From the Editor

Mission control

What a new mission statement says about the university.

Care to test your knowledge of Yale? Here’s a quiz. First, read the two sentences below and pick your favorite. Then guess which came first.

Like all great research universities, Yale has a tripartite mission: to create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge.

Yale is committed to improving the world today and for future generations through outstanding research and scholarship, education, preservation, and practice.

If you prefer the second, you’re au courant: it’s the lead sentence of Yale’s new mission statement, adopted this spring. If you answered the second question correctly, give yourself a gold star: that was Yale’s first mission statement.

The genesis of that first statement is hazy, partly because many other schools use it; the words “create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge” are also commonly found in other contexts. So it’s not clear whether Yale originated the phrase or picked it up from someone else. And I haven’t yet found anyone who knows when it was adopted, though the likely window is 1981–88.

That version was doomed by the 2012 presidential search. The Yale Corporation, Yale’s board of trustees, reviewed it during the search and thought the phrase “Like all great research universities” too generic. They also questioned a sentence that exhorted Yale to meet “the highest standards of excellence, on par with the best institutions in the world.” Trustee Charles (Chip) Goodyear IV ’80 remembers, “Several of us read it and said, ‘Wait a minute here. Is that your mission? You want to be like everybody else?’” They felt the goal of being “on par” was not “an invigorating and moving statement that would capture the hearts and minds of our community.”

To shape a new statement, President Peter Salovey ’86PhD says, he and his staff talked with faculty, alumni, and trustees. They decided to craft a statement that would express “what makes Yale distinctive”; that would make clear that Yale does what it does in order “to make the world a better place”; and that would speak to Yale’s aspirations and values. The new statement continues: “Yale educates aspiring leaders worldwide who serve all sectors of society. We carry out this mission through the free exchange of ideas in an ethical, interdependent, and diverse community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.”

Not everyone is happy with every change. Classics professor Emily Greenwood, chair of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, generally applauds the new statement, but notes that faculty across higher education are concerned about the growing emphasis on leadership, with its sometimes-corporate inflection. The “leaders” rhetoric in the statement, she says, “puts an instrumental cast on the education we provide at Yale and what we do.”

In reply, Salovey argues that leadership is part of Yale’s DNA. Moreover, “leadership comes in many forms. It can mean running for president of the United States. It can mean being a CEO. But it also can mean leadership in the nonprofit sector, leadership as an educator, leadership as a servant of a community.”

What are your thoughts about Yale’s mission and its mission statement? Send us a letter. And let us know how you did on the quiz.

The comment period has expired.