February 1, 1999
At the risk of inciting yawns among you, I'd like to talk to you about Tulane's new mission statement. I'll admit that, by virtue of misuse, the words "mission statement" have become almost meaningless in our society.
A mission statement, the more skeptical among you might think, is little more than a public relations tool, or a vague set of phrases thrown together to meet an accreditation requirement. But a true mission statement is more than that--it should be the embodiment of an organization's very soul.
Those of us involved in recent strategic planning work have put together what we believe is an eloquent and painstakingly crafted embodiment of Tulane, of what this university is about. The last time Tulane updated its mission statement was a decade ago; I bet few remember it. I want us not only to remember this new statement, but to warmly embrace it as it provides the direction by which we take this university into the future.
A lot of people have already looked at these words, discussed them and dissected them. That's all a part of the process of reaching an agreement about who we are as an institution, what we value and who we hope to be.
This is the statement that will go before the Tulane Board of Administrators in February: "Tulane's purpose is to create, communicate and conserve knowledge in order to enrich the capacity of individuals, organizations and communities to think, to learn and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom.
"Tulane pursues this mission by cultivating an environment that focuses on learning and the generation of new knowledge; by expecting and rewarding teaching and research of extraordinarily high quality and impact; and by fostering community- building initiatives as well as scientific, cultural and social understanding that integrate with and strengthen learning and research. This mission is pursued in the context of the unique qualities of our location in New Orleans, and our continual aspiration to be a truly distinctive international university."
I realize that, outside of a few of you grammarians out there, no one really wants to see a single sentence deconstructed. But I would like you to read the words of our mission statement with the same care as with which they were written.
Not a single word was chosen lightly. For instance, look at the two segments of the first sentence--our statement of purpose. When we say our purpose is to "create, communicate and conserve knowledge," we are identifying the purpose of a research university and reaffirming our own desire to remain a university devoted to the creation, dissemination and preservation of knowledge.
This is who we are. Why do we want to do this? Because--and this is what's really important--we want "to enrich the capacity of individuals, organizations and communities to think, to learn and to act and lead with integrity and wisdom."
Serving those individuals, organizations and communities is what we are about. They are the ones who will be affected by our endeavors. The words "integrity" and "wisdom" also are loaded with meaning. To me, "integrity" means that knowledge is used with sincerity, openness and truthfulness, while "wisdom" suggests that knowledge is used with judgment, justice and prudence.
This application of knowledge is a defining mark of a civil and just society. Finally, let's look at the words "learn" and "lead." They are simple words, but rarely denote simple actions. As a community of learners who accept a leadership role in society, we must take "learning" (the understanding and application of knowledge) and "leadership" as our inspirational standards as we create the future we want for Tulane. The statement also has a second paragraph.
If the first paragraph is our purpose, the second is our means of achieving that purpose. With this mission statement as our guide, together we can do something remarkable, something none of us could do on our own. As a community with a shared sense of purpose, we can do important and meaningful work in our university, in our community and in our world. --Scott S. Cowen
Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000 email@example.com