Sustainable Development and the Mission of the University


Soraj Hongladarom
Department of Philosophy,
Faculty of Arts,
Chulalongkorn University,

The world is suffering from depletion of resources due to ever increasing demands by human beings. In search for better "quality of life," human beings have destroyed rain forests, released ozone destroying CFCs into the atmosphere, polluted rivers, streams and lakes, dumped their trash into the sea. Rain forests have to be cleared in order to make room for agriculture to feed millions; CFCs is used in air-conditioning and refrigeration; and the health of rivers and lakes seems to take second place to higher percentage in economic growth. In a rapidly industrializing country like Thailand, a strong argument has consistently been put forward to show that modernization and development is everything. Anything that stands in its way is cast aside. Thai people are being drummed up the mantra that economic development is the panacea that promises to lead everyone to happiness. They have been led to believe that the quality of their lives would suffer were it not for the fruits of material growth.

This essay will try to show that the mantra is a result of the belief system which emphasized material growth and development, and human ability to solve all problems to satisfy their demands. It is a system which aims at maximizing profit and personal gains of humans to the exclusion of other goods in human life. This materialist idea, prevalent in modern academia and governments, is derived from the idea that nature is an object existing solely for the purpose of exploitation, and that the vision of the best quality of life humans can have is that of someone who is in total control of nature and can use it to gratify his desires. That form of development, I shall try to show, cannot be supported forever by the environment. Another form and another set of basic premises of development is needed which can serve the needs of humans continually. This new form requires a complete reversal of the current way of thinking. We need, that is, to look at nature, not as the Other to be conquered, but an integral part of us. We cannot separate ourselves from nature; in fact we need to view nature and all the creatures as a total whole, all constituting us. Only through this means can human life be sustained.

Afterwards, I shall propose a way to realize the proposed ideas. The role of universities is crucial here. As Prince Mahidol of Songkhla aptly said many decades ago, "The university is the brain, the originator of ideas for the nation." [2] A reconception of the way of thinking which can be effective as a public policy is possible only when the university recognizes its mission and acts as the primary agent for change and becomes the institutions where its members are devoted to the task of teaching younger generations so that they become effective opinion leaders and thinkers.


In the case of Thailand, the quest for economic growth has been the highest priority of successive governments since the end of World War II, and more intensively in the past three decades since the National Economic and Social Development Board was set up in the late 1950's. The goal of all the National Economic Development Plans has been "to improve the quality of life of the Thai people." The vision of Thai people possessing the desired quality of life in this sense seems to be of a people who have a rich material resource at their disposal, which they can use to eliminate all the ills that plagued the lives of their forebears just a generation ago. The vision is of a people who, for example, enjoy the best and more current medical technology and whose diseases are exceptionally cared for by a host of medical specialists. A people who have the means to satisfy all their needs and wants. A lot of money in their hands which they can use to buy whatever they please.

This conception of quality of life was imported by Thai leaders from the dominant trend of thought in the Western world. This conception first got a foothold in Enlightenment Europe and stemmed from the Europeans' confidence in the power in science and technology as the solution to each and every problem facing human beings. This belief was characteristic of the Enlightenment period, in which the power of reason and cold calculation were looked upon as the most potent weapon for humans to unlock the secret of nature. The motive which led the Europeans to unveil nature was to get control over her. They believed that all the ills could be eliminated through the use of reason and scientific knowledge. Their fervent belief was that humans are ever resourceful, and can meet and overcome any obstacles lying along their path toward prosperity and satisfaction of all their wants and needs.

The presupposition of the Enlightenment thought lies in the belief that there was a radical separation between the thinker and whatever thought about in the act of thinking. The separation is between the one who thinks on the one hand, and whatever thought of on the other. An analogy with the sentential form in language is appropriate here. Each sentence is constituted by the subject and the predicate, and sometimes the predicate is formed by a main verb and a direct object. Thus, when there are all the three elements present in a sentence, we can roughly model the relationship between subject, verb and object by stating that the direction of action always points from the subject toward the object. The subject is the doer, and the object is what is done to, and the verb then represents the kind of act involved. Hence, the doer is clearly separated from what is done to. The former is the agent of the action, and the latter is the passive patient of the action. This radical separation had a tremendous impact on Western thinkers. It is the basis of Western ontology, which argues for the categorial distinction between substances (or individuals) and properties. It is, then, quite a short step from this to the idea that nature is the Other, distinct from the Subject, which exists solely to serve the purposes and needs of humans.

This trend of thought is also salient in modern economic way of thinking. The discipline of economics is built on the foundational belief that human can devise means to satisfy their demands by utilizing available resource, and the appropriate and rational goal of human activity is to maximize "utility" or, to put it more bluntly, to maximize one's personal gain to the utmost while trying to minimize the cost. If indeed nature and all natural resources are all for the taking--as Object or the Other--so as to gratify the ever diversified needs and demands of humans, then it is rational for humans to exploit these resources to the full, provided only that such exploitation is guarded against and limited by other humans who are exploiting the same resource. Most economists are convinced that when humans act so as to maximize their personal gain, a certain "invisible hand" will manage their affairs in a rational manner, in such a way that no one is unjustly discriminated against. It would be irrational to interfere with this mechanism. Left to their own, humans acting rationally in this way will automatically find a way toward greater collective satisfaction and happiness.

Hence, we can now see how this frame of thought has been so influential to the minds of Thai policy planners. Apart from the fact that most policy planners in Thailand have been economists trained in Western countries, the trend of thought has its strong appeal in its promise to bring greater material satisfaction to the people. To their minds, they saw that when the people are satisfied materially, they will have better lives. That is, the planners seem to equate more material amenities with better quality of life. Economic growth, so their thinking goes, leads not only to more satisfied populace, but more importantly it is like a magic wand which brings the country more clout in international affairs.


This conception of quality of life is what we need to examine closely. The visions of all Thai citizens engaging in conspicuous consumption has in fact been realized only for a group of Thai people, namely the rich urban middle class. But it seems that the majority of Thais, the rural poor, are further estranged from any possibility of "good life" as time passes. It seems that the more National Development Plans Thai people have, the wider the gap is between the rich, educated and privileged minority and the poor, uneducated, underprivileged majority. It seems that the many National Development Plans this country has had does not bring Thai people any closer to happiness. In other words, the good quality of life, which has been the goal of successive Economic Plans, has been realized only for a few Thais.

Against this the economic planners might argue that the quality of life of Thai people have improved considerably in the past three decades. Evidence for this can be found in wider streets, expressways, fancy cars, mobile phones, golf club membership, and so on. They might point out that the rural poor also enjoy better quality of life, and they might also cite as evidence statistics showing that the poor have easier access to education, better public health, more sanitary lifestyle, and so on. However, I would like to point out that the reason why economic planners are convinced that quality of life has improved is because they see quality of life to be directly correlated with material satisfaction. More material satisfaction, that is more resources to satisfy material needs, translate into better quality of life. And conversely, less material satisfaction, worse quality of life. But is it true that material satisfaction is a necessary condition for good quality of life? To equate good quality of life with material satisfaction seems to invite a contradiction since good quality of life is necessarily related with happiness, whereas it is not necessary that material satisfaction and happiness always accompany each other.

It is, however, an irony that, in order for this type of quality of life to be possible at all, more existing resources have to be tapped to satisfy the ever growing demand of humans. The stability of the system itself depends on the limitlessness of the resources to be utilized. For this system and the institutions supporting it to be stable and supportable, more and more material resources need to be fed into it. The system leads to a totally dynamic picture in which to stand still means to drop out of the overall economic activity. Hence, Thailand in the visions of the planners cannot stand still. She has to continue struggling, to find more and more markets for exports, to continue lobbying American congressmen not to put pressure on Thai exports, to drive Thailand to cooperate with other countries in the ASEAN to form a common market, so that the ASEAN as a whole could compete in the world market against giants such as the EC or the NAFTA. All these activities stem from the belief system which puts the highest priority on material growth. And Thailand has to implement all these measures if she is to survive as an economically viable country. She cannot afford to stand still and let the world race to leave her behind. However, such race toward development leads to environmental destruction. Consequently, we seem to be mired in a dilemma. On the one hand, we need to race forward, since it is not possible to turn back the clock and live as our ancestors did; on the other, we need to preserve and make possible that the environment is viable as living habitat. How should Thai people, then, act to solve this dilemma?

A new way of thinking is clearly needed to get out of the dilemma. Humans need to be aware that the current form of economic thought does not lead to a sustainable form of life. This is so because of two major reasons. Firstly, we have seen this form of thought is based on the assumption that the Self, or subject, and the Other, or object, are radically separated; the former is not a part of the latter and vice versa. This assumption leads to the belief that the Other is ready to be exploited for the gain of the Self. Secondly, this current form of thinking is inherently dynamic. Both reasons mean that more and more of the Other has to be offered, sought, exploited, utilized, in order that the system as a whole is viable at all. This leads to more resources being necessarily exploited, with the well known consequence that waste products keep multiplying. Humans are turning the world into a huge waste basket. Since the earth itself is not limitless, it is logical that humans cannot forever maintain this framework as a guiding principle of their action. Sooner or later the resources will run out, and there will be no Other to satisfy the Self anymore. The current form of thinking leads to annihilation.

However, the situation is Thailand is not altogether bleak. Many leading Thai thinkers, such as Sulak Sivarak, Dr. Prawase Wasi and Pra Debvedi have also begun to see the danger of unrestrained material growth and are giving out voices to warn Thai people that the one sided pursuit of prosperity will ironically lead to poverty and loss of our habitat. The voices also come from economists. For example, in his new book, whose title can be translated as Green Economics for Life and Nature,[3] economist Dr. Preecha Piampongsant presents a case for sustainable development, which is based on a new kind of economics. He thinks that the alternative to the modern, formal kind of economic thinking is already available to Thai people; that is Buddhism. [4] According to Preecha, Buddhism is an alternative which corresponds to the "deep ecology" movement in the West, which is an attempt to critique the traditional form of economics. He correctly sees in Buddhism the critique of the separation between man and nature for the purpose of egoistic gain. He argues that Thai people have been led astray by the promises of the planners and have been led to believe that exploitation of nature is the answer for everything. Thus Thai people have been taken away from their roots. They have been taken from their normal, natural lives and have had the roles and duties of modern industrial life thrust upon them. Preecha advocates for the kind of economics which is based on the realization that the current form of economic thinking does not lead sustainable form of life.

However, since Buddhism alone is not specifically designed to answer to human problems of the late twentieth century, one has to look at it as a source of insight and inspiration, not as the complete answer. Buddhism offers a very general conception of the "Right Livelihood," as Schumacher says, [5] but we need to flesh this out in order that a concrete strategy could be charted for a sustainable world. Thus, a way toward a solution of the dilemma has to be found elsewhere. We cannot return wholly to the past anymore, though it is useful as a context in which the new thinking fits. We have seen that the root cause of the problem is the belief in the radical separation between the Self and the Other. Thus the new form has to eliminate this distinction first of all. It has to show that the separation is a contingent one, and could be superseded by a more suitable framework. I have presented a rather detailed argument criticizing this distinction elsewhere. [6] That argument purports to show that the separation between Self and Other is a historically contingent one, and did not occur in the philosophy of other cultures such as Indian. The separation is quintessentially European. So if it is contingent, then other alternatives are no less tenable, and would be more appropriate if they did not lead to annihilation.

It is clear, then, that the new way of thinking must do away with the separation between Subject and Object. What needs to be realized is that the direction of action from Subject to Object always have a reciprocal action from the Object back to the Subject herself. For example, a man eats rice. According to the old system, this is a case of subject utilizing nature for his purpose. But it is no less true that the object itself, in this case the rice, also has an action toward the subject himself. When a man eats rice, rice nourishes the man. For every type of action directed toward a patient, the "patient" is not entirely passive, but always has a reciprocal effect toward the "agent." Another example is: A group of people cut down trees for profit. According to the new belief system, the trees being cut down have a variety of effects upon the group of people. A rather obvious effect that the trees bring those people handsome profits, but this is only short term and temporary. The action of cutting the trees is a part of the larger problem which will result in a long term loss of natural habitat for wild animals, or loss of forests acting like sponge to absorb rainfall. These will inevitably lead to serious consequences. We need, therefore, to be aware that each action caused by us always has a series of effect springing back to us, and we would suffer a lot if we did not take this into account when we act. The Subject is not something utterly distinct from the Object; it is a part of an integral whole, and what the Subject does to the Object always reverberates back to the Subject herself.

Starting with this very general idea, we can see how Buddhism enters into the picture. A central tenet of Buddhism is the attempt to eliminate selfishness, and as I see it one of the most effective ways to do that is to practice compassion. A true Buddhist is compassionate to all beings with no discrimination or distinction. She sees each and every living creature as an integral part of a larger entity. She sees herself in each and every creature, and each suffering of a creature is her suffering also. So any action which leads to suffering of fellow creatures is strictly to be avoided, and this includes pollution of the environment. Hence, to apply this Buddhist teaching in a concrete manner to solve our problem is to inculcate the thought that each living creature all shares suffering as humans, and if humans see themselves in those creatures they will refrain from harming them and try to relieve them of suffering.

This central teaching of Buddhism has to be incorporated with the belief in the divinity of nature, which is characteristic of ancient Thai belief system, in order to arrive at a conception leading to sustainable development which is unique to Thai culture. Ancient Thais believed that large trees were residences of deities who had the power over their lives. They often turned to these deities for protection and for favor. They also believed, as agricultural people, that the Goddess of rice, called "Mae Posop," manifests herself in each and every rice stalk, and each and every grain of rice which nourishes their lives. This type of belief made it inconceivable for ancient Thai people that nature could be an object to be exploited for egoistic gain. If the Goddess of rice has such a tremendous power over life and death, fertility and famine, then how could one go on with wanton destruction of her domain? Sooner or later, according to this belief system, the gods and goddesses will punish those who insult them, and everyone will then suffer.

This apotheosis of nature, when coupled with the Buddhist teaching of compassion, lead to a new system of thinking which should be adopted by policy makers and the public at large so that they understand the need for environment protection and sustainable development. Stated in plain terms, the new system of thinking affirms that humans are a part of nature and any of their acts effecting nature also have a reciprocal effect on them. This point could be clearly discerned when the ancient belief in the power of nature is taken into consideration. Since any life a human being can have is only possible within nature, any of his or her act that ultimately results in a destruction of nature means that the human being himself or herself suffers in the end. In reality there can be no sharp division of Self and Other; everything is a part of the reality; all are interconnected.

It is for the interest of human beings themselves that we need to find ways for sustainable development. The attempt is for our survival. This is particularly pertinent as we come near the dawn of the next millennium. In fact the vista is indeed challenging, and it rests upon human beings themselves to chart their course which will affect their lives and the lives of countless generations after them. The vista is indeed both bright and bleak. On the one hand, the collapse of the Soviet empire has brought the Cold War to an end. This opened up numerous opportunities to rechannel human resourcefulness and effort back from the Arms Race industrial production to solving the problems of starvation, malnutrition, illiteracy, deforestation, release of dangerous chemicals, and a host of others. On the other hand, the end of the bipolar world is bringing back regional, ethnic conflicts which have until recently been suppressed. Witness what is going on in the former Yugoslavia, the tensions and quarrels within the former Soviet empire and the endless fighting and killing in Cambodia. This might indeed lead to catastrophe if we as fellow inhabitants of this globe are not careful. Humans are at a crossroad. One way leads to total destruction; the other leads to survival. This is a precarious situation. It is up to humans to decide which way to go. The latter way, which is the more desirable one, is achievable only if humans adopt the new form of thinking outlined above.


In view of this very general outline toward human survival, what are the concerns and particular suggestions for a country like Thailand? More specifically, what roles should Thai universities adopt in order to become a part of the effort to save humans from destruction? Since everything is interconnected, any policy decisions by a Thai university will send reverberations throughout at least the Asia-Pacific region, if not the whole world. An effort directed at forming a policy for a Thai university has at least direct effect on the whole region.

Since a detailed listing of proposed activities and strategies for the university would be a topic for another paper in itself, a general outline of possible activities and strategies will be presented here. It is evident that the appropriate belief system or way of thinking prerequisite for the change to be possible. However, to change a belief system or a way of thinking is not easy. It is tantamount to asking a person to change his world view, his conception of what he is and of his place in the scheme of things as well as the value and relation of all things in the world. It would not be too far fetched to say that changing a belief system is not unlike changing the world itself. Nevertheless, difficult the task may seem, it can be done, and in fact humans have changed entire belief systems many times in their history.

I would like, then, to propose that we look to history to find out how change of belief systems was possible so that we could chart the course for the future change. In the case of Thailand, we need to look back to what happened when the modern, materialist and consumption oriented form of thought was first being imposed upon Thai people in place of their traditional belief system. We need to look at how the new framework came to be accepted as the standard norm which continues to hold until today. We need to answer the question what force lay behind such complete transformation of Thai belief system from the ancient way of respecting nature to the modern way of exploiting her. How could a belief system which had been intact with Thai people for thousands of years be completely transformed within a few decades only? I propose that we try to model that historic change, not in order to repeat it, but to look for clues that will help us understand how one belief system supplants an older, entrenched one in such a short period of time. The goal now is to find ways to establish the new form of thinking which does not lead to destruction. The change we are proposing is no less historic than the previous change of form of thinking in Thailand. It is all the more urgent, since the rate of destruction of the environment is compounding by the minute. The change has to be realized fast, otherwise our future generations may be in a serious danger. A direction for further research is therefore clearly indicated. It is the responsibility of the university that its scholars from various disciplines join together in an effort to lay down a strategy for the change of the framework of beliefs. And an effective way to achieve that is by looking back at history to see how the previous change of framework were possible.


The reasons behind such complete change of belief lie primarily on the policies of Thai élites who have seen the need of the country to "develop." In the past three or four decades the word "patthana" ("development") has been the most potent word in Thai vocabulary. Anything, any action, it seems, must be geared toward contributing to "development." It is used universally to justify every action, every research proposal, every project asking for government money, and so on. It seems that the need for development is the most dominant need of the country, and if any action happens to block this movement, such action will be branded "evil," or even "irrational." Hence, it is apparent that the Thai planners were completely successful in getting Thai people to see the need for development. This is pervasive in each Thai's thinking, and right now it is extremely hard for a Thai not to think in the same framework. So a question naturally arises. What if we try to model this complete change and try to instill in the minds of Thai people, not this mantra of "material development", but the more gentle one of "sustainable development"? This won't mean that we all turn away from development, but the problem is how to develop in such a way that the world's resources do not exhaust itself before our very eyes.

This change of belief system cannot be accomplished piecemeal. Every section of the society has to be involved, in the same way as the need for material development is now pervasive in every atom of Thai life. We need to accomplish the same feat for sustainable development. That is, the idea of sustainable development has to be ingrained in the mind of each Thai instead of the current one of blind material growth. History tells us that in the case of Thailand, the change of belief system toward material development stemmed from the élites who lay down the policies. The total control they had over Thai people meant that the change was highly effective in only a short period of time. This has been evident in each aspect of Thai life. For example, the entire educational system of the country can be regarded as a huge propaganda machine aiming at instilling the belief that the sole objective of the country is material development. Students are being taught that Thailand needs to develop and develop, sometimes without pausing to think what to develop for. This educational policy did not occur spontaneously, but was carefully planned by the Thai policy planners. This educational system is the reason why it is extremely difficult for Thai people to break away from this thinking habit, and so the task of breaking it becomes much more difficult.

Hence, in order to accomplish the same entire change, the first thing we need to do is to change the minds of the policy forming élites, who are technocrats employed in various government agencies. This is so because in Thailand each policy statement is issued from the minds of these people. Thus if these élites see things in the right way, then the task will become much smoother. In short, these people need to be brought to see things in the new light. They need to see the truth that material development does not lead to survival. This task of reorienting the belief system has to be performed by the universities, which might form a program aiming at informing these people, or it might arrange workshops or seminars aiming at point out the necessity of the new system to these planners so that they become aware of the serious problems facing each of us. Scholars should be active in publishing books advocating the need for sustainable development. If these élites are reasonable enough, they will be taken to see the point that material development alone leads to annihilation. And if they see the truth they will act on their own at forming policies which put the highest priority on sustainable development above all else, which is all the more desirable.

However, for the change to be completely realized, not only Thailand has to effect it, but each country in the world has to renounce the idea of material development to satisfy material demands and embrace the ideas of sustainable development. If each country acts alone for sustainable development and turn away even a little from blind material acquisition, it stands the risk of being left behind in the get rich fast game. The point is that each country of the world has to renounce the game altogether, and help each other toward a cleaner, safer, more sustainable world. That is, the new game has to be adopted by all members of the world community. To let only a group of countries play the new game alone is futile, and will not solve the problem in any way.

The aim cannot limit itself to the policy forming élites; in fact each member of the Thai society needs to see the necessity of sustainable development. Otherwise the policies advocated might not be accepted and might even be resisted. Everyone needs to see the need for the new system. More importantly, the younger generations must be made aware of the problems facing them, and they need to see that development must be sustainable. If the task of reorienting the existing élites looks to daunting and difficult, our hope for the future lies in the minds of our younger generations. However, we need to wage our campaign on both fronts. On the one hand, the existing élites need to see things in the right way, since they are holding the power to effect the change now; on the other, our younger generations should adopt the new belief system from the beginning so that the change be sustained and permanent.

Skeptics, on the contrary, might argue that the attempt to change the belief system is only a fantasy and cannot be realized concretely, since it is such a large scale undertaking. But the fact that a task is difficult to do does not imply that it is impossible to do, and the obvious point is that this very same kind of change in belief systems actually occurred in history, so it is not impossible. The previous change from the old paradigms of respecting nature to the current one of exploiting her did not occur spontaneously, but stemmed from the intentions of Thai leaders who saw it as a means toward preserving Thai sovereignty from the colonial powers. The planners saw the necessity of the new paradigm and tried to bring it about to Thai society. Now, as the necessity for sustainable development is even more apparent, the planners need to see this and try in every way to make it concretely happen that sustainable development supplants material development as the dominant paradigm of Thai thinking. The policy forming power is in their hands, so is the future and survival of Thai people.

The preceding words point to the need for change of belief system. And since the university has the direct role in education, that is, changing the belief system of the people, I shall outline some brief concrete strategies of what the university can do in the next section. In order for any kind of action to be possible at all, the agent has to see first that the action leads to desired goal. So if each member of Thai society sees the need and necessity for sustainable development, everything desirable will certainly follow. The question now: What must the university do in order to contribute to the change?


Considering the options the university can take in order to respond to the challenges facing the society at large, such as poverty, crime, unemployment, environmental pollution, and pondering how the university could respond to these challenges, the President of Harvard University, Derek Bok, remarks:

The persistence of major domestic problems presents universities with a very different challenge. If we are serious in wishing to overcome these problems, we will need the active concern and participation of a great many able and committed citizens. This fact has implications for every segment of higher education. At the undergraduate level, the liberal arts curriculum already provides much of the breadth needed to help students think seriously about important social issues. Political philosophy, economic analysis, history, sociology, and political science all offer perspectives and methods with which to explore such large questions. It is not necessary to supplement these offerings with courses specifically directed at low-income housing, welfare programs, or other domestic problems. Such material is likely to grow dated rapidly and thus fail to impart a lasting foundation of useful knowledge. What is more important is to discover ways to imbue undergraduates with a sense of commitment and civic concern that will cause them to devote their talents in later life to addressing important social problems. [7]

Bok's point is also pertinent to problems of glabal nature, not just domestic ones, and it is especially so in the case of Thailand, where the tradition of independent thinking has not taken a firm root. The power of thought, as Bok says, is necessary for "the sense of commitment and civic concern" which are essential for any kind of change. The thinking skill and visions developed in the classrooms will contribute greatly to the change toward better society, since they enable the students to see things from a wide perspective and to imagine situations which could lead to catastrophe if some lines of arguments and actions were taken. This would not be possible if the students' vision is limited only to the immediate, only to the present need of acceptance or of their own jobs. In order for the students to be able to think independently and imaginatively, then, the university is directly responsible in developing programs designed expressly for the purpose. It is for the interest of the country of Thailand that the university take this responsibility seriously, for its students will become leaders in their fields, and the conceptions and skills they study in the university will remain with them throughout their lives. Thus, an outline strategy toward realizing the change for a sustainable form of life is given below:

First of all university teachers need to see teaching as one of their most important missions in life, and they need to see that research and teaching have to go together. The importance of teaching for students who will become leaders cannot be overemphasized. It is essential for a permanent change of belief system. A good teacher will have a lasting effect in the minds of a student throughout his or her life. A good teacher is not only capable of transmitting knowledge and information clearly, but more importantly he or she must possess the skill of thinking creatively and critically and is always ready to impart this skill to the students. This would not be possible if the teacher were not actively engaged in independent research. The reason is that conducting research shows that the teacher is actually creative and critical, which translates into engaged and lively teaching. A teacher who merely rehearses old knowledge without giving careful thought into the subject matter cannot be a good teacher, and will not be effective toward molding the students to become thinkers. A teacher who does not think can't teach how to think.

Secondly, university teachers have to be adequately qualified. This seems obvious, but at Chulalongkorn this point has often been overlooked. It is well recognized that the success of any organization, Chulalongkorn University included, depends most crucially on the quality of its personnel. Hence Chulalongkorn has to pay a careful attention to the problem of qualification of its personnel, especially its faculty members. Strong incentives have to be present to attract and maintain quality personnel. But more importantly there must be programs in which faculty members are forced to prove themselves academically. This might be in form of the American tenure system, or periodic evaluations and reviews of a faculty's performance. It goes without saying that if the quality of the personnel is not up to standard, all the suggestions and ideas in this paper will not be realizable.

Thirdly, a university program should be set up which deals exclusively with the need for sustainable development. The program will serve as a central point for researchers from various disciplines to work together on the topic of sustainable development, and will also serve as a starting point for creating the change of belief system for the community. Cooperation among the various disciplines has to be emphasized. Scholars from the humanities, social sciences, and physical sciences have to join hands, try to understand one another, and speak a common language. The program will then facilitate the work of scholars and coordinate the dissemination of the results of their studies for the wider public. The program should be the research center on this topic in the university, and it should not focus exclusively on either the humanities, social sciences or physical sciences.

Fourthly, a central interdisciplinary policy think tank organization for sustainable development should be established to serve as a center for policy reorientation for the country. An obvious benefit of the organization is that it will act as a think tank whose focus is reorienting the policy direction of the country. Government officials who are responsible for policy formation will also benefit from the new thinking proposed by scholars, and even by knowledgeable government officials themselves. The institution is where government officials who are directly engaged in public policy and university scholars who stand outside as objective spectators get together to exchange views and results of studies. It is aimed that the overall effect of such interaction is greater awareness on each party involved on the need for sustainable development.

Fifthly, an interdisciplinary curriculum leading to an undergraduate major in environment studies and ecology should be set up. The teaching program should be open to all interested students regardless of their background. Since the major premise of sustainable development is that everything is interconnected, it would be hypocritical to restrict a group of students on this ground. So the curriculum aims at creating graduates who are aware of the problems of the environment and who possess strong critical and creative thinking ability. This can be accomplished by studying across familiar disciplines. For example, a student with a scientific background has to read and discuss creative literature which reflect human problems of the environment, and a humanistic student has to study enough mathematics and other scientific methodologies to understand the inner workings of the environment. It is aimed that the students become opinion leaders who will realize the change of the belief system.

Finally, the university itself must act as a role model for better environment; it must set itself as an exemplar for the outside community that the idea of sustainable development is not a fantasy. This is one of the most important things the university can do. The university has to set itself as a role model for the society, and in fact it can do much toward raising the awareness of the need for sustainable development in the public. Instances of what it can do abound. For example, since the university consumes a huge amount of paper each year, a way needs to be found to recycle the paper so that more trees do not need to be cut down. A recycling plant which collects used documents, exams, and other kinds of paper to process into new paper can be set up by the university, or it can contract private recycling firms to do the job. Another example is energy conservation. The university should research for ways to make its energy use most effective. Since Thailand has abundant sunshine, solar cells should be installed on buildings throughout the university to convert solar energy into electricity. This research on and utilization of solar energy will go a long way toward saving precious fossil fuel which is currently used to produce electricity. These and other examples which could be raised will help save the environment, and certainly the university has the brain, manpower and resource to realize them now. The catch is whether it has enough determination to do so.


I have tried to show that the change for sustainable development would not be possible if the entire system of assumptions, preconditions, premises, foundational beliefs, and so on did not change. A new way of thinking is needed, and is outlined in the essay. Since the crux of the matter lies in the ways of thinking, the ways of viewing the world, it is the direct task of the university to be the leader, the primary agent for the change. In order for the change to be actually effected, the university has to search for clues from history, and try to find out how entire changes of belief systems were possible, so that a chart for the change for the newly proposed system could be drawn without retracing old steps. I also suggested six ways which the university could follow to realize the idea presented here. And I showed that one of the most effective ways of achieving the change is through teaching, not in the old sense of teaching "fixed bodies of knowledge" as Derek Bok says, [8] but in the sense of inspiring students to have inquiring and critical minds. [9]