UO launches mission statement revision effort

Boiling down a university’s purpose and reason for being into a few trenchant words is no small task, but it’s one that is now front and center at the UO.

Provost Scott Coltrane has just launched a campus-wide discussion aimed at producing a revised mission statement for the university. He and Brad Shelton, vice provost for budget and planning, held the first of three open sessions on the project Wednesday as part of the effort to engage the campus community.

Shelton acknowledged early on that the very words “mission statement” sometimes cause people’s “eyes to roll,” but he pointed out that at its best, a declaration of a university’s core mission can be a vital marker for its direction, vision and values. It can influence how the institution is seen by the public and by political leaders as well as by its peers.

That’s why Coltrane is urging the UO community to get involved in the process. A new website offers a complete rundown on the reasons behind the effort, background material, mission statements from all Oregon’s public four-year universities and the UO’s fellow public institutions in the Association of American Universities and a list of future public meetings.

Most importantly, the website has a link to a survey that will guide campus leaders in crafting a mission statement that goes to the heart of what the UO is and does.

The effort is driven by the ongoing transition in the governance structures of both the university and the state system of higher education. Oregon’s new Higher Education Coordinating Commission requested a review of all university mission statements as part of an overall assessment of how the state’s public universities are meeting the state’s needs.

That discussion will come this summer, but first the UO mission statement will have to be approved by its new board of trustees. In order for the board to act in time, trustees will need to consider the statement at their June 11 meeting. That’s put the effort on a short time line.

That’s why Coltrane is urging people to visit the website and especially to fill out the survey. They also can attend either of the two remaining public meetings, at 2 p.m. May 6 and 10 a.m. May 20, both in the Knight Library Browsing Room.

As for the value of the mission statement, Coltrane noted that the revision will help launch next year’s strategic planning effort to identify and prioritize academic initiatives for new investment. Shelton also noted that a good mission statement acts as a kind of roadmap for university leaders as well as a standard by which the campus community can judge the institutions progress.

Along with the content and wording of the statement, issues to be decided are how long the statement should be and what format should be used. About a half dozen people attended Wednesday’s session and discussed the merits of brevity versus broadness. The talk also covered format, such as whether the mission statement should include separate statements on the university’s purpose, vision and values and whether it should also have a preamble.

Examples of the different formats, lengths and content can be seen in the links on the mission statement revision website.

- by Greg Bolt, Office of Public Affairs Communications