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Does your college have a mission—or just a mission statement?

May 21, 2019

Even the healthiest, most collegial colleges and universities experience some tension and disagreement between trustees and faculty. For less fortunate institutions, this relationship can be downright hostile.

Our members frequently ask for our advice on building common ground between leaders and faculty. One of the many institutions where we’ve worked on this issue is a small, religiously affiliated college where trustees and faculty had a challenging relationship. To help identify the root of these frictions, we asked both groups the same set of questions about their institution’s strategic position and identity. Here’s how their responses compared:

The college’s stakeholders are in agreement…

Faculty and trustees agreed on a number of specific issues:

  • The college’s small and welcoming community as a strength: Faculty and trustees both valued the campus’s small size and intimate learning environment.
  • The threat of demographic decline and competition: The expansion of nearby competitors and the shrinking youth population were serious concerns.
  • The opportunity for new and innovative programs: Both groups wanted to reach new, and bigger, populations of students, and felt that new offerings would help their college achieve this goal.

…except on the college’s purpose

But they disagreed on one of the biggest fundamentals: The institution’s mission. Trustees overwhelmingly viewed the college’s mission and religious affiliation as core strengths for the institution. However, barely a tenth of faculty shared this opinion. Faculty were more likely to say the college lacked a distinct identity.

Learn to recognize an institutional identity crisis

At first glance, it doesn’t look like this college has an identity problem. The institution’s mission features prominently and consistently on the website and in promotional materials. But even though the messaging was clear for a prospective student or donor, it didn’t ring true for the faculty working at the institution.

It was as if the faculty worked at an entirely different college than the one guided by the trustees. Disagreement about the institution’s mission and purpose led to friction and distrust between these two groups, stifling progress even in areas where both groups agreed on the path forward.

Tell your school’s story internally, as well as externally

While most presidents recognize the need to sell their college or university’s value to prospective students and external partners, fewer recognize the value of selling their institution internally. Reminding faculty and staff about the college’s mission and the role of their work in that mission helps align individual efforts with institutional goals.

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