How Mission Statements Improve our Lives

Steven Dutch, Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
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A Note to Visitors

I will respond to questions and comments as time permits, but if you want to take issue with any position expressed here, you first have to answer this question:

What evidence would it take to prove your beliefs wrong?

I simply will not reply to challenges that do not address this question. Refutability is one of the classic determinants of whether a theory can be called scientific. Moreover, I have found it to be a great general-purpose cut-through-the-crap question to determine whether somebody is interested in serious intellectual inquiry or just playing mind games. Note, by the way, that I am assuming the burden of proof here - all you have to do is commit to a criterion for testing. It's easy to criticize science for being "closed-minded". Are you open-minded enough to consider whether your ideas might be wrong?

Specifically, give me an example of an institution anywhere whose performance was improved by drafting a mission statement.


My institution, like most others, is deeply into the production of goals, objectives, and mission statements. The end results of these enterprises are invariably collections of platitudes, banalities, and the trivially obvious. I went on line and randomly pulled down a few mission statements. The first one is from government, the next from industry, and the rest are from universities. Commentaries are in bold face.

If you're a pilot, and you need a mission statement that says "Land the plane safely at the right airport," I want a different airline. If you're a doctor, and you need a mission statement that says "Remove the right organ," I want a second opinion.


From the National Weather Service Mission Statement

The National Weather Service (NWS) provides weather, hydrologic, and climate forecasts and warnings 

Is that what a Weather Service does? I thought the National Weather Service sold drugs

for the United States, its territories, adjacent waters and ocean areas, 

Guess that's why they call it "National", huh?

for the protection of life and property and the enhancement of the national economy. 

As opposed to all those other government agencies that are out to hurt people and wreck the economy? Let's just for fun not tell them about this approaching hurricane.


From a corporate mission statement

To operate the Company on a sound financial basis of profitable growth...

Our competitors try to lose money

increasing value for our shareholders....

Our competitors are proud of their declining share values


Some University Mission Statements

The mission of the University of West Dakota Men's and Women's Department of  Intercollegiate Athletics is to provide opportunities for participation in intercollegiate athletics 

Duhh !!! No wonder we've been losing! All the athletes are in the History Department!

in an environment that encourages the achievement of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship.

When's the last time you saw good sportsmanship on the sports pages? In an enterprise that produced the likes of Woody Hayes and Bobby Knight, talking about "sportsmanship" in intercollegiate athletics is just plan laughable.

We are committed to maintaining a proper balance between participation in athletics and the educational and social life common to all students.

So no travel away from classes, right? All games are scheduled over the summer and during breaks. And any trouble with the law terminates the athletic career, right?

Within this environment we seek to enhance opportunities for intercollegiate athletic competition...

Just in case you forgot the first sentence.


Tennetucky State University aspires to stimulate a lasting attitude of inquiry, openness and social responsibility. 

Unlike all those other universities that foster intellectual stagnation, closed-mindedness, and social irresponsibility.

To meet these aspirations, we are committed to providing excellent academic programs, educational experiences and creative scholarship.

Most other universities like Cal Tech or MIT strive for mediocre academic programs and unpublishable research.


Central to our mission are our goals, which are to foster excellence in our teaching, research, scholarship, and service; 

We tried fostering incompetence, but we were swamped with applicants. And how about that having the goals central to the mission? Everybody else strives for goals wholly unrelated to the mission.

to prepare students with the attitudes, skills, and habits of lifelong learning 

Most other places try to kill students' curiosity

and with leadership skills, 

As opposed to all those other places that try to produce followers. Bet Yale doesn't do this?

enabling them to be useful members of a global society; 

This puts us in sharp distinction to all those other places like Princeton that encourage uselessness

and to be an exemplary institution in our home community of Los Pedos, as well as in the nation and in the world. 

We got too much bad press trying to be a bad example


The mission of Minneconsin State University is to serve its students and the people of Minneconsin 

Trying to serve the people of our state! Are we tricky, or what? This is just a smoke screen to hide the fact that we really serve the state next door.

as a doctoral/research-extensive, land-grant university. 

Who would ever have guessed that something called "Minneconsin State University" was actually a university?

Through the active integration of teaching, research, extension, and engagement, Minneconsin State University creates an innovative learning environment

The only university in the world that does

that stresses mastery of fundamentals, intellectual discipline, creativity, problem solving, and responsibility.

All those other places like Harvard stress gross ignorance, intellectual dishonesty, laziness, plagiarism, and passing the buck.

Seriously, how can you be "innovative" and simultaneously stress "mastery of fundamentals?" "Fundamentals," by their very nature, are established, not innovative. The problem is not the stress on fundamentals, but the use of that overworked buzzword, "innovative." As natural selection shows, most innovations fail.

Enhancing its historic strengths in agriculture, science, and engineering

How daring! Most universities prefer to scrap their successful programs. Harvard Medical School, for example, has switched entirely to cosmetology.

with a commitment to excellence in a comprehensive range of academic disciplines,

Unlike all those other places that are committed to just getting by

Minneconsin State University provides leadership 

If every university produces leaders, who are they all going to lead?

for intellectual, cultural, social, economic, and technological development within the state, the nation, and the world. 

Too many universities are dedicated to wrecking the economy and stifling development.


Finally, the only intelligent mission statement I found:  the NutzWorld.Com Mission Statement:

1. Rule the World
2. Get lots of Cookies
3. Eat the Cookies
4. Get more Cookies
5. Eat those Cookies too.


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Created 15 May, 2002, Last Update 02 June, 2010

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