Can the Mission Be Changed?
Those who concur see the value of a liberal education in ways similar to my comments. Those who are less supportive see the need for professional preparation as primary. But we are talking about the issue, debating the various perspectives, and that in itself demonstrates the value of liberal education.
Last week I tried to move this discussion from rhetoric to reality by suggesting several strategies that might be used to preserve liberal education at the core of the educational experience. I have always believed that complaining about a problem without offering solutions for change/improvement is of little value.
The fourth strategy I suggested last week was the re-evaluation of the college’s mission. My argument is that we need not create an either/or situation, but rather can focus on quality liberal education and quality professional preparation. In other words, the dinosaurs can be saved … or at least can evolve.
But I was reminded of the difficulty of change for many organizations when I read some of the proceedings from the recent national conference of the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities (AGB). AGB is a great organization that provides training and resources for trustees and leaders of colleges and universities, both public and private. I have attended and presented at their conferences over the years and always found the information thoughtful and helpful.
One of the topics at the recent conference was the mission of colleges and the pressure by external groups (parents, students, legislators, and accrediting bodies) to provide more career based education that meets the needs of the global economy. One of the speakers, who is the president of the Association of American Universities, “warned college leaders against bowing to public pressure.” He stated clearly his view that liberal arts colleges and research universities remain true to their founding missions.
It is no surprise that there are some who believe so strongly in their mission and/or are so resistant to change that the thought of evolving the college’s mission is anathema. But the question that I keep reflecting upon is whether or not …and how … does an organization change its mission? And if it does change its mission, is it a different organization? Does it lose (or confuse) its identity?
Organizations (including colleges) develop new strategies and new programs regularly to respond to the interests and needs of their customers. Some organizations do this to generate revenue. Some do this to increase satisfaction and performance. Some do it because of their commitment to quality improvement and excellence. But the mission of an organization defines its identity and core values. It delineates what makes the organization unique and distinctive.
The fact is that the educational needs of students has changed and will likely continue to change. Colleges need to be cognizant of the world in which our graduates will work and live. Changing or evolving the college’s mission must be done carefully and prudently, respectful of the history, tradition and core values of the institution. But in the end, at the very heart of every college and university is the commitment to providing quality education for every student. And that mission must never change?
(As always, your comments and ideas are welcome.)