Ex-/Implication: What Mission Statements (Don’t) Say

When considering values, visions, and missions, universities and colleges are similar to people in that regard. Like people, they can establish their institution as interested or invested in a certain set of interests in the hopes of attracting students (and faculty) who share similar interests, values, etc. and who will help the institution achieve its overall goals and missions. Institution to institution, however, there can be both interesting similarities and differences with respect to the framing of the individual institution’s mission.

Consider, for example, the University of Dubai (UD) in the United Arab Emirates. Although the institution offers a more general plan of study, it is advertised as a business school and, indeed, is hoping to be in the top 100 business schools worldwide within a decade. While its mission statement seems, at first glace, pretty consistent with run of the mill mission statements (serve the immediate region, produce graduates that are capable and invested in serving their communities, produce future leaders etc.) there are two things I want to flag: a standards clause and an explicit declaration of gender opportunity.

In the mission statement on the university website, part of the mission states that the university intends to “provide education based on international standards”. When it comes to standards who, exactly, is setting the bar and who, as the corollary, must meet the standards to be recognized as a peer institution, at best, and to have robust opportunities for their graduates abroad? While not in the mission statement, per se, another thing of note on UD’s website is that it explicitly says that it supports “equal opportunity for all men and women.”

While, in the United States, at least, it is not uncommon for universities to have diversity statements I found it interesting that equal opportunity is framed as a core value. To relate this back to my query about international standards, would the institutions that set the standards, explicitly or implicitly, fail to see UD as a peer institution or an institution worthy of consideration if they did not explicitly say that they were striving for equal opportunity? This should not be read as a question of whether or not that is a value that the institution actually holds. Rather, it is meant as a question of what must be explicated and what is allowed to be implicated when it comes to recognition, validation, and the like for institutions of higher education.

As another example, consider the University of Vermont (UVM). Found in Burlington, VT in the United States, UVM shares a similar mission statement to that of UD. UVM wants to produce student leaders, be a base of knowledge creation and sharing, serve the global community, etc. The scope, however, is a bit different than that of UD. UVM is not trying to be among the top instructions worldwide. Rather, it is more concerned with competing intra-country as opposed to inter-country, with promoting environmental stewardship and general liberal arts practices as opposed to only or primarily business. That isn’t to say there isn’t a business school at UVM (there is) but the school leans heavily towards the sciences.

A difference, however, again hinges on two small explications. Pace UD, and even Virginia Tech, UVM gestures, on the one hand, at a commitment to fostering learning that transcends a students time at the university; UVM wants to students to be committed to lifelong and not temporary learning. This, I believe, is heavily influenced by an alumnus, John Dewey, whose philosophy of education included notions of improvement ,as opposed to achievement based, learning and lifelong dedication to educational endeavors. On the other hand, UVM also does not want to merely produce leaders; it wants to produce accountable leaders. While a small nuance, I think it is interesting that the mission is framed with this explicitly in mind.

While I have made copious comments pertaining to what was said in these respective institutions’ mission statements, I want to end by with a statement and a question. Institutions must play a game of sorts to compete for students, faculty, funding, etc. However, how does this game and competition leave some truths silenced, what has been left unsaid in mission statements at these, and other, institutions, and what would it take to name the unnamed or, in some instances, to say the unspeakable?

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