Magazine article Liberal Education

Learning Goals in Mission Statements: Implications for Educational Leadership

Magazine article Liberal Education

Learning Goals in Mission Statements: Implications for Educational Leadership

Article excerpt

"PRESIDENTS AND DEANS must. . . with the cooperation of the professors themselves ... revive the responsibility of the faculty as a whole for the curriculum as a whole," asserted a national report from the Association of American Colleges, labeling this a matter of Integrity in the College Curriculum (1985, 9). Building on this insight, the report recommended a minimum required curriculum and ways to enhance teaching and learning. These ideas were valuable contributions to educational thought and innovation of the time. Now, two decades later, the survey findings that we will describe suggest that this formulation is insufficient.

The faculty work within organizations, and every organizational policy and practice, many outside the purview of faculty, has at least potential impact, either positive or negative, on the curriculum and the learning of students. If the curriculum is to have integrity, institutional priorities, policies, and resource allocations must all support the most important purposes of undergraduate education. Indeed, integrity in the curriculum requires integrity of the institution. This, in turn, means that educational programs should reflect the institutional mission and enjoy the full and informed support not just of the faculty but also of the board of trustees and the president, the primary stewards of the mission.

Peter Drucker (2005, 3) identifies integrity as the first principle of effective management, saying that "the spirit of an organization is created from the top .... The proof of the sincerity and seriousness of a management is uncompromising emphasis on integrity of character." The president (and the administration for which she or he is responsible) and board of trustees must act consistently and repeatedly to assure institutional integrity. They must be certain that their organization does what it says and says what it does.

The fundamental way the president and the board establish integrity is by approving a mission statement and then acting in ways that advance the mission. The mission statement is an institution's formal, public declaration of its purposes and its vision of excellence. Ideally it contains enough specificity for determining whether alternative educational and institutional practices could advance the mission. Although the mission statement usually is a composite of ideas and recommendations from many constituencies, it is "owned" primarily by the president and the board. The president typically designs and guides the process to secure advice from all constituencies and integrates disparate ideas into a coherent whole. The board reviews, revises, and endorses the mission statement.

The campus's mission statement, which in practice can be a single sentence or a lengthy document, is not the same as a mission of an institution, a living sense among individuals in diverse roles of what that institution is and why it is important. But without a statement that reflects widespread agreement and the shared understanding of central priorities among the president, board of trustees, and other constituencies, it is difficult to understand how a lived mission can emerge in practice. The mission statement is the necessary condition for many different individuals to pull together through a myriad of activities to achieve central shared purposes.

One would expect an educational institution to have a mission statement that expresses a sense of its educational vision, particularly what it expects its students to learn and how that learning can be used to benefit the social order. That educational vision should be deeply rooted in the institution's identity and practices, rather than being discarded when a president, dean, or inspired faculty leader moves on. Of course, the mission statement is merely one of many possible documents describing and supporting an institution's vision of educational excellence for its students. Yet the mission statement is the most enduring, respected, and public of these documents and, importantly, the one that will be turned to for guidance both when resources are plentiful and new initiatives can be envisioned as well as when resources become scarce and difficult choices must be made. …

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