Thoughts on Mission Statements

I’ve never really paid attention to mission statements before, so before I did my research I read the blogpost from Julián David Cortés-Sánchez (linked in this week’s assignment page) trying to get some insight. I’m sure the author elaborates more in his preprint Mission and Vision Statements of Universities Worldwide – A Content Analysis, but this post left me only with confusion. What do the five most frequently used terms in mission and vision statement entail? What’s the point of comparing the length of mission and vision statements? I don’t think the author provided an answer convincing enough for my questions. In the “what for” section, he offered access to the database his study was based on. To be fair I downloaded some of the excel files and skimmed through them, and most of them are compiled “to” statements from different universities. It’s highly likely because I don’t work in higher education, but I really don’t see how it helps “define the purpose of a university” or whatsoever. Therefore till this point, both the blogpost and the idea of mission statements are to me “a Starry Night replica hung in the main hallway”.

However, I did find something quite interesting when I started looking through mission statements from different universities, namely my alma mater, Bryn Mawr College, and where I am at now, Virginia Tech.

Bryn Mawr is a women’s liberal arts college, one of the seven sisters and is located in the suburb of Philadelphia, while Virginia Tech is a public land-grant university in … the middle of nowhere (sorry). I expected a ton of differences when it comes to their mission statements, and the first thing that stroke me was the difference in length. Bryn Mawr has a quite lengthy mission, with a total word count of 217 words, while Virginia Tech’s mission is composed of 47 words, however clearly defines what Virginia Tech is and what guidelines it abides by.

It seemed like a liberal arts college versus public university thing at the first glance, but through a few searches I realized it is not so. Length of a mission statement really does not say anything, and many schools with a short mission statement supplement it with a few other subsequent sections, leaving “mission” all but a name. For example, following that 47-word statement, Virginia Tech provides three links on inclusion and diversity, public service and university leadership to expand on how the university carries its mission. Ohio State has a 62-word statement, but on the same page it clearly defines its value and provides a rather lengthy section of core goals, which I think is what the idea of mission entails.

In terms of content, the mission statements of both universities share quite a few similarities: both talk about inclusion, community, civic engagement and global perspective. In line with the motto, Ut Prosim, more than 20 of the 47 words (depending on how you count it) in Virginia Tech’s 47-word mission statement talks about serving the humanity. I think this matches with the school’s identity of a public land-grant university, and following this guideline, Virginia Tech is doing a pretty ok job on service learning (at least to me).

Bryn Mawr doesn’t surprise me by emphasizing “rigorous liberal arts curriculum”, “equity and inclusion” and community, but it is interesting that the mission statement opens with this sentence: “Bryn Mawr College educates students to the highest standard of excellence to prepare them for lives of purpose.” I have very mixed feelings when I read this, and it is really unique even among mission statements of other liberal arts colleges. Anyways, now that I look back on what Bryn Mawr has done for me, albeit rather unsuccessful, this school was indeed doing a lot towards that preparation. And this is the kind of place I hope to teach at in the future, and this is what I hope I can prepare my students for as well.