Wednesday, May 24, 2006

University mission statements: Blather 

So says Vincent Cannato, in a review of Harry Lewis' new book on higher education, "Excellence Without a Soul":
So how does Harvard define an educated person? A Harvard education, the university states, "must provide a broad introduction to the knowledge needed in an increasingly global and connected, yet simultaneously diverse and fragmented world." Mr. Lewis, rightfully dismissive, notes that the school never actually says what kind of knowledge is "needed." The words are meaningless blather, he says, proving that "Harvard no longer knows what a good education is."
Boy does THAT sound familiar? Let's have a look at
SCSU's mission statement:St. Cloud State University is committed to excellence in teaching, learning, and service, fostering scholarship and enhancing collaborative relationships in a global community.
So what will be taught and learned? What is the value of "enhancing collaborative relationships"? And notice the presence of the word "global". Global is the word used by the diversity worshippers when they know the word "diversity" might put off the paying customers. As Lewis points out about Harvard is also true of SCSU: Most American universities do not think of themselves as American. The Sorbonne and Oxford do not suffer from these deficiencies.

The vision statement isn't much more help in deciding what it is they want our students to know:
St. Cloud State University will be a leader in scholarship and education for excellence and opportunity in a global community.
Scholarship for excellence? What is that? Cannato exposes the missing mundane things a university needs to create a real vision of what a good education includes:
There is too little accountability at most schools, Mr. Lewis observes. Trustees often abdicate their responsibilities, while college presidents have become glorified fund-raisers. Most professors are "narrowly educated experts" with little experience outside academia. They are "poorly equipped to help college students sort out" their lives. Meanwhile, professors teach what they want to teach based on their own interests, not on the needs of their students. At too many schools, Mr. Lewis argues, students pursue an "� la carte" course schedule that lacks coherence and can leave large gaps in knowledge.
And without a meaningful mission, nobody can tell what's missing.