Green Mountain College's False Environmentalism: Why Is GMC Killing Its Mascots?

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Ten years ago, oxen Bill and Lou arrived at Green Mountain College, malnourished and neglected. The college offered the pair "considerate and humane care," and for the next ten years, the college considered Bill and Lou to be "de facto campus mascots and integral members of the farm crew."

Recently, Lou suffered an injury, and despite treatments and prolonged rest, he was unable to go back to work. His friend Bill refused to work with anyone else. Fortunately, VINE farm animal sanctuary has offered a loving home for the pair -- at no expense to the college.

Sadly, though, Green Mountain College is committed to slaughtering and eating its beloved "campus mascots and integral members of the farm crew." Even more curiously, the college has tried to argue that killing and eating Bill and Lou is best for them.

First, with no evidence at all, the college claims that "transition to a new setting will be difficult for them." In our experience, which goes back more than 25 years and involves thousands of animals, this is simply untrue; consistently, farm animals quickly acclimate to their new setting and new friends. The college's preferred alternative -- taking them to a slaughterhouse and slicing their throats open -- makes its claim nothing short of bizarre (and places the school in the ignoble company of the U.S. military official who said about the Vietnamese village of Ben Tre: "It became necessary to destroy the town to save it").

While the college now claims that Bill and Lou's interests were "a paramount concern in the dialogue," the first news stories made clear that when the college came to its decision, the only two options considered were: 1) Kill and eat them; or 2) Incur "the cost of feeding, watering, sheltering and providing medical service for the animals." The school chose to sacrifice Bill and Lou's interests in favor of the school's.

So the question now is: Why, with the new offer of a lifelong home for Bill and Lou, won't the college reopen the discussions? Their official statement says that "Bill and Lou, when processed for meat, will yield over one ton of beef... If sent to a sanctuary, Bill and Lou would continue to consume resources at a significant rate." In other words, they're killing Bill and Lou: 1) for economics; and 2) for "the environment."

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.

Environmentalism is a "unifying theme" of Green Mountain College's entire curriculum. The school says that it "fosters the ideals of environmental responsibility... and lifelong intellectual, physical, and spiritual development." But as the college surely teaches in its classrooms, true environmentalism is holistic; a real environmental ethic must consider our world's flora and fauna as inherently valuable, rather than as simply a means to human ends. Surely the school doesn't teach its students that the only reason to care about the environment is so that it can be here for humans to enjoy.

But that is precisely the message Green Mountain College is sending by its actions if it refuses the offer of a lifelong home for Bill and Lou, with no honest consideration given to what's best for them.

Sometimes, doing what at first seems most rational turns out to be, in retrospect, simply wrong. One of the beautiful things about a liberal arts education is that there is room for nuance, for considering new information, and for changing one's mind. Green Mountain's original decision to slaughter and eat Bill and Lou involved whether to slaughter them or to incur "the cost of feeding, watering, sheltering and providing medical service for the animals." Now, there is a sanctuary that would like to offer lifelong care for Bill and Lou, at no expense to Green Mountain.

The college should not focus its decision purely on what's in it for the college -- a few months of free meat. Surely the needs and desires of Bill and Lou should be a part of its calculation. These are two individuals who have served Green Mountain for a decade, and for whom slaughter and consumption would be a tragic betrayal. Is there any doubt about what they want here?

At Farm Sanctuary, we are calling on Green Mountain College to teach its students the value of humility, caring, reconsidering decisions when new information comes in, and decision-making that transcends a utilitarian analysis that sees animals as valuable only if they can provide for some human physiological need.

Green Mountain College should consider Bill and Lou's interests, and then allow them to live out their remaining days with new friends at VINE farm animal sanctuary.

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