On Mission Statements

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

Steve Collins writes about Tunxis’ mission statement and makes interesting associations to Harvard

In a word: sort of. Tunxis has created a mission statement that succinctly states the goals of the College but is, I believe, very generalized and somewhat vague. By definition, a community college seeks to provide an affordable education to a broad range of students in a convenient location. Tunxis’ mission statement simply restates that basic premise then adds a few words about “fostering the skills necessary to succeed.”(1) There is no further explanation or clarification. To my way of thinking, that comes up a bit short. To expand on this point, I’d like to contrast it with portions of the mission statement released on Harvard’s web site.
With its reputation and long history, Harvard could have simply rested on its laurels when preparing a mission statement. Instead, it opens with this general declaration of purpose:

In brief, Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge, and to enable students to take best advantage of their educational opportunities. (2)

The statement then continues with a detailed description of just how Harvard will carry out this plan for its students, encouraging them to “respect ideas and their free expression,” “to rejoice in discovery and in critical thought,” “to pursue excellence,” and to “assume responsibility for the consequences of personal action.” It goes on to say: “Education at Harvard should liberate students to explore, to create, to challenge, and to lead.” And finally:

The support the College provides to students is a foundation upon which self-reliance and habits of lifelong learning are built: Harvard expects that the scholarship and collegiality it fosters in its students will lead them in their later lives to advance knowledge, to promote understanding, and to serve society.

Note that there is no mention of cost or convenient location. Instead, the focus is on learning for the sake of learning, on the many benefits that a good education can bring to the life of a student, and on the lifelong consequences of the Harvard experience. The statement acknowledges the development of the individual student and the college’s potential for helping them realize their personal goals in life. It recognizes the individual’s place as a member of society as well, and promises to support them as they go on to become potential leaders within that society.


7 responses to “On Mission Statements”

  1. Mary Ellen says:

    Arriving here at the end of what appears to be a class assignment, my question is: isn’t comparing Tunxis to Harvard a little like comparing my ten-year-old minivan to the Endeavor? Yeah, they both take you places, but I cannot write a mission statement for my van which would be comparable to NASA’s. How is Mr. Collins’ comparison valid?

  2. Josh says:

    “…Harvard strives to create knowledge, to open the minds of students to that knowledge…”

    Create knowledge? The above statement sends up all kinds of red flags for me.

  3. Mikeni says:

    “isn’t comparing Tunxis to Harvard a little like comparing my ten-year-old minivan to the Endeavor?”~Mary Ellen

    How you figure? Hey, I’ve spoken with some Ivy League University students, via internet, and I didn’t find any of the few I spoke to any more intelligent than some of the students I’ve met at Tunxis. The difference that I found with those students was that they have acquired the skills many of us at Tunixs are truggling to acquire or to exploit.

    “Create knowledge? The above statement sends up all kinds of red flags for me.”~Josh

    Such as?–examples please.

  4. Mary Ellen says:

    My implications are certainly not that Harvard students are more intelligent; if pressed for my opinion, I’d probably agree with you on that. My point is that Tunxis serves–very well–an extremely diverse population of students, in ethnicity, age, social, and economic backgrounds. I do not feel they can, or should, try to craft a mission statement espousing how everyone attending will have the skills necessary to become a CEO in Manhattan. Harvard serves an elect segment of the population who need the skills they promote through their mission. Tunxis’ students need what Tunxis provides: the skills necessary to succeed. Leaving it “vague” allows it to remain applicable to everyone.

  5. Steve Collins says:

    I just want to clarify that the piece that Steve cites about the Tunxis mission statement was actually written by one of my Comp 101 students. It got a little confusing because I posted it to a blog for other students to read and comment on.
    In case anyone wants to see the other Comp 101 student essays on the mission statement, you can find them here: http://tunxismissionstatement.blogspot.com.
    Keep in mind, please, that these were written at the beginning of the semester! :)

  6. gibb says:

    Not a working url, Steve C. Is something missing from it?

  7. Steve Collins says:

    A period worked its way in there. This one should be fine:
    http://tunxismissionstatement.blogspot.com/