental systems, not just for its own sake but also in a utilitarian sense to solve dynamic, complex human problems.

Given the impacts humans have upon the Biosphere upon which we depend, the contemporary University has a unique responsibility in Aldo Leopold’s words “…to take on the additional function of preserving an environment fit to support citizens” (1934). The contemporary University – and especially a university such as the Colorado School of Mines – has a special charge to help ensure the sustainability of humankind. This means the University writ large must be prepared to undertake the transformation of education, to fundamentally and coherently integrate sustainability – and everything that must be understood for sustainability to be achievable – into its core instructional and research mission. This means that in order for a technological university such as Mines to fully meet its public responsibility, we must enhance the interdisciplinary study of the human-environment system, advancing the cultural, social, behavioral and policy side of our institutional house as much as we advance the technical and technological side. We face no greater challenge and no higher purpose.