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.
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.
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.