Earth Day 2018 fell on Sunday, April 22, and was celebrated by Webster University in St. Louis the entire week following. Thus, RCC President and CEO, Dr. Robert K. Musil, was able to make his second consecutive appearance (following High Point University that celebrated before Earth Day) as the main Earth Week speaker at Webster. RCC’s Musil spent the week in residence at Webster as a Woodrow Wilson Visiting Fellow, a program of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) that brings outstanding professionals with important career experience to campuses nationwide.
During her introduction to Musil’s campus-wide speech, Webster University President, Beth Stroble, who also serves on the Board of Directors of CIC, quipped, “Bob may have set a world record for campus appearances in a single week,” reeling off four major speeches, thirteen classes taught, numerous meetings at breakfast, lunch and, dinner, an appearance on St. Louis’s main talk show, the CBS affiliate KMOX, a newspaper interview, a tour of sustainability facilities, and more.
Webster, which turned 100 years old in 2015, has plenty to see with over 17,000 students spread over its historic St. Louis campus and at its international campuses that offer American-style education in places like Amsterdam, Leiden, Vienna, Geneva, Athens, Accra, Bangkok and Shanghai. Under President Stroble, Webster has also seen an increased emphasis on sustainability including a new East Academic Building (EAB) where Dr. Musil spoke that is LEEDs Gold certified.
Dr. Musil’s main campus lecture, “Rachel Carson’s Legacy: Can We Still Save the Environment?” filled the EAB hall and was followed by a book signing and reception. In his remarks, Musil noted that Rachel Carson’s legacy combines careful, cutting-edge science with a sense of awe, wonder and empathy for her fellow creatures and fellow human beings. Carson was also concerned about the ecological connections between issues and drew no distinction between the dangers of pesticides and other toxic chemicals, nuclear weapons, testing and wastes, global warming, or the horrors of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs), or factory farms. Referring to his interview on the Charlie Brennan show on KMOX, Musil told his audience that Carson even had connections to the anti-nuclear movement and the work of biologist Barry Commoner whose studies of Strontium-90 in baby’s teeth were carried out at nearby Washington University.
Musil stressed, especially to students, that Carson wrote at a time when rivers were burning, nuclear weapons were being tested in the atmosphere, pesticides were sprayed needlessly and ubiquitously, and the Eisenhower Administration was rolling back the environmental and conservation gains of the time and removing environmentally-friendly heads of agencies and replacing them with friends of polluting industries. Her response? Not only Silent Spring, but also active participation in the environmental and political movements of the late 50s and early 60s. Carson campaigned for both Adlai Stevenson and John F. Kennedy and worked closely with Kennedy, his environmentalist Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall, and spoke out against corporate fake science. Faced with similar environmental threats and opposition to science and environmentalists today, Musil urged his audience to become engaged, both on and off campus, in the world of policy and politics.
In addition to his main Webster speech, Dr. Musil also spoke, read from his current books, and signed copies of them at the St. Louis Public Library, the Novel Neighbors Bookstore, and at the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS), one of the oldest nature study societies in the nation. At WGNSS, Musil traced Rachel Carson’s love of nature and the environment to her mother’s education and interest in the early nature study movement and the widely used curriculum by Anna Botsford Comstock, the first female professor at Cornell University. Musil then traced the lineage of women before Carson who promoted a love of nature and read from his book, Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment Musil then also read from his own nature book with photos, Washington in Spring: A Nature Journal for a Changing Capital, It describes two recent springtimes in Washington and the effects of climate change as Musil follows and writes in the footsteps of earlier, well-known nature writers like Carson, John Burroughs, Florence Merriam Bailey, and others who described spring in the capital.
During his week at Webster, RCC’s Musil also met with local activists concerned with the St. Louis nuclear waste site at the Westlake Landfill and taught a range of classes including: women and environmental law, race and ethnicity, environmental ethics, women and nature, business and sustainability, teaching sustainability studies, environmental justice and cultural anthropology, global social problems, and nursing and global climate change.
Following Dr. Musil’s Earth Week stay, some 200 people joined the RCC activist network and Webster University became the forty-eighth college to affiliate with the Rachel Carson Council Campus Network (RCCN).