University Mission Statements: Private vs Public and my experiences with each

I went to a reasonably sized undergraduate state school, SUNY Albany, then went to private school, Syracuse University for an M.S. Now I’m at Virginia Tech for a Ph.D. Going from public to private to public schools has been interesting, to say the least. So, I thought it would be fun to compare the mission statements of SU (private) and VT (public) and compare it to my experiences with each.

Let’s establish the basics:
– Virginia Tech is a land-grant university in Blacksburg Virginia, USA.
– Syracuse is a private university in one of the snowiest cities on the planet, Syracuse NY
– Both have silly mascots: the Hokie bird, and Otto the Orange.
– Both have generally ugly color schemes: orange and maroon, and orange and blue.
– Both have strong sports cultures, VT for football, and SU for basketball.
Now that we know a little about each, let’s take a look at the mission statements (click the school for a link to the actual statement):

Tech has a short, sweet, and to the point statement about its obligation to the world at large. It’s an extended version of Ut Prosim, or “that I may serve”. This statement incorporates everything that I have learned to love about Virginia Tech. They don’t isolate themselves to their town, state, or even country. VT’s mission is to serve the greater global community through various activities including research, teaching, and outreach. The university expects to help individuals grow, while also developing the global community around them.
From my time at Tech, I have seen much of this in action, at least in my department. There is significant outreach around the world, with both academic and private institutions. Tech pushes students to be the best, but I personally have never felt pushed past the breaking point. There is always room to serve just a little more. If nothing else you can always get out for “3.2 for 32” to see how strong of a community is built here.  The 3.2 for 32 is actually a wonderful example of the Hokie Nation. It fosters competitiveness, while also pushing students to be active and healthy, and most importantly it declares that we will remember one of VT’s most defining moments and we will use it to grow stronger.

By comparison, Syracuse boils down to a bulleted list of objectives. They use much flashier wording and emphasize pride and culture over many other things. While SU does declare a commitment to inclusion, it also focuses on attracting “the best scholars from around the world”. This immediately sets up for an elitist feel to the mission. Compared to the humility of VT’s mission to serve, it looks rough and selfish. SU looks like it is ONLY capable of taking the best and the brightest. If you take a minute to think, that’s a really easy start. Obviously the best and brightest are going to go places, they are already halfway to them. What would be far more impressive, would be attracting the worst students and turning them into the best and brightest. That would give SU some merit for saying they are an amazing school. But those who are already bright can usually keep afloat by teaching themselves or using their network, so the quality of the school is rather moot at that point.
Pretentious mission aside, my time in Syracuse was great. Syracuse tries really hard to make sure it’s students are successful and is great with job fairs and clubs. However, compared to VT, the outreach and societal impact was lacking, especially when you take into account the relative number of city grade schools and people in need in Syracuse.

I had never thought much of mission statements, they always seem like bogus fluff. Now I think they can be fairly telling. Syracuse doesn’t make any claims about helping the community, so I can’t exactly say they are failing in achieving their mission. Virginia Tech meets its mission by serving, but it also goes above and beyond by offering amazing opportunities to students and establishing itself around the world. Despite not targeting the best students, Tech still manages to produce them. Sorry Syracuse, but maybe you should consider adding some service to your mission.