Mission Statements: Notre Dame and Virginia Tech

At first glance, there are obvious differences between the mission statements of Notre Dame, where I earned my bachelors degree, and Virginia Tech, where I am currently a PhD student. Notre Dame’s is almost a full page long, while Virginia Tech’s is a single paragraph. Also, the language of Notre Dame’s mission statement is very religious, with frequent mentions of the school’s Catholic nature, but Virginia Tech, as a public (and therefore secular) school, has a non-religious mission statement.

I believe that these differences can be explained largely by the history and nature of the two schools. Notre Dame, a small private university in Indiana, has had a very specific mission since its founding in 1842: to bring a uniquely Catholic perspective to higher education. The mission statement is so long because it specifies all the different areas of life affected by this perspective and how they are affected, from academics to student life. Some of this is to refute some common fears about Catholic institutions: that research would be restricted or non-Catholics would be unwelcome. Some is to point out what makes a Catholic university, and particularly Notre Dame, unique: the commitment to fostering a sense of community in the school and to fighting “poverty, injustice, and oppression.”

In contrast, Virginia Tech’s mission statement is short and relatively vague. Virginia Tech, a large public land-grant institution in Virginia, was founded in 1872 as an agricultural and mechanical college. It now has seven different colleges, from engineering to liberal arts. With such a wide array of fields being taught, the vague language of the mission statement makes sense: it must apply equally to every college, regardless of their individual policies and philosophies. It speaks of the primary goal of the university as “the discovery and dissemination of new knowledge,” which can apply to any academic research or teaching.

Despite all the differences between these two mission statements, there is one big similarity: the importance of service. At Notre Dame, this is largely due to the teachings of the Catholic Church, while at Virginia Tech, it is a result of the large military presence on campus. Both schools, however, state that they want to prepare their students, not just for personal growth, but for “social and community development,” to serve the world as a whole.


University of Notre Dame Mission Statement:

The University of Notre Dame is a Catholic academic community of higher learning, animated from its origins by the Congregation of Holy Cross. The University is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake. As a Catholic university, one of its distinctive goals is to provide a forum where, through free inquiry and open discussion, the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect with all the forms of knowledge found in the arts, sciences, professions, and every other area of human scholarship and creativity.

The intellectual interchange essential to a university requires, and is enriched by, the presence and voices of diverse scholars and students. The Catholic identity of the University depends upon, and is nurtured by, the continuing presence of a predominant number of Catholic intellectuals. This ideal has been consistently maintained by the University leadership throughout its history. What the University asks of all its scholars and students, however, is not a particular creedal affiliation, but a respect for the objectives of Notre Dame and a willingness to enter into the conversation that gives it life and character. Therefore, the University insists upon academic freedom that makes open discussion and inquiry possible.

The University prides itself on being an environment of teaching and learning that fosters the development in its students of those disciplined habits of mind, body, and spirit that characterize educated, skilled, and free human beings. In addition, the University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.

Notre Dame also has a responsibility to advance knowledge in a search for truth through original inquiry and publication. This responsibility engages the faculty and students in all areas of the University, but particularly in graduate and professional education and research. The University is committed to constructive and critical engagement with the whole of human culture.

The University encourages a way of living consonant with a Christian community and manifest in prayer, liturgy and service. Residential life endeavors to develop that sense of community and of responsibility that prepares students for subsequent leadership in building a society that is at once more human and more divine.

Notre Dame’s character as a Catholic academic community presupposes that no genuine search for the truth in the human or the cosmic order is alien to the life of faith. The University welcomes all areas of scholarly activity as consonant with its mission, subject to appropriate critical refinement. There is, however, a special obligation and opportunity, specifically as a Catholic university, to pursue the religious dimensions of all human learning. Only thus can Catholic intellectual life in all disciplines be animated and fostered and a proper community of scholarly religious discourse be established.

In all dimensions of the University, Notre Dame pursues its objectives through the formation of an authentic human community graced by the Spirit of Christ.

Virginia Tech Mission Statement:

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.

2 thoughts on “Mission Statements: Notre Dame and Virginia Tech”

  1. I really liked your point about how both schools emphasize service, yet the underlying influence is completely different for each school: the Catholic Church vs. the military. Notre Dame’s Catholic influence was clearly mentioned in its mission statement, yet Virginia Tech’s reference to service is pretty vague—which is in line with its general theme (as you mentioned). Considering Virginia Tech’s motto is Ut Prosim (“that I may serve”), I’m really surprised “service” is not highlighted more in its mission. While we can certainly find more information about Virginia Tech’s commitment to service if we delve further into its website, it seems that Virginia Tech slightly neglected a foundational ideal in its mission statement. Before reading it, I wouldn’t have been surprised to actually find the words, Ut Prosim somewhere in its mission.

    Do you agree? How much should we value college/university mission statements? Should college/university mission statements be more standardized in length and level of detail?

    1. I agree about Virginia Tech’s mission statement. I (like many other people, I think) had never actually read it before, and I was really surprised how little it talked about service, considering how much it’s emphasized elsewhere at the school. Honestly, of all the mission statements I’ve read (and now I’ve read quite a few!), Tech’s is probably one of the most generic. I feel like it could apply to almost any school, and doesn’t really include a lot of what makes Tech unique.
      That being said, I also think Notre Dame’s is a bit (ok, a lot) long. I don’t know if they should necessarily be standardized, but I do think that they should be concise, so that, after reading it, you could easily answer the question, “What is the school’s mission?” in one or two sentences. A lot of what’s included in ND’s is good information, but may fit better in a separate document.

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