Of Missions and Visions

I love my hometown.  Corvallis, Oregon was an ideal place to grow up and is considered by many to be the best college town in the PAC-12 (Go Beavers!).  Though I did not formally attend Oregon State University, I spent several summers there as an intern in an Environmental Engineering lab and I wandered its beautiful campus many times.  OSU is one of very few universities in the country designated as a land-, sea-, space-, and sun-grant institution (Penn State is the only other that I am aware of).  Their focus on using these distinctions for the public good is evident in their mission statement:

As a land grant institution committed to teaching, research and outreach and engagement, Oregon State University promotes economic, social, cultural and environmental progress for the people of Oregon, the nation and the world.

This mission is achieved by producing graduates competitive in the global economy, supporting a continuous search for new knowledge and solutions and maintaining a rigorous focus on academic excellence, particularly in the three Signature Areas: Advancing the Science of Sustainable Earth Ecosystems, Improving Human Health and Wellness, and Promoting Economic Growth and Social Progress.

This mission statement certainly focused on the broad perspective: serving the globe in several significant ways.  I looked up the mission statements of other land-grant institutions, and many of them had a similar tone (and in some cases, nearly identical phrases).  I thought that there were likely to be other institutions with a more focused vision, so I looked up the mission statement of my undergraduate institution: Brigham Young University.

BYU is a privately-owned, church-sponsored university located in Provo, Utah.  Its mission statement is:

…to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.

Notice how their mission statement is much more focused on the individual than on the global scale.  Granted, their list of aims that come after the mission statement suggest that these individuals would go into the world committed to “lifelong learning and service,” but their first mission is to focus on each individual at the university.  The phrase “quest for perfection and eternal life” is clearly tied to their religious foundation and perspective.

I do not attempt to say which of these mission statements is better than the other, because that is not the point of this exercise.  But I do think it is interesting to see how these mission statements affect the direction and atmosphere of each university.  At BYU, I felt like my own career objectives and education were at the top of the administration’s priorities.  During my time at OSU, I sensed that research and discovery were more heavily supported and valued.  I love both schools, and I appreciate the different perspectives they gave me.  It makes me wonder: if I were to define the mission statement of a university, what would I say?

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