A mission statement, as I understand it, should define what an institution aims to achieve and for whom those achievements are to be made possible. One of the interesting points for reflection is in the extent to which these statements reflect both a current snapshot of the institution and speak to their wider aspirations.
A comparison of two mission statements of institutions of higher education offers insights on what is and is not prioritized toward the aspirations. This reflection will focus on the two mission statements of American University of Beirut (AUB) and Gettysburg College (see each below).
An interesting facet about these statements is that the location of each university is within the name of each institution. This eliminates the need to clarify the location within the mission statement. However, AUB, which is chartered in New York State, makes a point to state this as well as to indicate that the institution was chartered in 1863. Such a statement would not be necessary in the case of Gettysburg College, whereas in the case of AUB this lends credibility and clarifies the credentialing and preparation for study beyond Lebanon.
Both institutions situate the geographic scope of their institutions. The AUB mission statement indicates that it “serves[s]the peoples of the Middle East and beyond,” whereas Gettysburg College notes that the institution “prepares students from across the nation and around the globe”. The greater specificity in the case of AUB could relate to the fact they aspire to be a leading institution in the Middle East, rather than merely within Lebanon. Moreover, the AUB statement does not mention Lebanon; this could be due to the intent to frame the institution as being notable in the wider region, rather than just Lebanon. Furthermore, this could also speak to the student population; as a former graduate student, I can attest that the student body hails from both Lebanon and across the region.
On the other hand, the Gettysburg College statement does not mention Pennsylvania or even Gettysburg – perhaps because it is within the name itself. At the same time, this could speak to the aim to draw in students from around the nation and world. Moreover, I find it interesting that the statement invokes “nation” rather than just America or the United States. As one would learn in Political Science 101, a nation is separate from a state apparatus in that the nation is a group bound by language, shared historical experiences, notions of identity that does not have territorial sovereignty (Kurdistan is a notable example).
A point worth noting is the type of institution, education it offers, and population it seeks to serve. The mission statement for American University of Beirut makes note that it is an American-chartered university that connects knowledge production, research, and education. On the other hand, the mission statement for Gettysburg College notes that it is a residential undergraduate liberal arts and sciences college. It is interesting that AUB does not mention undergraduate or graduate studies, but points to “graduates” that presumably would apply to both undergraduate and graduate students, whereas Gettysburg is explicit about the focus of the institution being on undergraduate students in the mission statement.
A further point worth considering is the invocation of “citizenship”, “leadership”, and “profession” in the statements. Both statements note citizenship and leadership. Gettysburg notes “effective leadership” and “socially responsible citizenship”, whereas AUB notes “leadership” and “civic responsibility”. While this could speak to more buzzword-type phrases relevant to the time when these statements were drafted (AUB 2019) and (GC 2016), it could also speak to what each institution views as needed for the wider societies.
Lastly, the AUB statement makes no mention of “professional”, whereas the Gettysburg College statement notes “personal and professional fulfillment” as one of the intended student outcomes. This could speak to the variance in the notion of “professional” for the institution’s students or in the wider fact that as an undergraduate and graduate university would opt to underscore research or academic-oriented credentials.
This could also speak to different interpretations of what potential roles could be available to graduates. AUB stresses “life-long learning”, but makes not mention of professional preparation. This could be in part, due to the aim to ensure that the statement addresses graduate students aiming for professional advancement within higher education.
In total, I took away that the language within the statement matters. It both reflects both the current situation as well as the aspirations of the university or college.
American University of Beirut
The American University of Beirut (AUB) is an institution of higher learning founded to provide excellence in education, to participate in the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. Chartered in New York State in 1863, the university bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. The university believes deeply in and encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue. Graduates will be individuals committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership.
Gettysburg College is a residential, undergraduate college of the liberal arts and sciences that prepares students from across the nation and around the globe to pursue lives of personal and professional fulfillment and to engage the complex questions of our time through effective leadership and socially responsible citizenship.
This statement is grounded in the core values of the institution:
- The worth and dignity of all people and the limitless value of their intellectual potential;
- The commitment to a diverse and inclusive learning environment;
- The power of a liberal arts education to help students develop critical thinking skills, broad vision, effective communication, a sense of the inter-relatedness of all knowledge, sensitivity to the human condition, and a global perspective, all necessary to enable students to realize their full potential for responsible citizenship;
- The enrichment of the traditional liberal arts and sciences curriculum with the most promising intellectual developments of our time;
- The free and open exchange of ideas and the exploration of their ethical and spiritual dimensions;
- The value of a lifelong commitment to service, and the role of the College in both providing an example of public service for students and fostering a commitment to service among our young people;
- The value of ethical leadership that is inclusive, collaborative, and directed towards effecting change for the greater good;
- Our conviction that a residential college best promotes the sense of community, central to a liberal arts education, in which personal relationships between students, faculty, and staff can flourish.