Universities are like people , and mission statements can tell!

At least this is what I think. You should not expect from a kid what you expect from an experienced professional just because they are both humans.
Likewise, what you can expect from one university maybe infeasible to get from another university. If you are a student, the way you study and learn and plan for your future depends on where you are. If you are a professor, it is totally different to work at Harvard university than to work at Minia university!!

If you did read the last statement, you must have said and I bet you did asked yourself “What is Minia univeristy?!” It is a university in south of Egypt where I worked for years as a TA.

It might not be fair to compare an almost four-hundred years old university (Harvard) in US to a less than forty years old university in a developing country.
This may be true about the quality of the classes or the level of research but for a university to care about having standards and policies to follow and having goals to achieve, we have to compare and we have to care.

What this blog is trying to highlight is that it is normal that different universities have different mission statements. This is something normal and expected, but the care should be given to whether a university’s officials really understand what their roles are and whether they are serious about it. Statements about mission, vision, and values may reflect if there is a problem. The story of the mission statement of Minia university reflects a miserable situation.

Starting with the 220-word mission statement of the prestigious Harvard university. I always have problems with this statement, it is long and I am sure the same goals can be restated briefly. I have always been against long statements in general. Although it is very smart and very nice that the heart of the statement is a carefully chosen quote from the 1650 charter written when the university was founded, I did not really understand the reason why the statement emphasizing the clause “youth of this country” in the quote by putting dots before and after it. Generally, univeristies should be for all people of all ages. For Harvard univeristy, it is not true that it is only for youth, and currently enrollment is open for all nationalities, so either the university is not adhering to the mission statement, or the mission statement is not reflecting the true mission and ideas currently adopted by the university.

But the statement is really great, it is amazing how (in 1650) words were carefully chosen, how ambisious that a university explicitly states its purpose is to “create knowledge” and “advance literature, art, and sciences”. Mentioning literature before sciences is also reflecting personality of the university. I really like how the statement, after quoting from the charter, emphasizes a clear student-centered approach, speaking about “free expression”, “liberate students”, “remove restraints on students”, etc.

The impression you get from reading the mission statement of Harvard university is that it was carefully written, it came from a respectful organization, and it draws an image of what outcome to expect from its graduates. You may like things in the statements, and you may dislike things, but you will respect anyway.

On the other hand, the mission statement of Minia university was a real disaster written with carelessness. It looks like someone was forced to write it just because there is a set of buildings that are labeled “university”, and we are required to write a mission statement so let us do it!! It is so funny to discover that a small university has two different mission statements on its web site. If you switch between Arabic and English versions you will discover that you have two different statements. The mission statement is written as a list of points, for me this is the only time I saw a mission statement written this way, but this is not the problem, the Arabic version has seven points or goals in the statement, while the English version has six! Perhaps one of the points was difficult for the translator to write in English or he disliked it for some reason. That was not just the problem, it is not simply a forgotten part of the mission in the translation, reading the two statements show we have two different things from the beginning to the end! Seeking accreditation, it looks that the university needed to provide a mission statement written in English, and that someone did the writing for the university, but maybe he didn’t have access to the Arabic one to translate it, or he didn’t like it so he wrote whatever comes to his mind. This may happen, but it will be miserable that for years, the two different statements have been on the web site without any correction. The English version states that Minia university is “international” and “comprehensive”! The Arabic version does not state these, what does it mean that a university is comprehensive?! It looks like the translator estimated the reader to English statement will be non-Egyptian so it will be nice to write that we are international, for years I never saw a single person that is not Egyptian in the university, and never heard of any international activity for Minia university, but someone just considered it nice to add the word to the statement from nowhere in reality.

But even we ignore that, and assuming the English version is the only statement, I cannot ignore the feeling that it is just placing big magnificent words side by side “noble human values”, “national loyalty”, etc. Ignoring that also, and assuming the university follows this statement, we end up with a set of non-ambitious goals to “keep pace with scientific progress” compared with Harvard goal to “create” and to “advance knowledge”. It aims at meeting “market needs”, compare this to the student liberation aspect of Harvard university, and this tells everything.

Poor are students in a university whose officials are not responsible.

What you lose! What you lose NOT!

After two weeks of classes, I am back to Blacksburg!

My classmate was telling me “Don’t worry, you can catch up with what you LOST in the class.”

To describe few missed classes as a “loss” stayed in my mind for a while. I was back home in Egypt for a real loss, the loss of my mother. Not only is it a real loss that the only heart who really and always cared about you and backed you leaves, the loss is that you were away when she needed you beside her. She was fighting it for few years when we started to leave her one son after another.

It is very easy to convince yourself that you have classes to attend, a degree to complete, research results to achieve and publish: you are not to be execused! But this will not change the truth, you did lost something, and you really lost it because you have no way to go back and follow what an honest heart should have followed.

You cannot stop someone you love from passing away, but you can be beside them, caring for them in their state of weakness. For a parent, this is a responsibility. If you are a student with a parent in a critical suffering, the loss is not failing a class or delaying a date of graduation, the real loss is your staying with your class assignments and ignoring the call of the human inside you.

Every university has policies that allow you to leave for some time when you have reason for that like caring of your sick parent.

And when you become a professor, remember that your students may and should have other responsibilities with higher priorities than understanding whatever concept you want them to understand or acquiring whatever skills you think they need to acquire.

And When I become a professor, I will teach my students that their parents comes before their degrees and their jobs. The only thing that may cause me to fail to teach that is the fact that I lost something real, few weeks ago!!!