Imagine you're an ox who lives in Vermont on a lovely farm at a college with a 14:1 student-to-staff ratio. You receive lots of individual attention. You look good in a fetching profile photo on the farm's Facebook page. You have a best buddy named Bill who refuses to work without you around. The man who feeds you and scratches your chin when signaled just called you "beautiful" right in front of an NPR reporter.
Is this retirement? Paradise? No, the yoke's on you. Your gimpy ankle betrayed you in a gopher hole and now you're bound for the college cafeteria, your fate sealed by this "environmental liberal arts" college's damn pledge not to destroy the whole planet.
That college is Green Mountain College in Poultney, Vt. The school's oxen, Lou and Bill, are still set to be slaughtered, but the students who have adopted the oxen as de facto mascots didn't think the animals' deaths would come soon as next week. They certainly didn't think they'd have to eat them.
If the story sounds dramatic or even over-dramatic, that's because it is, depending on whom you ask. To the 4,000-plus people who signed an online petition to save Bill and Lou, this is bullshit. Why should the oxen die? Especially if VINE, a super-reputable animal sanctuary nearby, has offered to take care of Lou and Bill at no cost to the college, according to NPR?
Bruce Friedrich, director of a farm animal protection organization, took to The Huffington Post's blog last week to make this case, saying Green Mountain College was callous and chained to a system of thought that values efficiency and environmentalism over the humanities and liberal arts it purports to support:
In making this cold and severely utilitarian calculation, the college violates its founding principles, the liberal arts values it claims to follow, and true environmentalism. While the college's analysis makes sense from a strictly utilitarian vantage that denies animals' worth beyond what they can do for human beings, it makes no sense at all if one grants that Bill and Lou have an interest in their own lives. Basically, the college is saying that unless they can do something for humans, Bill and Lou's lives are totally without value.
Answering to criticism, Green Mountain Provost William Throop told the Burlington Free Press, “We run a model, sustainable farm that integrates animal and vegetable production for the dining hall and community-supported agriculture.”
To administrators and students who support that vision, this is simply what sustainability tastes like. Oxen work the fields that feed students and they are processed into food when they can no longer do their work. Everyone pulls his own weight, it's just best not to ask for whom the diner bell tolls.