TOTTORI – A university established by local governments but to be run by the private sector will open its doors here in April to foster a new generation of environmental experts.
Tottori University of Environmental Studies will initially have only one college — the College of Environmental Information, with a student body of 324.
The college will have three schools: the school of environmental policy, with 166 students, the school of environmental design with 79 and the school of information systems, also with 79.
The university is the fruit of a 30-year effort by Tottori Prefecture to have Japan’s first institution of higher learning devoted solely to environmental studies.
The prefectural government and the Tottori municipal office have provided funds for the university in a bid to stem the exodus of young people from the nation’s least populated prefecture.
The city first came up with the idea of establishing the university in 1972 and finally set the plan in motion 25 years later together with the prefectural government.
The university’s first president, Hisataka Kato, is a pioneer of a new academic discipline called applied ethics, which covers ethical questions in the personal, corporate and environmental spheres.
Kato, a former professor in the graduate school of Kyoto University, wants the new center of learning to bring together the disciplines of science and literature to nurture students who are skillful in handling environmental issues.
Students at the university, he said, will “study moves in outer space and forest ecology. At the same time, they will study accounting and bookkeeping.” Talented people trained in both science and literature will address Japan’s environmental problems, he said.
Kato initially aspired to become a philosopher, studying Georg W. F. Hegel’s works to judge the merits of Marxism. What he learned in the process was that even if he fully understood Hegel, he could not fully grasp modern society.
Kato then turned to the new subject of applied ethics. When he was offered the post of university president four years ago, he accepted on one condition: establishment of a day-care center on the campus to ensure there were no barriers to women participating in the university.
Kato said he was prepared to look after the children himself if no other helpers were available while their mothers studied, audited classes or worked at the university.
He also rebelled against university authorities a year ago over an order it placed with a company to design the university’s logo.
Complaining that the 8 million yen spent on the logo was too much and wondering whether there was any irregularity involved, he faxed the media to say he would refuse to accept the presidential post.
In ensuing talks with Tottori Gov. Yoshihiro Katayama, Kato agreed to stay on and the university foundation agreed to publicly recruit people interested in making the logo.
Recalling his action, Kato said it was probably not reasonable but he noted that since then, staff had become involved in helping to create the university.
Referring to Japanese students’ attitudes, he decried the use of cellphones and smoking cigarettes in public. He said students would be taught that a fundamental concept in environmental ethics is that people should cherish open public spaces.
Those concerned with the establishment of the university initially had concerns about whether it could attract students.
Kato and university foundation officials have been busy visiting high schools in various prefectures to pitch the new university. Toru Sakade, secretary general of the foundation, said about 3,000 high school students have expressed interest in applying.
Some high school teachers have expressed doubts about the immediate outlook for the university, saying students prefer to study either in national or public universities.
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