The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"I detest converts almost as much as I do missionaries.".... ....H.L. Mencken.

Commentary of the Day - March 26, 2007: Mission Impossible.  Guest Commentary by Carolyn Segal.

Right now I'm working on my personal mission statement.  My personal mission statement will be designed to dovetail with the family mission statement that I wrote last week.  I hung the family mission statement on the wall by the front door, and my neighbors liked it so much that they have asked me to write one for them.  I was inspired to develop both the family mission statement and my personal mission statement because of the amazing results that I have seen since my college created its mission statement.

As a result of the mission statement that my college has put in place (and I am proud to say that I was a member of the original sub-committee of the ad hoc committee charged with writing my college's mission statement), the faculty and administration have devoted countless hours to making sure that we understand exactly what it is we seem to be saying in our mission statement.  We have had a number of lively and spirited campus forums and closed meetings in which we have discussed whether we should change the curriculum to match the mission statement or, in the interests of financial expediency, tweak the mission statement to match the curriculum. Several standing and ad hoc committees are now in the process of determining the following: is a revision necessary at this time, who should be on the mission statement revision committee, what exactly is the identity and nature of our little college on the hill, and is that semicolon in the last sentence really necessary, or would the sentence be better served with another form of punctuation?  After all, as Emily Dickinson would say, this is our message -- our mission statement -- to the world.

There is apparently some confusion between the mission statement and the vision statement.  While, ideally, the two should mesh, there are indeed some distinct differences.  For example, a vision statement is usually longer, and, based on financial expediency, subject to even more frequent revisions than the mission statement.

While never forgetting for a moment the mission statement or the vision statement of your college, it is important that you do not neglect your departmental mission statement; in fact, it is best to have a mission statement for every major, co-major, minor, and concentration. Interestingly, departmental mission statements are often longer than college-wide mission statements.  And it is here that your creativity can blossom and shine.  For example, if your task is to write the English department’s mission statement, how can you best-- in  500 words or more -- convey that your department's mission is to lead students to read, write, and think?  Let there be adjectives and adverbs.

Allusions to great mission statements of the past -- like mine in the last sentence above (a skill honed in the many hours I've devoted to this craft) -- can enrich your mission statement.  Note, however, that even God's first mission statement -- "Let there be light" (admittedly a killer first line) required additions and amendments by the very next day.

Some colleges are apparently now requiring that faculty members commit their institution’s mission statement to memory -- a brilliant way to impress parents and prospective students.  And it is, after all, always good to know what your institution is up to.  This development has alarmed some, however, who fear being called upon to deliver -- upon command, possibly beneath bright lights --something approaching a loyalty oath.  Others are concerned about their ability to recall the mission statement in its entirety.  A solution for this latter problem of performance anxiety might be to cast the mission statement in verse, allowing the mnemonic devices of rhyme and meter to carry one -- almost unconsciously -- through the recitation.

Some of you reading this may still lack confidence in your ability to compose an academic mission statement.  It's simple, really.  Just go online and check out the tens of hundreds of models and templates available.  If you find this approach ignoble and wish to be original, just remember to combine the words "excellent" and "education" in the first sentence and to limit your use of the phrases "critical thinking" and "global perspective" to no more than five repetitions per paragraph.

Some may argue that the phrase "mission statement" is in itself problematic, given the fact that in our post-colonial world the word "mission" has accrued some serious negative connotations.  Indeed, it may be time to return to the humble motto.

The motto, consisting of just a few words in what may initially appear to be an unintelligible language, has the added benefit of fitting on a ring or letterhead.  Thus there will be no danger of our ever forgetting again exactly what, after all, our mission is.

2007 Carolyn Foster Segal.
Carolyn Foster Segal is an Associate Professor of English at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, PA.

The IP comments:  A college without a mission statement is like a fish without a bicycle.  Here at Krispy Kreme U. we not only have a motto: "California State University, Fullerton ... where learning is preeminent."  We have a three paragraph mission statement followed by eight specific goals.  And, if those eight specific goals are not enough, we have a grand total of 48 strategies to implement those eight goals.  In the old days, before mission statements, we pretty much knew what we were about at KKU; namely, providing a good quality college education at very low cost both to the student and to the taxpayer.  Now that we have a fancy mission statement complete with goals and strategies, we watch helplessly as quality continues to erode and costs, especially those our students must bear, soar.  Perhaps we might do better with a less bloated mission statement, and for that matter with a less bloated administration.

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© 2007 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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