Thoughts on University Mission Statements
So, I’m going to talk about three mission statements here: the mission statements of the University of Georgia, The Ohio State University, and University of Chicago. I’d like to talk about these because I did my undergrad at Georgia, so clearly that university shaped much of my perception of academia, many of my relatives attended OSU, and one of my aunts has been an academic advisor there for many years, and has been a source for much of my early knowledge of Universities, and University of Chicago is an institution where I applied both for undergrad and graduate programs, though I did not attend; furthermore it is the type of institution conducting the type of research that I would like to one day work at.
The University of Georgia, a land-grant and sea-grant university with statewide commitments and responsibilities, is the state’s oldest, most comprehensive, and most diversified institution of higher education. Its motto, “to teach, to serve, and to inquire into the nature of things,” reflects the University’s integral and unique role in the conservation and enhancement of the state’s and nation’s intellectual, cultural, and environmental heritage.
The University of Georgia shares with the other research universities of the University System of Georgia the following core characteristics:
- a statewide responsibility and commitment to excellence and academic achievements having national and international recognition;
- a commitment to excellence in a teaching/learning environment dedicated to serving a diverse and well-prepared student body, to promoting high levels of student achievement, and to providing appropriate academic support services;
- a commitment to excellence in research, scholarship, and creative endeavors that are focused on organized programs to create, maintain, and apply new knowledge and theories; that promote instructional quality and effectiveness; and that enhance institutionally relevant faculty qualifications;
- a commitment to excellence in public service, economic development, and technical assistance activities designed to address the strategic needs of the state of Georgia along with a comprehensive offering of continuing education designed to meet the needs of Georgia’s citizens in life-long learning and professional education;
- a wide range of academic and professional programming at the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral levels.
With its statewide mission and core characteristics, the University of Georgia endeavors to prepare the University community and the state for full participation in the global society of the twenty-first century. Through its programs and practices, it seeks to foster the understanding of and respect for cultural differences necessary for an enlightened and educated citizenry. It further provides for cultural, ethnic, gender, and racial diversity in the faculty, staff, and student body. The University is committed to preparing the University community to appreciate the critical importance of a quality environment to an interdependent global society.
As a comprehensive land-grant and sea-grant institution, the University of Georgia offers baccalaureate, master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees in the arts, humanities, social sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, agricultural and environmental sciences, business, ecology, engineering, environmental design, family and consumer sciences, forest resources, journalism and mass communication, education, law, pharmacy, public health, social work, and veterinary medicine. The university is also home to the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership.
The University attracts students nationally and internationally as well as from within Georgia. It offers the state’s broadest array of possibilities in graduate and professional education, and thus a large minority of the student body is post-baccalaureate. The predominantly Georgian undergraduate student body is a mix of highly qualified students originally admitted as first-year students and selected transfer students principally from other University System institutions.
With original scholarship, basic and applied research, and creative activities constituting an essential core from which to draw, the impact of the land-grant and sea-grant mission is reflected throughout the state. Cooperative extension, continuing education, public service, experiment stations, and technology transfer are all designed to enhance the well-being of the citizens of Georgia through their roles in economic, social, and community development.
As it has been historically, the University of Georgia is responsive to the evolution of the state’s educational, social, and economic needs. It aspires through its strategic planning to even closer contact and interaction with public and private institutions throughout the state as well as with the citizens it serves. – https://www.uga.edu/mission.php
This extensive statement attempts to highlight basically all of it major academic programs and drives while positioning itself as a major focus of research and education for the state and nation.
UGA’s is the longest of the three statements, and I think that there are interesting things not said by this statement. The first thing that stands out to me is that this statement has not been updated since 2016. Much has happened since then, both nationally and around the University. The mission claims that it “is responsive to the evolution of the state’s educational, social, and economic needs” and twice affirms its commitment to a diverse student and faculty bodies. However, since 2016 the university has struggled to live up to this responsiveness. While African American representation is growing, it still vastly lags both state wide demographics, and other major state institutions (https://www.ajc.com/news/local-education/raising-black-student-enrollment-uga-still-challenge/x9VrwKgicVMrzEAsVfBMuI/). Similarly, the university was slow to correctively act following the exhumation and reinternment of African-American (quite probably former slaves) graves during the expansion of one of the academic halls (https://www.redandblack.com/news/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-baldwin-hall-controversy/article_fff28aa0-bf0a-11e9-9256-4f177f5f318c.html – I have access to the ~800 page report mentioned if interested). The mission statement also interestingly mentions its status as the oldest land-grant university in the state, but strangely doesn’t assert its claim to the country’s oldest land grant university, which by some measures it is. I notice emphasis in parts of the statement that I believe reflect political moves by the University System of Georgia: notice the mention of the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership, which utilizes space acquired from the U.S. Navy Supply Corps School, part of a broader trend within the University System of Georgia to combine and consolidate institutions.
I feel like this evaluation comes off as negative, and I don’t want to give that impression; I enjoyed my time there and I know that members of the administration are aware of challenges facing the university through my meetings with president Jere Morehead. I think in some respects, the university often is constrained by it institutional size and age, along with decisions by the USG and State Legislature.
The Ohio State University is the model 21st-century public, land grant, research, urban, community engaged institution.
The university is dedicated to:
Creating and discovering knowledge to improve the well-being of our state, regional, national and global communities;
Educating students through a comprehensive array of distinguished academic programs;
Preparing a diverse student body to be leaders and engaged citizens;
Fostering a culture of engagement and service.
We understand that diversity and inclusion are essential components of our excellence.
Shared values are the commitments made by the University community in how we conduct our work. At The Ohio State University we value:
Diversity in people and of ideas
Access and affordability
Collaboration and multidisciplinary endeavor
Integrity, transparency and trust
Four institution-wide goals are fundamental to the University’s vision, mission and future success:
Teaching and Learning
To provide an unsurpassed, student-centered learning experience led by engaged world-class faculty and staff, and enhanced by a globally diverse student body.
Research and Innovation
To create distinctive and internationally recognized contributions to the advancement of fundamental knowledge and scholarship and toward solutions of the world’s most pressing problems.
Outreach and Engagement
To advance a culture of engagement and collaboration involving the exchange of knowledge and resources in a context of reciprocity with the citizens and institutions of Ohio, the nation, and the world.
To be an affordable public university, recognized for financial sustainability, unparalleled management of human and physical resources, and operational efficiency and effectiveness.
OSU’s statement is much shorter, and far less specific than UGA’s. It doesn’t specifically define what these categories of Vision, Missions, Values, or Goals mean. Nor does it try to identify its strengths and focuses the way UGA’s does. This makes some sense that OSU would need a broader articulation of it’s mission; it has ~68,000 students to UGA’s ~39,000 and must by its nature embrace a broader view of its goals. Between the two, I think UGA’s is more useful. It may be long, but it clearly states what programs it treasures and the role that it envisions for itself – the fact I can criticize .UGA’s as I do earlier is because it engages with it’s history and goals far more directly than does OSU’s. Frankly, nothing about this statement feels specific to OSU; it could almost serve as a boiler plate statement.
University of Chicago:
I cannot find the Mission Statement for the overall university, but their about page has the properties of a mission statement:
The University of Chicago is an urban research university that has driven new ways of thinking since 1890. Our commitment to free and open inquiry draws inspired scholars to our global campuses, where ideas are born that challenge and change the world.
We empower individuals to challenge conventional thinking in pursuit of original ideas. Students in the College develop critical, analytic, and writing skills in our rigorous, interdisciplinary core curriculum. Through graduate programs, students test their ideas with UChicago scholars, and become the next generation of leaders in academia, industry, nonprofits, and government.
UChicago research has led to such breakthroughs as discovering the link between cancer and genetics, establishing revolutionary theories of economics, and developing tools to produce reliably excellent urban schooling. We generate new insights for the benefit of present and future generations with our national and affiliated laboratories: Argonne National Laboratory, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, and the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
The University of Chicago is enriched by the city we call home. In partnership with our neighbors, we invest in Chicago’s mid-South Side across such areas as health, education, economic growth, and the arts. Together with our medical center, we are the largest private employer on the South Side.
In all we do, we are driven to dig deeper, push further, and ask bigger questions—and to leverage our knowledge to enrich all human life. Our diverse and creative students and alumni drive innovation, lead international conversations, and make masterpieces. Alumni and faculty, lecturers and postdocs go on to become Nobel laureates, CEOs, university presidents, attorneys general, literary giants, and astronauts. – https://www.uchicago.edu/about/
UChicago’s self-description is much like UGA’s, though it uses embedded links to do some of the heavy lifting of specificity. Also, like UGA’s statement, it engages with its own institutional history. I like that this statement addresses UChicago’s relationship to the community that it exists within. Athens-Clarke County, the home of UGA, is one of the poorer counties in GA, lagging also in healthcare access and employment opportunities (http://www.oneathens.org/poverty-data). Given UGA’s educational mission, its huge premed program, and its pride in its own business school, I think UGA should honestly evaluate its relationship to the community around it and should address that in its mission statement.
I think it is interesting that these two major land grant universities mission statements are structurally different and that one is more similar to that of a major private university. This is speculative on my part, but I think that these differences reflect the ways UGA has tried to distance itself from its reputation as a “Party School.” In 2012 UGA was the No. 1 Party School in the US (https://www.ajc.com/news/local/uga-named-the-nation-party-school/BFL2mMSWCk3Gfrh0pIygUO/) and finally escaped the top 20 in 2017 (https://www.collegeatlas.org/top-party-schools.html), while OSU has not been in the top 20 in this time period. It makes sense that administrators would want to distance themselves from associations of excessive parting, hence the specific focus on international recognition and academic programs in UGA’s statement. This struggle for legitimacy is perhaps heighted by the contrast in public conception between UGA and Georgia Tech, which is seen as the major STEM school in Georgia, and too which UGA is compared academically. In this regard, both UGA and UChicago express concrete goals for their academic output, which makes their mission statements more meaningful as means of evaluating their accomplishments and goals.