Environmentalist Aaron Toffler
Community to Classroom . . . and Back
Aaron Toffler's path from pro bono legal work on Boston's city streets to Lasell's leafy campus is less long and winding than at first glance. The director of the College's Environmental Studies Program and associate professor of Environmental Policy has spent the majority of his professional legal career representing nonprofit organizations and public agencies in urban environments. At Lasell since 2009, Toffler teaches Environmental Law and Policy, Environmental Studies and Environmental Ethics and Justice, all tied to his off-campus work on community issues around land use, open space and development. And his expertise as an environmental attorney in private practice lends powerful credibility to his role as a community organizer, negotiator among diverse stakeholders and legal advocate. Toffler is a former director of the Natural Cities Program at the Urban Ecology Institute, a nonprofit organization based at Boston College, and holds a BA in economics and French from Union College and a JD from BC Law School. The Woodbridge, CT native lives in Needham, MA with his wife Deborah, director of patient and family services and programs at Boston's Dana Farber Cancer Institute, and their two young sons. Leaves caught up with the popular professor in his Maple Terrace office in early Spring.
How does a onetime community organizer wind up in academia? When I was a third-year law student at BC, I helped teach a section of environmental law to undergraduates. I'd never felt as energized and excited about practicing law as I did when I was center-stage in the classroom. That feeling persists to this day.
Your law degree must be a plus. Absolutely. I find Environmental Law and Policy very difficult to teach at the undergraduate level. It's complicated, and every question leads to more questions. Reading through actual cases helps to humanize the situations that we study.
Who are your heroes? Currently, Bill McKibben and Michael Pollan.
What books are on your night table? Clean by Alejandro Junger, MD and Breasts by Florence Williams [who spoke at Lasell in March].
What are your non-academic passions? I love to fish and camp and can't wait to share those activities with my boys. I'm also learning how to play the guitar for the same reason.
How does Lasell's Connected Learning philosophy impact your teaching style? Connected Learning allows me to take dense and difficult subjects and let students interact with them in a way that enhances their learning. It encourages students to figure out their own questions as they confront issues that I would otherwise just lecture them about.
Is Environmental Studies a ‘real-world' choice? Yes. I have been a relentless advocate for students to declare either a major or a minor in Environmental Studies, because I truly believe there is nothing more important for them to know about. I think it is a nice complement to almost any other major at Lasell and makes students more marketable when they graduate.
What‘s best about teaching at Lasell? Our students want to be actively engaged, not just passive learners. Life is about doing, and Lasell students are committed to action that makes the world a better place.