Before writing this blog, I have always been confused about the commonly appeared terms in the “About Us” section on the universities’ home page. There are, essentially, motto, vision, mission and sometimes, core values, action plans, goals and objectives. A motto is easier to tell from the rest due to its universal agreement on the succinctness. It usually appears as a short phrase or even a single word such as the famous Harvard motto “Veritas”. However, the line between vision and mission statements never seemed to be distinctive to me. So part of the mission of this blog is to help myself to clarify the two terms.
Across my research, I found this website particularly helpfully in analyzing and explaining the differences between the two terms. It also provides a comprehensive comparative list of the key elements underlying these two concepts. Mission Statement VS Vision Statement . Incorporating online sources and my own interpretation, I think, in summary, vision statement sets the ultimate goals of an institute and serves to “North Star” to inspire while mission statement outlines the identity and the current tasks and pathways to achieve the shared vision. Both statements need to address certain defining questions, but the length and the style of writing can vary greatly.
A simple search of the mission statement online yields a wide spectrum of mission statements of varying format, specificity, length, use of language, purposes and even ages. The most common debate seems to center around how long a mission statement needs to be to be effective. While the conventional wisdom seems to prefer the long and highly elaborated style, there is a recent movement towards shorter and nimbler mission statements. Kevin Kiley made a case for shorter college mission statements in Inside Higher Education. In his article, “Saying More With Less”, he advocated the creation of shorter and more impactful forms of university-wide mission statements by highlight some pioneer works of the short statements. The upside of this new approach is obvious. It is easy to understand and hence to be remembered and to be incorporated into the daily actions. Besides, on a more practical note, a shorter mission statement has more popular advertising appeal. It could be used more convenient to expand the influence circle of an institution. Because of these attractive traits, the shorter path has begun to be preferred by many innovative universities, in particular those with a strong focus. While I agree with his position, I think there is still a place for the classical long versions.
The 220-word mission statement of Harvard provides a classic example of the conventional mission statement. Despite the length, this mission statement is only for Harvard College, the undergraduate program. Currently, there is not a formal mission statement for Harvard University, which encompasses the College, the graduate schools and other, affiliated bodies and institution. Given the length, the readers can still tell the writers strived to keep the statement succinct from the use of works such as “in brief”. However, it is also understandable that as one of the oldest and most respected college, the mission statement of Harvard has to be answerable to a very large and diverse group of audience. It has to address what the College, as a collective body of more than 40 fields of studies, strives to do and the way to do it. Although the academic objectives of the department of anthropology differ hugely from that of computer science, the mission statement unifies the various departments under the overarching goal of creating knowledge and enlightening minds. The way to excel in any concentration of studies is also identified by laying out the fundamental principles to create a highly conducive academic environment. Essential ideas such as “academic freedom”, “lifelong learning”, “liberating full potential”, are emphasized to effectively convey the message. Overall, as the readers ruminate over the passage, it could instill in them a sense of prestige and inspiration to be part of or associated with this institute.
“Harvard College adheres to the purposes for which the Charter of 1650 was granted: “The advancement of all good literature, arts, and sciences; the advancement and education of youth in all manner of good literature, arts, and sciences; and all other necessary provisions that may conduce to the education of the … youth of this country….” In brief: Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities. To these ends, the College encourages students to respect ideas and their free expression, and to rejoice in discovery and in critical thought; to pursue excellence in a spirit of productive cooperation; and to assume responsibility for the consequences of personal actions. Harvard seeks to identify and to remove restraints on students’ full participation, so that individuals may explore their capabilities and interests and may develop their full intellectual and human potential. Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead. The support the College provides to students is a foundation upon which self-reliance and habits of lifelong learning are built: Harvard expects that the scholarship and collegiality it fosters in its students will lead them in their later lives to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.
Harry R. Lewis
Dean of Harvard College
February 23, 1997”
Another institute, which also adopts the long, approach but with a different style is the College of Computer Science at University of Texas at Austin. Compared to Harvard College, this college has a much more defined scope and focus. This is clearly reflected in the mission statement. The 195-word passage is pivoted on the essential and unique qualities of the computer science. It defines the roles of the technology and of the Department and relates that to the society. Instead of listing the fundamental academic spirits, this statement highlights the specific skills pertinent to the computer science such as “software and hardware tools”, “research laboratory”, “practical technical skills”. Instead of a continuous prose, this statement resembles more like a bulletin format. The shorter bulletin form also makes each message stand out even to a quick reader.
“Computer science is at the intellectual forefront of the digital revolution that will define the 21st century. That revolution is in its infancy but is visible all around us. New scientific, economic and social paradigms are arising from computing science and being felt across all sectors of the economy and society at large.
The Department of Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin is a recognized leader in the creation of scientific knowledge and practical technologies that are defining this historic transformation. Our mission is to supply the people and ideas that will shape this new frontier.
The jobs of tomorrow will use technologies not yet invented. Many of the software and hardware tools that enable these technologies are being invented by our faculty and students. Such innovation requires dedication to learning, in the classroom, in the research laboratory, and throughout one’s professional career.
Scientific discovery and technological innovation require mastery of the fundamentals of computing science as well as mastery of practical technical skills.
At the Department of Computer Science, we offer a unique educational opportunity for students to achieve excellence in both through rigorous classes and participation in cutting edge research.”