The Yellowstone Seminar offers faculty members at AASCU institutions a set of experiences, materials and insights to teach students about how conflicts are adjudicated, managed and resolved in a democracy. Through this Yellowstone Seminar, part of AASCU’s American Democracy Project, faculty members learn new approaches to preparing the next generation of informed, engaged citizens for our democracy. Studying conflict management and resolution contributes substantially to developing skills of citizenship: listening to the views of others; presenting arguments for your own position; engaging in dialogue and deliberation, using critical thinking, seeking common ground rather than polarized positions, etc. However, citizenship skills are also workforce and career skills for the 21st century. These are skills that help students prepare to be fully engaged both as citizens in a democracy and as participants in a global economy.
Throughout the United States, but especially in the West, the question of who will control public lands is a hotly debated topic. The public lands of the West, including national parks, forests, grazing, and prairie lands, are all sites of controversy. The major points of contention are inevitably over use of the public resources. Timber, mining, oil and gas producers, developers, farmers, ranchers, hunters, business owners, recreational users, and environmentalists are all groups who assert claims to influence and use public lands. Yet whose interests have primacy? And in a democracy, how should the interests of all of these groups be addressed and resolved?
For the past 11 summers, faculty representatives from participating AASCU institutions have spent a week in Yellowstone National Park with our partner, the Yellowstone Association, studying controversies about wolves, bison, snowmobiles, and grizzlies. To date, more than 180 faculty members from more than 80 campuses have participated in the program. Each summer, the week-long program begins with study of the science and history of the controversies, listening to scientists and park rangers. Then at the end of the week, the faculty participants travel beyond the park boundaries to interview local citizens on both sides of the issues, including political activists, business people, environmentalists and ranchers, as well as representatives from organizations that represent various stakeholders. Faculty then return to their campuses to design programs for students, some focused on the controversies in the Yellowstone ecosystem, others focused on local public land and resource issues.
The 2016 Yellowstone Seminar focuses on controversies over bison, wolves, snowmobiles and grizzlies. The Seminar examines scientific findings, the history of the controversies, and stakeholder responses as we explore how conflict gets managed and resolved in a democracy. In addition, this coming summer we will introduce work that is underway to create a new national course, currently being built by a collaboration of faculty members from different campuses, along with instructional designers, videographers, graphic designers, and other content experts, organized as a not-for-profit initiative through AASCU. Once finished, the course will be made widely available for use on AASCU campuses throughout the United States. AASCU has already created a rich repository of materials, including more than 25 stakeholder interviews, as well as a robust collection of other resources. In addition, we have entered into an agreement with the National Park Service (NPS), which will make available many of the NPS resources for use in the course. Additionally, through our agreement, the National Park Service will offer free access to national parks to students enrolled in this new course.
Over the past ten years, faculty participants in the Yellowstone Seminar have developed a variety of projects and activities for their own students. For example, in 2007, a group of participants created a documentary entitled Mammoth to Mammoth about this initiative. A number of former participants have created their own unique programs in Yellowstone for their own undergraduates. Students led by former Yellowstone Seminar participants have come to Yellowstone during the summer, in fall and spring sessions, and in winter. They have come for as little as three days, and as long as two weeks. Many of the faculty program developers use the services of the Yellowstone Association to assist them as they design and execute their programs. Many other former Yellowstone Seminar participants have created programs on their own campuses and in their own regions about public lands or public resource issues, modeling their program on the Yellowstone Seminar experience. In 2010, the Stewardship of Public Lands: A Handbook for Educators monograph was released, detailing the work of the AASCU institutions as they explore the various issues surrounding the controversies over public lands. This monograph is available for purchase on the AASCU website (see Resources, below).