Mission Statements: Just a Mantra?

As a doctoral student who has only ever attended public universities, I have always been curious what my experiences would have been like had I attended a private university. So, when deciding on mission statements to look up and reflect on, I decided to investigate statements from both a private and public university. I figured the two institutions would provide valuable insights into what public vs. private universities seek to provide their students and communities.

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The private university I chose was Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Their mission statement is as follows:

“Cornell is a private, Ivy League university and the land-grant university for New York State. Cornell’s mission is to discover, preserve, and disseminate knowledge; produce creative work; and promote a culture of broad inquiry throughout and beyond the Cornell community. Cornell also aims, through public service, to enhance the lives and livelihoods of our students, the people of New York, and others around the world.”

The first thing I found interesting about this statement was the fact that Cornell is both a private as well as a land-grant university. From what I thought I understood about land-grant institutions, I was under the impression they were exclusively public universities since they received money from the state. However, a little internet research revealed that a land-grant institution is one that receives benefits from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. The Morrill Acts funded educational institutions by granting federally controlled land to the states for them to sell, raise funds, establish and endow “land-grant” colleges. The mission of these land-grant colleges was to focus on the teaching of practical agriculture, science, military science, and engineering (without excluding “classical studies”). The remainder of their mission statement reflected that of any land-grant university by promising to provided education and disseminate knowledge. I liked the additional statement about Cornell providing pubic service aiming to enhance the lives of the people of New York and around the world.

mission3The public university I chose was my alma mater Kansas State University (KSU) located in Manhattan, Kansas. Their mission statement is as follows:

The mission of Kansas State University is to foster excellent teaching, research, and service that develop a highly skilled and educated citizenry necessary to advancing the well-being of Kansas, the nation, and the international community. The university embraces diversity, encourages engagement and is committed to the discovery of knowledge, the education of undergraduate and graduate students, and improvement in the quality of life and standard of living of those we serve.

Though it isn’t explicitly stated in their mission statement, KSU is also a land-grant university. Their promise to foster teaching, research, and service are all making good on their role as a land-grant college. Like Cornell, they promise to advance the well-being of their state as well as the world. A significant different between KSU’s mission statement and Cornell’s is that KSU mentions embracing diversity, where as Cornell mentioned it was a “private, Ivy League” institution. Just from their mission statements, I would gather that KSU is a more inclusive institution for students and staff.

Overall, the mission statements of these institutions share several similarities. I believe this may be due to their “land-grant” nature, and I would be interested to see if other non land-grant universities (both private and public) reflect the commonalities in KSU’s and Cornell’s missions. However, I find it incredibly interesting that one university includes diversity, and by default inclusivity, in its mission while the other does not. I guess my final thought on the subject would be: I wonder how the promises within these missions manifest in the learning environment of their respective universities?


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