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Open Letter to Parents of Green Mountain College Students

By now, you have probably heard about the controversy concerning the impending slaughter of de facto campus mascots, Bill and Lou, 11 year-old oxen who have been denied the chance to live out their retirement at a sanctuary. What you may not know is that the process by which the decision to kill Bill and Lou was made in a manner that endangered student well-being at Green Mountain College and has diminished the value of a Green Mountain College degree.

There’s a reason that the drinking age is 21.  The frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex—the part of the brain responsible for assessing the consequences of actions—hasn’t finished growing until then. Teen-agers are literally unable to accurately estimate the consequences of drinking several shots of liquor in succession. Why would we ask them to accurately estimate the consequences of killing two animals? No responsible parent would ask a teen-ager to determine whether to euthanize a family pet, leaving them with the emotional burden of a life-or-death decision. And, certainly, no responsible parent would ask a teen-ager to make such a decision while withholding vital information relevant to that decision.

But that’s exactly what has happened at Green Mountain College. Immature students have been asked to decide the fate of these animals and to live with the emotional burden of so doing. Furthermore, students have been unwittingly steered toward the “kill” decision. Now that a small subset of students have made the decision to kill, all students have been subjected to heavy peer, faculty, and even administrative pressure to support that decision.

The consequences will be significant. Of course, the oxen themselves will pay the highest price, losing out on years of peace, ease, and friendship at an animal sanctuary. But the school and the students also will suffer.

Animal Welfare at Green Mountain College

All of the school’s students—not just the small sub-set who made the decision to kill and have since claimed that they speak for the entire student body—will have to live with the emotional reverberations of killing two beloved animals who did not want to die, deliberately depriving them of the free retirement home in defiance of a literally worldwide cry for mercy.

All students—including students who cared for Bill and Lou and did not want them to die—will have to grapple with the emotions of seeing “Bill and Lou burgers” on the menu at the school cafeteria.

Those students who do eat hamburgers will be expected—for several months—to consume 11 year-old oxen meat, which will be technically edible, but not at all palatable. Meat is muscle. As they age, muscles become more striated. They become even more so if the muscles are used strenuously, as those of work oxen have been. This will be stringy, grisly meat of the kind usually used in pet food.

All of which is to say, we expect significant crying and retching in the cafeteria on the first day that those burgers are served. And then what? The students who made the decision should be ethically obligated to consume that one ton of barely edible meat. But will they? If not, what then?

Students did not anticipate that likely outcome not only because of their age but also because they were provided with biased “information” in the deliberation process. The faculty member who conceived of the idea of killing the oxen slanted the information given to students in order to favor that decision. After the original decision was protested, other faculty members stepped in to protect students from information from outside sources, thereby steering them toward confirming the original decision.

The actions of these faculty members, and the shoddy reasoning in the rationales they have put forward for the slaughter, have significantly lowered Green Mountain College’s reputation within academia. This will lower the value of your child’s degree. Both publicly and privately, prestigious scholars in relevant fields have urged the Provost and President to reconsider the decision, or at least stop claiming that it is in any way consistent with environmental ethics or respect for animal welfare.

Pictures of animal cruelty at Green Mountain College are circulating online, further lowering the reputation of the school. National media stories and an online video feature Green Mountain College students making callous comments and offering illogical rationales for the killing. All of these are evidence that Green Mountain College teaches callousness toward animals while failing to teach students basic skills such as how to construct a rational argument without falling into fallacy.

Grave concerns about animal welfare at the college have emerged in the course of this controversy. Concerns about the academic credibility of the school’s farm program—which is managed by a faculty member with scant experience and no relevant degrees—also have arisen. All of this evidence will be brought up to challenge the accreditation of the college if it does not act immediately and affirmatively to review and improve its animal welfare policies.

If your student is in the farm program, you should know: She or he is not receiving instruction consistent with 21st century animal welfare policies. She or he is being instructed by a farm manager who lacks academic credentials in the area of agriculture, animal science, or any other related field. She or he is learning out-dated techniques and stereotyped ideas rather than the innovative ideas and practices endorsed by actual experts in the field of sustainable agriculture.

Use your voice as a tuition-paying parent. Tell the President of Green Mountain College to issue an immediate reprieve for Bill and Lou, allowing them to retire to VINE Sanctuary. Demand a thorough review of the farm program, with particular attention to the credentials of staff members charged with the responsibility of teaching students how to care for animals. Whatever your son or daughter might believe, ask that the school respect the rights of all students, protecting those with minority views from bullying and refraining from subjecting minors to the stress of making life-or-death decisions.

Sincerely,

pattrice jones

Cofounder, VINE Sanctuary

p.s. If your child is a vegan or simply feels sympathy for animals, you should know: She or he may have been bullied or subjected to intense peer pressure at Green Mountain College. You may want to check in about that. If your child is one of the many former vegetarians now saying that they will be happy to eat Bill and Lou, you may want to inquire about the process by which she has been led to set her previous ideals and ideas aside in favor of those of the farm manager and his crew.

196 comments to Open Letter to Parents of Green Mountain College Students

  • Steve

    I have been trying to understand the peculiar dogmatism of GMC and, in addition to run of the mill privilege, we may be dealing with a trivialized form of food sovereignty combined with stereotypical echo chamber dynamics.

    I notice a recurring assertion of we discussed it and put it to a vote, as if that is the end of the discussion. Majorities and justice are not identical of course, but we may be dealing with a more pernicious assumption of local control. They belong to us, they serve us and we decide what to do with our resources. More decadent libertarianism. The problem is that ethics cannot be determined with a vote and the students seem to be too poorly educated to have a sustained ethical discussion and thus to make important ethical decisions. The program’s ethics seem limited to carbon and eating good stuff but do not include obligation to another (irrespective of species), fair compensation and even kindness to those who labor for us, self-abnegation, paying your debts, compassion and generosity. Ethics without values and defined locally to boot.

    Echo chambers share characteristics and dynamics. People speak in shorthand and affirm each other in contrast to a common enemy (in this case factory farms). They lose the ability to think in a sustained manner and become smug in claiming superiority to their common foe (a low bar with factory farms but not easy if the point of comparison is a vegan who would consider the program carbon belching cruelty). Confrontation outside the chamber reveals the shallowness of the thinking and the inability to lay out premises over and above bald assertion, repetition and new age or eco claptrap to cover the absence of serious ethical grounding. We hear sustainability, symbiosis, closing the loop, honoring the animal you eat etc. but there is nothing behind these platitudes. The more they talk the deeper the hole becomes. There seems to be a degree of shock that GMC is becoming an object of national contempt and that is indicative of living in a bubble as well.

    Best to let GMC speak for itself. They serve us! They serve me! This is agriculture! Work em till you can’t work em any more. Me Me Me.

    http://www.causes.com/causes/644857-let-s-turn-facebook-orange-for-animal-cruelty-awareness/actions/1696966

  • Marty

    I agree with Jo and of course VINE, why I started reading and writing when I found this posted on FB. No college student I know, here at UAF, my nieces or nephews nationwide or friends or their parents would write with such contempt and language as some from GMC and their patents have posted here. Tom, you are of late to the discussion and what you’re criticizing Pattrice and VINE of I would say should be directed at GMC, as a graduate. You appear to defend with not enough factual evidence yourself but hearsay.

    Will animal slaughter and consumption ever stop? Probably not. That isn’t the issue here, but the reason for slaughtering Bill and Lou. Bill and Lou it appears weren’t raised and kept for human consumption but for teaching how to use oxen as work animals. The question is why is slaughtering Lou and Bill become the only option chosen? One of the original letters I read in the beginning as a response from a GMC faculty member stated that it would cost too much to continue feeding and caring for Bill and Lou, aside from providing meals for their students. I imagine the age of Bill and Lou hadn’t been thought of as palatable meat to consume, let alone by retiring them to a sanctuary GMC would no longer have to pay for their care.

    I will state again, this could be a win-win situation for GMC and Bill and Lou, instead of the opposite. If the win-win position of GMC is that it will attract more students who from testimony here represent what candidates they accept, teach and graduate, I encourage the Faculty of GMC as Jo, Patttice and many other scholars have stated, review their policies. I presume again, more money has been offered for sending Bill and Lou to VINE, $100K+ than GMC would raise by itself.

  • pattrice

    Just fyi, here’s a link to a public access TV show we appeared on, to discuss the situation, about a week ago:

    http://blip.tv/for-the-animals/99-green-mt-college-animal-abuse-6420752

    (The producer chose the name for the episode, so please don’t blame us for that.)

  • Real-Life Farmer

    The responses from those who claim to be students of GMC, alumni of GMC, and/or parents of GMC students are shocking to me in their arrogance, ignorance & rudeness. These responses are serving only to disprove their assertions that those who attend GMC are intellectual and mature. They actually sound rather like whiny children whose jolly little game of Kill the Animals and Call it Education has been disrupted by the outside world stumbling onto the truths of their cult, er, campus. GMC will never be able to live this down, and its reputation as an educational institution, which is already plummeting, is only going to further tank, because the more the GMC defenders protest & attempt to justify, the more they reveal about their own lack of character and about the sorry excuse for an education that GMC provides. So at least something good may come of this debacle – two (more) innocent animals will likely die, but at least the appalling practices which GMC apparently believes to be (or at least refers to as) education and/or sustainable farming are being exposed to the world. And the students of GMC are being given an unique opportunity to learn something by listening and giving thoughtful responses to opinions that differ from theirs – at least those students who are not 22 and therefore way too mature to respond in any substantive way at all, or those who are alumni & therefore are officially both more mature & intellectual than anyone else out there, or those who automatically dismiss all non-kill opinions, even those from “Cities” and “Europe” (those bastions of ignorance and backwardness). Of course, since the college itself is busy either not answering their phone or hanging up on callers, how can the students be expected to respond any more civilly?

  • JAH

    As a GMC faculty member, I feel compelled to respond to the charge that we practice “shoddy reasoning” or that we somehow steered students towards the outcome that we wanted. Although I personally support the decision to send Bill and Lou to slaughter, I believe that I can frame a class discussion that welcomes and challenges all perspectives. To suggest that my colleagues and I would put prefer to avoid engaging classroom dialogue in favor of some group think begs for a good bit of evidence on your part.

    Secondly, in response to your original letter, I feel comfortable responding from my own perspective, I wouldn’t presume to answer for the President of GMC (or anyone else for that matter).

    1. What about the scholarly principle of reconsidering new data? Certainly, this is the basis of the scientific method. But this isn’t strictly applicable here as new information doesn’t overturn existing information, but simply allows for additional discussion. Even still, if the decision regarding Bill and Lou was framed around sustainability and what would be appropriate for the farm, then this new information would have little bearing and need not be considered. If the question was what is best for Bill and Lou (assuming we know with high certainty what they want), then perhaps the VINE offer could be considered along with the other options.

    2. What about confirmation bias? I personally find this one difficult to respond to because it assumes that confirmation bias is only practiced by one faction who some believe are wrong. I think you can see the irony here.

    3. Should public opinion be ignored? I don’t think this is the right way to go about many decisions like this. Who amongst us as parents would like our authority over how to rear our children determined by anonymous democratic rule. Closer to this issue, we certainly wouldn’t want the majority of meat eaters on the planet to vote an end to veganism. More, I believe that we fundamentally disagree on what constitutes cruelty to animals in this example.

    4. Have the students been well-served in this process? I believe that they absolutely have been. Implying that the opinions of women students on campus (who are a majority by the way) are run roughshod over demands some evidence on your part. Drive by accusations such as this do little to advance civil discourse.

    5. What about callousness? Yes, farm animals such as Bill and Lou are work animals, there is no escaping this fact. Were they abused or mistreated? I suppose that this depends upon your definitions of abuse and mistreatment. I posted elsewhere that I think you would be hard pressed to find a more bucolic and peaceful place for any farm animal to live. The tool referred to is a crop not a whip, which may not mean much in this discussion, but there is a difference.

    6. What about authority? Multiple “authorities” have weighed in on this decision. I’ll trade you one ecocentric perspective for two animal welfare arguments…

    7. What is wrong with mercy? Nothing at all. And it is indeed a wonderful capability that humans have. I suppose the question is should mercy trump all else in this instance? I’m sure we can imagine scenarios in which mercy should not trump, but we can reasonably disagree on what those cases are.

    8. Are Lou and Bill objects? This probably gets at the core of most of the discussions. Are Bill and Lou entitled to either 1) special treatment because they served GMC for 10 years, or 2)the same treatment as humans being fellow sentient creatures? Personally, I don’t believe they are morally entitled to either. I don’t think it is accurate to say that Bill and Lou are being killed “just to make a point”. Bill and Lou are being slaughtered because among the range of options, this was considered to be the best choice among many different considerations: Lou’s welfare, Bill’s welfare, role of the farm, principles of sustainability, etc.

    9. Is this good for the college? I suppose time will tell on this one. But it certainly wasn’t publicity seeking as some posters have suggested. I have been proud and encouraged by the thoughtful discourse expressed by many of our students. I have likewise been appreciative of the respectful dialogue from folks not affiliated with GMC. My hope is that when enough time has passed, those who opposed the decision regarding Bill and Lou will join GMC and focus our collective energies on what I believe are more worthy targets.

  • pattrice

    Sailesh, that is a lovely article from an environmental ethics perspective.

  • Steve

    Pattrice,

    You have the patience of a saint and iron tenacity to put up with this tidal wave of rubbish. So far I have run into two thoughtful GMC posts but nowhere is found the distinction between food animals and work animals which, as you say, are often (and traditionally) retired to pasture. That is basic and historical.

    GMC, you have only yourself to blame if you are not showing to advantage. You are studying ideology not farming. And, BTW, I do not have to choose which manifestations of waste, ignorance, illogic or fraud to oppose. I am not limited to one choice. I can oppose all of them.

    Ban the word “sustainable” from your vocabulary for 6 months. Instead of using mental and linguistic shorthand (Newspeak) lay out the moral necessity that you are alluding to. Then it will be open to discussion.

    In all this outrage I have seen 1) we provided them with good lives, 2) not eating them would be a waste for the farm and 3) if we do not eat them we will have to buy meat from a CAFO.

    All three can be answered by surplus labor value because this is a matter of labor and ethics. Food is irrelevant. If you do not recognize the value of their work you are merely capital exploiting labor.

    1) We provided them with good lives. No, you do not provide life and they earned in excess of their keep working for you. Quit describing this as a one way street and then invoke interrelationships to justify eating them.
    2) Not eating them would be waste to the farm. No, you owe them surplus value of labor. Pay your tab.
    3) We either eat Bill and Lou or get meat from a CAFO. That is your problem not Bill and Lou’s. You owe them surplus value of labor so pay up and figure out your meat dilemma at your own expense.

    If this sounds Marxist it is. Because using a resource until it is infirm and eating it and only thinking about the good of “the farm” (the company, myself)is Capitalism. At least CAFOs do not drape themselves in the ideological clap trap of ethics and sustainability. They are what they are.

    People outside your affirmation bubble are up in arms because this reeks of ideological rigidity, pedantry, tokenism and ritualized murder. Instead of screaming, up your intellectual and ethical game. And realize that justice and majority rule are not identical. You made a decision and the world is free to criticize it. Meat may be local but ethical principles are not. You claim to be morally superior to CAFOs and practicing sustainable agriculture but this is academic hobby farming.

  • Rucio

    Fantastic, Steve — Thanks. I would add only that if the economic or moral (cheap meat for the masses) “necessity” of CAFOs is wrong, then so is that supposed for killing Bill and Lou (or any animal for our convenience or pleasure). As for “sustainability”, the desire for meat that leads some to small-farm grass-fed beef is exactly what justifies CAFOs. Meat used to be a rare indulgence, its regular consumption a sign of wealth. CAFOs democratized it. And so they must continue as a new elite insists on “happy healthy” meat and thereby reinforces the cultural imperatives that CAFOs serve.

  • Abby Li

    Have you spent any time on our farm? Have you come to our farm crew meetings and labored along side the oxen? You have no right to make claims about our practices and our animals until you have labored along side us, until you have become intamently and inextricably connected with the farm here at gmc. You make it abundantly clear that you want bill and lou at vine sanctuary I am proud that gmc refuses to allow you to use Bill and Lou to further your agenda, and no matter what senseless claims anyone makes against us I am proud to be a Green mountain college student

  • pattrice

    Abby,

    An interesting argument, this: “You have no right to make claims about our practices and our animals until you have labored along side us, until you have become intamently and inextricably connected with the farm here at gmc.”

    Under this reasoning, laws concerning humane treatment of animals, whether state or federal, should not apply to GMC because they were passed by lawmakers who have not labored alongside you and are not part of the farm community.

    Under this line of reasoning, nobody who is not part of your community has any right to critique the behaviors of your community. Can you see, maybe, when I express it so barely, that this is not a tenable position? Do I really have to draw the relevant analogies? If I do, you’ll accuse me of being mean to GMC. So, think for yourself: Are tight-knit communities inherently exempt from outside critique? Should they be allowed to do whatever they like to the beings under their control without outside interference or even criticism? Can you think of any times when it might be dangerous to say, “OK, since you’re all so close to each other, I guess whatever you decide to do to other beings is fine”?

    This reply has been back-dated so that it will appear directly below the comment to which it responds.

  • Lizzie

    I have a couple of things I want to discuss, however before I get into them i want to make it clear that I do come here to have some kind of witty, clever argument. I want straight forward answers. I want to understand.

    First, in regards to this letter. If you are so genuinely concerned about the well being of students, did you report bullying allegations to campus security? Also, while I do believe that Lou and Bill should be the focus of this argument, why were your concerns about the legitimacy of Green Mountain left out of initial arguments? It seems like there was a bit of tact lacking there. Marrying the two arguments could have been a lot more effective.

    Second, (and this is something that I have brought up with opposers before, however I haven’t been able to keep track of any responses) I feel there is a great deal of humility missing from the vegan side (I understand that this is generalizing but I don’t know how else to define in an eloquent way) of this debate. Simply refraining from eating animals and making use of animal based products does not remove anyone from the incredibly enmeshed lives human and non human animals live in together. Where does the wood in your (this is not to you directly, but to the collective opposers, however I would be interested in what you have to say personally to these questions) home come from? Was it harvested sustainably? By purchasing products made from unsustainably harvested wood, the purchaser is supporting the degradation of animal environments which leads in many cases to extinction. What about the rubber in your car’s tires or the materials that comprise the computer you use to respond to the numerous comments? Harvest/processing for these materials (and many many others) is also environmentally degrading, which leads to animals dying. Are those deaths forgotten because cars, furniture, and computers are thought of as necessary objects? I do recognize that it is a bit of an assumption on my part to suggest you may not have addressed these concerns personally, but I would be very interested to hear how you justify these decisions in your own life.

    In my opinion, the lack of humility adds to defensive responses in any situation. I am incredibly frustrated by people’s inability to accept responsibility and take ownership of their decisions. In more than one occasion, when voicing my opinion, it has been automatically assumed that I am a heartless, bloody mouthed meat eater when in reality I have not revealed the depths to which this controversy has made me reevaluate my food choices. I guess what I’m trying to get across is that students being told their school is incompetent is not going to leave them ready and willing to hear what you have to say. If your agenda is honestly to help Bill and Lou and promote a plant based diet, I imagine you would have better luck showing some humility yourself (again, the collective “you”, I apologize if my yous get messy).

  • pattrice

    Lizzie,

    Let me respond as thoughtfully as I can to this thoughtful letter, given my own exhaustion at this stage.

    As for bullying: In one case, we heard from the parent, who already had the situation well in hand. The other instance was not at the level requiring a call to security, but we did take the steps that were in our power to make relevant authorities aware and also to ensure that the student has support. We’ve also heard, from vegan students, that while the school did used to be vegan-friendly, there has been an escalating climate of hostility toward veganism and vegans in the context of this controversy, That is why suggested, and continue to suggest, that the parents of veg*n students just check in with their child. How could that be a bad thing to do?

    As for the attitudes of vegans, we’re a diverse bunch, but certainly no more self-righteous as a group than GMC students, who you must admit (at least in the context of this controversy) have tended to stick to saying something along the lines of “we’re so great! how dare anybody criticize us about anything?” This is echoed by professors, or maybe it’s the other way around — maybe the students get the idea that the school, and therefore they, are inherently beyond reproach from their teachers.

    But let me get to the gist of your paragraph about vegans: You seem to assume that vegans do not also practice other forms of sustainability, such as buying local or bicycling instead of driving. It’s as if you –and not only you, I have heard this alot from folks at GMC– seem to think that there are vegans (people who don’t eat animals but are otherwise environmentally profligate) and environmentalists (who do eat meat but otherwise conserve resources). But, the vast majority of ethical vegans (by which I mean people who are vegan for ethical reasons rather than, like Bill Clinton, for health reasons) understand that, as a VINE Sanctuary slogan says, “green means vegan, and vegan means green.”

    In other words, we understand that to be fully “green” you must be vegan and that to be fully vegan, you must be as “green” as possible. We also explicitly state on our website that nobody is ever fully vegan. We see “going vegan” as a perpetual process of always trying to do the least possible harm to animals (a category that includes humans), which of course means doing the least harm possible to the environment.

    I think why you may be seeing more than usual eye-rolling from vegans about this issue is that –to everybody outside of the closed circle of Green Mountain College– the college’s behavior is ludicrous. I just spoke to my sister (who is not a vegan or even vegetarian and who does not share my views on animal rights), and was telling her what’s been going on in my life this past month. As I listed each of the college’s decisions and rationales, she kept exclaiming, “What?! Incredible! Who does that?! Incredible!” That, I am sorry to inform you, is how most of the world now sees Green Mountain College. None of the rationales for the slaughter hold up to even basic logical scrutiny. As one well-known philosopher just wrote in a lengthy essay about the controversy, “William Throop, the college Provost, for example, who has a background in environmental ethics, has made such logically fallacious arguments to the press that they would make even an undergraduate philosophy major cringe.” A much more famous scholar, this time an ethologist, calls the college’s reasoning “daft” and “ludicrous.”

    Lizzie, that’s just one example of what other scholars are saying, on blogs and in online publications, about your school. Do you see now why I am trying to warn you and your parents that the value of your degree has been diminished? And it’s not VINE or vegans who have done it. It’s professors and administrators. They have failed you. Don’t believe me. Do the research for yourself. Stand up for your right to a good education. You and other Green Mountain College students came to that school because you believe in environmental ethics. Many are animal lovers. You have been led astray. I don’t know what they have been teaching you, but it isn’t how to logically work out an environmentally ethical decision.

    Wow, I have been typing this reply for a long time. I don’t know if I answered your concerns. I hope I did, and please feel free to leave a follow-up comment. And I am sorry it took so long for me to get to this one.

    This reply has been back-dated so that it will appear directly below the comment to which it responds.

  • Jo Ward

    Steve,
    This is excellent. You have stated perfectly the value for labor. Using a living thing until it can’t be used anymore and discarding it – we see that with peoole turning senior pets in to shelters because they can’t be bothered to care for the pet in it’s dotage- is ceretainly Capitalism AND a sign of the society we have developed. “I gotta have the latest, greatest, newest……”.

  • Jo Ward

    Sailesh,

    A very thoughtful blog indeed.

  • Rebecca Stucki

    Jo, you forgot “the most” in your list of “gotta haves.” It is blind allegiance to consumerism that keeps us unhappy, broke, and destroying our earth. This latest example of “sustainable agriculture” rings hollow from these young people who have not bothered to do the math or look at the big picture. Another case of “I’ve got mine, I don’t care how you get yours” mentality, I’m afraid.

  • current gmc student

    I am a current GMC student who feels pretty neutral with this issue. I am an animal lover,but also a meat eater. Believe it or not, I loved Bill and Lou and they have contributed greatly to the education of sustainable agriculture. I personally believe that having these animals slaughtered is saddening, however compared to the majority of animals processed- Bill and Lou had the happiest lives with a lot of attention and love from students DAILY for 10 years. How many other animal products have you consumed that have been treated so well throughout their lives? I think that all this attention toward one of the nations greenest schools should be shifted to the greater issue of factory farming where animals are truly abused and mistreated for most of their lives. Bill and Lou were not. I support my schools decision to continue its mission of sustainability in order to broaden our educations as well as yours. (Which by the way will not “diminish the value of my degree”- Maybe to you, but I can hardly imagine ever working for someone who is attempting to give my school a bad name and using misleading pictures.I’m sorry that our decision upset you but I think there are other ways to look at the situation. Our school is unlike no other, every student is truly a nature enthusiast and animal lover. I love the farm, it makes our school unique,sustainable, and independent.

  • pattrice

    “current gmc student,”

    Please try to hear what we are saying about the value of your degree in the spirit in which it was truly intended: a helpful warning. You may not understand how hurtful it is to the reputation of a school when its faculty refuses to engage their colleagues at other institutions in a respectful manner. (In academia, other professors are considered your colleagues, even if they teach at other schools.) Right now, an illustrious professor at a Vermont law school is on your school’s Facebook page, outraged that he has been so disrespected by his colleagues at your school and stating that he will be using GMC as a case study in faulty reasoning in his classes. That will not raise the value of your degree. Your professors do you no service by publishing essays that trot out arguments that are not considered valid by other scholars. Look around, not just on this blog! Do your own research. Can you find any environmental ethicists speaking up to say, “yes, Green Mountain College is right. They must kill Bill and Lou to be sustainable.” No. You will, however find a host of scholars writing essays, commenting on essays, and signing petitions saying that the arguments made by GMC in this case just do not hold water. That is what diminishes the value of your degree, not anything I say here.

    The school’s reputation also has been diminished by the actions of the administration throughout this controversy. Instead of responding rationally when a local animal sanctuary offered refuge to Lou and Bill, they have gone on a campaign of vilification, somehow convincing students that the sanctuary is the cause of all of the controversy. In fact, they caused the controversy by, first, trumpeting the decision to kill Bill and Lou on Facebook, evidently not realizing that this would upset many, many alumni.

    GMC’s own Facebook posting–not ours! we hadn’t even heard of Bill and Lou yet!– alerted alumni, who then alerted Green Mountain Animal Defenders. Once that organization (which includes many GMC alumni) put out the call for help in saving Bill and Lou, some sanctuary was bound to answer. That sanctuary happened to be us, but the outcome would have been exactly the same no matter which sanctuary it was, because the college administration not only refused to reconsider the decision in light of a new option but also proceeded to publicly offer an ever-changing, sometimes contradictory, and sometimes counter-factual series of rationalizations why Lou and Bill must be killed –all the while withholding vital information from the very students to whom it was attributing the decision.

    Of course, the national animal welfare and animal rights organizations noticed, and of course they further publicized the controversy. Environmental activists and scholars also got involved, because they were outraged that GMC would use “sustainability” as an excuse for killing rather than retiring elderly work animals.

    I believe you when you say that most students enter GMC as animal lovers. But, think: How could it possibly be that animal lovers are so determined to kill two animals that they shut their ears and refuse to listen when animal advocates from around the corner and around the world beg them to reconsider? How did you get to that place? Could I possibly be right when I say that the farm program –as it is presently constituted under the leadership of a farm manager with no training in animal welfare but a demonstrated fondness for public displays of control over or slaughter of animals –might be teaching callous attitudes towards animals, leading students to become less compassionate than they were when they entered the program? Farm program alums tell us it didn’t used to be that way and that they are alarmed by the turn that this program has taken under the direction of the man who came up with the idea to make Bill and Lou into burgers.

    Speaking of Bill and Lou, you and I have a deep disagreement on whether they were treated well during their tenure at GNMC. I’m not speaking of the reports of the neighbor who has written to the newspapers about what she has witnessed over the years. No, I am talking about students like you who –somehow– were tricked into thinking that working Lou and Bill was treating them well. Students who were taught to use the whip or crop as sparingly as possible, but to use it if necessary to obtain compliance. Students who evidently were not taught that the crop or whip only worked as a cue because, early in the process of breaking Bill and Lou to accept the yoke, it had been used much more often. That’s how it works! Show an unbroken ox a crop and he will just look at you. It doesn’t mean anything. It only means something if it has been used.

    So, you think that you know Bill and Lou’s personalities, but in fact none of us have seen those personalities. We’ve only seen the compliant behavior of animals who have been broken to obey, who certainly do enjoy scratches and treats but who know –always know– “this person might hurt me if I don’t do what they say.” Only if Bill and Lou are allowed to go to sanctuary, where no one will force them to work or show them anything that even resembles a whip or crop again, will they –over time– feel free enough to express whatever their real personalities might be. Don’t you want that for them? I do.

    This reply has been back-dated so that it appears directly below the comment to which it responds.

  • JAH

    The work animal/food animal distinction may make for interesting what ifs–specifically Steve’s surplus labor argument, which is itself open to critique. However, I don’t agree that the work/food distinction is real or applicable here. As has been noted, it is not uncommon for work animals to be ‘retired’ to the plate. It may not be a frequent choice in some circles but it is far from a curiosity.

    If I understand the surplus labor position it is that because Bill and Lou worked on the farm, they have earned something. I suppose I would need to buy into the notion that there was such a contractual arrangement between Bill/Lou and the farm. And I’d also wonder what sort of calculus is involved in determining how much work is required to allow for a range of different scenarios. Does ten years of work = retirement to a sanctuary? How about ten years of very light work compared to other working oxen? I guess I’m just not clear on the relationship between the amount of work and how much of a tab we owe.

    I disagree with the statement that “food is irrelevant” in this discussion. From the farm and college perspective, food is of paramount importance and this is the case with Bill and Lou. To not consider them as a source of food would to turn a blind towards the way the farm operates.

    I know you feel the word sustainability has taken on some cultish connotation, but I, and many others, see it as a moral compass. Is this compass perfectly calibrated and without potential for error? Probably not, but I’m not sure that there exists a moral compass that is. Rather, the college strives very hard to live its mission.

    Finally, the statement, “People outside your affirmation bubble are up in arms because this reeks of ideological rigidity, pedantry, tokenism and ritualized murder” could quite easily be redirected to those who oppose GMC’s position, excepting the unfortunate phrase of ritualized murder. And I think we are quite keenly aware that justice does not equal majority rule, which seems to be a curious position to defend when we’re presented with X-thousand signatures across multiple positions calling for GMC to reconsider its decision.

  • Rucio

    JAH, Sustainability is a moral compass only in terms of your own interests. You clearly have a hard time considering the interests of Bill and Lou, but they are indeed part of the moral calculation. What does your moral compass recommend doing about the obviously unsustainable human overpopulation of the earth?

  • Where is my very long post?

  • JAH

    Hi Rucio, I disagree that a moral compass calibrated on sustainability is only relevant to one’s own interests. Indeed, I interpret it as recognizing that my actions ripple far beyond my immediate geography and that I should account for how these actions/decisions affect others who are too often veiled behind many layers of consumer exchange. I can’t possibly know all the people, critters, and plants that are negatively impacted by my choice to own a vehicle that swallows petroleum and belches CO and other environmental nasties, but I do know that when I drive this car I am causing some degree of harm to others. As a result, I find it helps to question the necessity of car trips. I think the same sort of thoughtful review should accompany most of our decisions: what to eat, where to live, amount of time to spend on a computer (too much in my case), etc.

    I think one of the reasons that there seems to be so much screaming into the night on both sides is that we assume certain axioms that are either held or dismissed by the other side. For instance, I don’t think that I have a hard time considering the interests of Bill and Lou. However, I don’t believe that those interests are the only, or even the most, important moral criterion. We probably differ on this point.

    The human population question is a tough one for a few reasons. Is there a human population population problem? That is to say are there too many humans on the planet? I don’t have a firm answer to this, mainly because the question needs some refining. My field is Natural Resources Management and I don’t think we can really hope to answer questions about human population unless we’re equally willing to engage in answering questions about consumption. Seven billion is a mighty big number, but the number is largely meaningless until we tether it to how many resources are used/are needed/are wanted. I caution my students against focusing solely on the number of people because I think that only can hope to give us half of the story. Further, if the assumption is left at the level of “there are just too many people”, then it becomes easy to indict countries like India, China, and Indonesia with high populations/population densities while excusing many wealthy, highly consumptive countries with fewer people.

  • Rucio

    What I meant was that saying sustainability is your moral compass is like saying economics or natural resources management is your moral compass. They are realms of analysis. What is best in any of their various constructs is not necessarily the most moral.

    The debate about Bill and Lou illustrates this. The choice is simply whether to kill them or to let them live. The latter is obviously the moral choice (nobody else’s lives are threatened or face being diminished in any way). Every analysis to justify killing them is against morality.

  • A Parent of A GMC Grad

    and of course I have to applaud you for posting only those comments YOU deem worthy… since you moderate this space, it’s a bit hypocritical…

  • pattrice

    Folks, yet again I have fallen behind on moderating comments. It’s my 51st birthday today. I got up at sunrise to do morning sanctuary chores and have been attending to other aspects of the struggle to save Bill and Lou’s lives since coming back inside. Still haven’t showered or eaten a decent meal.

    I will do my best to do some more comment moderation this evening. Again, we have to moderate comments coming from first-time posters to avoid spam and also avoid incivility on all sides. I have, by the way, approved every comment that I have seen and read on this thread so far –except one that I thought was too rude to GMC– so quit accusing me of censorship. It is our right to only use our website to promote views endorsed by our membership, but I have not invoked that right here. If your comment hasn’t been approved, that means (a) I haven’t seen it yet [most likely], (b) it requires a reply and I am holding it until I have time to reply, or (c) you posted an extremely rude or abusive comment at some time in the past and your comments are now blocked.

    Meantime, have a look at our latest post.

  • Happy Birthday, Pattrice! And Happy World Vegan Day!!

    It is my privilege to know you through your writings…

  • Rebecca Stucki

    Could this be why GMC has been so obstinate in its refusal to reconsider the fates of Bill and Lou? http://urbantimes.co/2012/09/building-sustainable-futures-with-agroecology/ If indeed they are just part of a larger “sustainability” experiment, then I am not surprised they are being killed. Virtually all experiments that involve animals end in the death of the animal – usually in order to study the effects of the drug or procedure being tested. I’m sure, in the minds of the faculty and students, the integrity of the experiment would be lost if they were to let the oxen live and not consume them as part of their closed system.

    Well, either that, or they want to urge the student body towards veganism by forcing it to eat 11-year old tough beef. I sincerely hope none of Bill and Lou ends up in the cafeteria garbage cans.

    Then again, perhaps this is all a hoax in order to get material for their Animal Ethics course, as a real life demonstration of “the tension between animal rights and environmental ethics.” If so, they should have years worth of course material!

    It is a pity that at a school like this, full of so many great ideas and avenues of learning, that the one thing that doesn’t seem to be taught is mercy and compassion.

  • JAH

    Hi Rucio, thanks for your response. I think we differ on a couple points. Although, first I’ll agree with your framing of sustainability as a realm of analysis, my term of moral compass may have been clumsy in this context. But I don’t see this realm of analysis as ignoring the moral dimensions of decisions. Quite on the contrary, a sustainability-calibrated moral compass requires such analysis. Sustainability is built upon moral principles and obligations to current and future beings.

    I believe that the decision regarding Bill and Lou is rooted in ethical priciples beyond their individual welfares. And this leads to the second area where we likely disagree. Your ethic requires a certain level of moral considerability be given to Bill and Lou. I do not share that ethic. So to say that to not kill them is obviously the moral choice and that every analysis to justify killing them is against morality presumes that there is a single, universally agreed upon morality. We know that this isn’t the case though.

    Animal rights advocates differ from animal liberation advocates on basic moral principles. Although both groups may agree that non-human animals are rightful members of the moral community, it isn’t clear which moral principles should be followed. Indeed, this disagreement can lead to differing outcomes regarding the health and welfare of individual animals.

    One thing that strikes me as appropriate to this discussion is the notion that Bill and Lou have moral importance beyond their own lives. A consequentialist, theologian James Burtness wrote of “degrees of moral density” which suggests that many (perhaps all) of our decisions have moral components, in some cases multiple moral dimensions and we are obligated to at least consider as many of those moral components as we can. In this vein, I try to recognize the multiple degrees of moral density in my decisions/actions and this is the approach used by GMC in weighing what should be done with our oxen.

  • pattrice

    Jah! How was your vacation? I’ll let others answer your arguments, but I will give you points for consistency for asserting that parents ought not cede to any outside opinions when raising their children. Going back to the days when parents were free not to educate their daughters seems like just about the right timeline for your other views.

  • Rucio

    That’s all swell, JAH, except it is only Bill and Lou that are affected by this decision.

  • animal lover

    We are currently working on finding another place for Bill and Lou so keep your heads up bill and lou are still alive!

  • Rebecca Stucki

    To Current GMC Student – it is clear that you love your school, and I have a feeling I would have, too, had I not awoken to the horrors of animal commodification. I still think your school has a lot to offer in terms of green living and saving the environment. But it is very naive to believe that you’re going to feed your school, much less the world, and eradicate factory farming by raising a few animals at your school. The current rate of animal consumption is beyond what any small farm can afford, unless people cut WAY back on how much flesh, eggs and dairy they eat. Do the arithmetic, and check with your school cafeteria. Are you all fed strictly from your farm? And, if not, where does the cafeteria source its animal products? It would be good if all you students took a close and critical look at your school and its claims of sustainability.

  • pattrice

    @Animal Lover: At VINE’s behest, Farm Sanctuary has already agreed to take in Bill and Lou. Look at our most recent memo to the President, published in our most recent blog post.

  • pattrice

    GMC Students: Please, before you comment, look at my replies to previous comments to see if I have already addressed your concern!

  • Lori

    Anyone that says they love animals but eats meat, is not an animal lover but a “pet” lover! You don’t eat those you love period!! As for comments on factory farming, believe me all of us true animal lovers want to see an end to factory farming! Even though Bill and Lou might have had a better life (so far) than those animals on a factory farm, if they are sent to slaughter they will get the same horrific death of a bolt to the head. Watch Earlings and see the end that Bill and Lou will have! How can you say you love them?

  • JAH

    Hi Pattrice, My students asked me how my vacation was too–I think I should have clarified that I was attending a conference and that it was punishing hard work… okay, not really punishing hard work but I didn’t get to lounge poolside, sipping tropical drinks and reading trashy novels. But I do have a sabbatical coming up, so…. ;)

  • chris

    Please confirm that they haven’t been murdered yet – has anyone thought about buying them from the school so they can go to sanctuary and the school can buy meat for their blood hungry “students” – Is there time? Please – these animals gave the best years of their lives to this farm,and the school pays them back by butchering and eating them? How disgusting! Would they take money for them?

  • pattrice

    Bill and Lou are still alive because local slaughterhouses, having gotten many calls from animal advocates, refuse to process them. However, the college alleges that some of those calls were threats. The college also alleges that it has received threats. This is, of course, entirely possible. Thousands and thousands of people have expressed concern about this issue, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if one or more of them went too far or even made actual threats.

    I personally have received threats of some kind any time that I have been involved in any sort of high-profile controversy in which feelings run high. I know what that feels like, especially the first time it happens to you. I and everyone at VINE are devoted to non-violence not only in theory but in everyday practice. If anyone was threatened and feels afraid, I and we have deep sympathy.

    At the same time, I know that claims of threats made by animal advocates are a very common response when an institution has lost public sympathy and wants to regain it.

    This controversy started when the college proudly publicized its decision to kill Bill and Lou. I can only surmise that nobody considered that making such a proud proclamation would catch the eyes of alumni who loved Lou and Bill and that they might mount some sort of protest. They did, by contacting Green Mountain Animal Defenders, which both asked VINE to offer sanctuary and then, when that offer was refused, created an online petition. We sent out an action alert to our fairly small mailing list, and also posted it on this blog (which, in normal times, is visited by only 30 people per day).

    The issue caught the attention of national animal advocacy organizations, which notified their much larger memberships and also wrote about the issue on their blogs and websites. Meanwhile, three or four other people created online petitions– one on Facebook that we didn’t even see until after it had 26,000 signatures! Then the media took notice, and here we are.

    Notwithstanding the fact that (a) Green Mountain College got the publicity ball rolling by its own proud proclamation, and (b) that VINE neither originated the movement to save Bill and Lou nor is responsible for the preponderance of publicity the issue has gotten, students and faculty on the campus roundly blame VINE for their public relations nightmare. I have seen Facebook posts demanding that I in particular take personal responsibility for the alleged threats that people have received.

    Obviously, I cannot take responsibility for alleged acts perpetrated by unknown persons who might have heard about Bill and Lou in any of a hundred different ways. But I and we can make sure that GMC hostility to VINE doesn’t get in the way of Bill and Lou going to a good home. So… Check out our latest memo to the President and Board of Trustees of Green Mountain College.

  • Persia

    It is wrong to kill the Oxens…they have worked so hard and Is this the way to treat them ..for what so the greedy students could eat th meat that had eyes…they felt pain..love..fear….stop this…let them live

  • Gem

    I have read all of the comments here as well as those on the various websites. I have a few statements and comments to make and I hope they open any/all closed minds that take the time to read and consider my thoughts.

    First, I want to thank Vine Sanctuary and all other sanctuaries that stepped up to offer Bill and Lou refuge for their kindness to these animals for which they have no obligation beyond a human obligation to be kind to those with whom we share the planet.

    Second, I want to say that I am not a extremist of any kind. I do tend to lean towards the ideal as I think we find the best of ourselves in the ideal. I am a teacher and I have taught preschool through graduate school and know something about the development of human beings over time. I see a lot of ugly behavior in the world that saddens me and makes me wonder if our species has not outlived its usefulness. This feeling is particularly strong when I see college students call for the killing of animals that they know intimately to make into uneatable hamburgers. I see no kindness in this behavior and I wonder at the world they will create to reflect their values.

    Now to Bill and Lou. There is no defendable argument to justify their slaughter. They are not useful for human consumption. At best they could be made into dog food. But why? Why not let them live out their years in a sanctuary? Why not repay their work with the gift of life without human expectation attached to it? It is bad enough that human beings are destroying the natural habitats of every creature on this planet and bringing most non-domesticated animals to extinction. What is really sad is that we think we have the right to do it because we are in control.

    The bottom line for me is that there are consequences to every choice in life. Sometimes these consequences are unforeseen. In the case of Bill and Lou I predict the consequences to be the further erosion of human kindness. It is just kinder to let Bill and Lou live out their lives in peace and this decision is one that makes everyone feel better about themselves. All the rest of it is just doublespeak to cover man’s need to feel he is in control. I live in the Pacific NW and we have sustainable farms everywhere and some use oxen to work the fields. I asked a local San Juan Island farmer if he would slaughter his oxen once they could no longer work the fields. He said, “No. I put them out to pasture.” I only euthanize animals that are suffering and cannot be helped. Is it any wonder that his oxen, seeing him across the fields, quicken their pace and move out of their neatly plowed row to get by his side because they “love” him (Forgive my anthropomorphizing these oxen, but I cannot think of a better way to describe their behavior.). This is the kind of farmer/human being I want my schools and universities to produce. If not, I think there really is no hope or worthwhile future for any of us.

  • Melody

    GMC has been offered upwards and over $100,000 to allow Bill & Lou to retire peacefully. There are numerous media articles online for details on the public cry for compassion. That money was suggested to go towards scholarships, “sustainability” programs or anything else they see fit to use it for. The fact that compassionate people from all over the globe have more regard for the lives of Bill & Lou than GMC, who used them for 11 years is absolutely appalling.

    Judging by the tweets, posts on Vermont tourism boards, and all the other media attention-both U.S. and Internationally, the State of Vermont will also have a PR problem on their hands.

    Reports are indicating GMC is calling slaughterhouses from all over the country to get this evil act completed; it appears they are in a hurry. The students are looking forward to this “blowing over” so they can host a community BBQ.

    Thank you again VINE for your gracious responses in the face of threats and insults; GMC wants to be protrayed as “victims” – the only “victims” here are Bill & Lou.

  • pattrice

    Melody, dunno where you are getting that dollar amount. I know of several offers to buy Bill and Lou for considerably more than the market value of their meat and also of one offer to make a substantial– in the tens of thousands –donation to the library, but I’ve not heard of any 100K offers.

  • pattrice

    Folks, perhaps due to the extremely high traffic we’ve been receiving lately, blog comments have begun acting very strangely. People on both sides write to say they cannot see long comments they they know they posted, and I also see a backlog of comments for approval–some from trusted email addresses that ought to have been automatically approved. I hope to get this all sorted out by the end of the weekend, but I’ve got a couple of more urgent tasks to which I must attend before I turn to what looks like will be an hours-long exercise in frustration.

    Thanks to all who have voiced support. To those who have posted challenging comments in the spirit of true dialogue, I promise a response as soon as humanely possible, given our workload over here. To those posting insults or rants, I make no promises.

    And, again, as per this memo, we are imploring GMC to seize the opportunity to allow Bill and Lou to retire to Farm Sanctuary. So, rants against me or VINE are beside the point anyway.

  • As a suggestion, you may want to invest in a different comment system that allows threads and direct replies, like Disqus or Intense Debate (Animal Place uses Disqus, sometimes FB comments). Just a thought. :) You don’t need to post this, btw.

    -marji

  • Rucio

    Recognizing that this post is probably the first and perhaps the last to strain the blog’s commenting system, I think threaded commenting can be facilitated in the WordPress design theme or with a plug-in. That’s the extent of my helpful input, however. Although I know WordPress fairly well, I have never dealt with comments, preferring to just turn them off.

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