Magazine article Academe

Mission Statement Impossible

Magazine article Academe

Mission Statement Impossible

Article excerpt


Mission Statements are "in" these days. Even our local dry cleaner has one. So it was only a matter of time before our own institution was called upon to define itself. What could be easier? The people charged to draft the statement, the faculty, were simply being asked to describe their own doings.

The original draft seemed quite plausible:

Date Mundo

(Latin for "Give to the World!")

Committed to a faculty that excels in research and teaching, we seek a diverse and talented student body to educate and to prepare for the world's intellectual and moral challenges.

Although this appeared to cover all the bases simply yet accurately, we soon discovered that not everyone was of like mind. First to rise at a critical faculty meeting was Professor Trampolini (names have been changed to protect against lawsuits) of Romance languages, who questioned whether "research and teaching" suggested a skewed sense of priority: "If I had to describe what I do," he said, "it would be teach and research." A member of the dance department argued that the very term "research" excluded less traditional forms of inquiry, passionately describing how a well-executed pas de bourrée couru was a way of knowing about the physical world. (At that, a professor from physics was heard to snort loudly and the meeting was quickly adjourned.)

The minutes of a second faculty meeting record a diverse range of opinions about inclusion of the term "diverse":

Professor X wished to understand the role that height plays in our admissions process. . . . Should we be seeking, Professor Y asked, a diverse body of students or rather a body of diverse students? . . . We must move away from this metaphor of the "body of students," Professor Z insisted: "If the students form a body, " she said, "we shall be embarrassed to say which group composes its head and which its hindquarters. …

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