Not long ago, according to the “open letter” from faculty below, the University of Massachusetts at Boston issued a new and provisional draft statement of its “Mission and Values”. It’s pretty short, so I’ll put it below (bolding is mine except for the headers)
Mission statement draft:
As an academic community of global and local citizens, we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our students. We intend to engage reciprocally in equitable practices and partnerships with the communities we serve. We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved. We are a public urban university dedicated to teaching, learning, and research rooted in equity, environmental sustainability, social and racial justice, innovation, and expansive notions of excellence.
Vision statement draft:
We aspire to become an anti-racist and health-promoting public research institution where:
Diversity, equity, shared governance, and expansive notions of excellence are core institutional values.
Wellness and an ethic of care are embedded throughout our campus culture and all policies and practices.
We invest in a resource-rich learning environment to support the development and success of students of plural identities and from diverse socio-economic, racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds.
Climate, environmental, and racial justice align with sustainable economic and planning decisions with local and global effects.
Community engaged scholarship, service, and reciprocity are embedded in University practices that promote the economic, social, and cultural well-being of the communities we serve
We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.
if you compare this to the OLDER published statement published here, you’ll see quite a difference. For example, here’s how the old Mission Statement begins:
The University of Massachusetts Boston is a public research university with a dynamic culture of teaching and learning, and a special commitment to urban and global engagement. Our vibrant, multi-cultural educational environment encourages our broadly diverse campus community to thrive and succeed. Our distinguished scholarship, dedicated teaching, and engaged public service are mutually reinforcing, creating new knowledge while serving the public good of our city, our commonwealth, our nation, and our world.
And while there is a small section on “diversity and inclusion”, note that the diversity refers to “variant perspectives and values” of people of all ages regardless of “national or cultural origins.” The word “race” or “ethnicity does not appear in the old statement. What you see just below is inclusive, not divisive, and refers to “community building”
Diversity and Inclusion:
Our multi-faceted diversity is an educational asset for all members of our community. We value and provide a learning environment that nurtures respect for differences, excites curiosity, and embodies civility. Our campus culture encourages us all to negotiate variant perspectives and values, and to strive for open and frank encounters. In providing a supportive environment for the academic and social development of a broad array of students of all ages who represent many national and cultural origins, we seek to serve as a model for inclusive community-building.
That’s quite a difference, isn’t it? The old statement gives the main mission to do research, and foster teaching and learning (with both urban and local engagement) This, indeed used to be the main purpose of a University, but in the last two years that’s all changed. Not only has the main mission morphed into this:
we are committed to becoming an anti-racist and health-promoting institution that honors and uplifts the cultural wealth of our student,
but now the University seems to be far more about pushing an ideology and involving its members in social engineering of equity: “anti-racist” is mentioned twice, “racial justice” twice, and “racial backgrounds” once. Further, we see the “other ways of knowing” trope:
We support various and diverse forms of knowledge production that enrich the lives of all communities, especially those historically undervalued and underserved.
In the new draft, “research” appears only in the last sentence of the mission statement, as opposed to in the first in the older draft.
Notice also that they’re now committed to “expansive notions of excellence.” This can mean but one thing: “less meritocracy”. And that translates to fewer or no standardized tests, less emphasis on grading, and more emphasis on personal qualities like “spunk.”
If you compare the old with the new draft, you’ll conclude that three things have changed:
1.) The mission of the university is now to achieve social justice, and that has become a priority standing above doing research and teaching. In other words, the Universitiy’s mission is ideological and political—a form of social engineering rather than knowledge production and dissemination
2.) What we see is the morphing of of a good university into a large and expensive site of individual and group therapy, promulgating “wellness and an ethic of care.”
3.) New forms of “knowledge production” are to be used, especially forms of “knowledge production” that aid minorities or those historically oppressed. What, exactly, are the “new forms of knowledge production”? Are they those involving “lived experience” rather than facts, or “special ways of knowing” said to be characteristic of different groups?
This is a huge change in the mission of this university, and it’s not just UM Boston, but almost everywhere—even my school. The historical function of the university, outlined in the old mission statement, has now become antiquated.
However, some faculty won’t go gentle into that good night. If you click on the screenshot below, you’ll see a letter signed by (so far) 40 members of the University’s College of Science and Mathematics who oppose the new draft Mission and Vision statements. These are brave people, as surely there are more who feel the same way but don’t want to go public about it.
These faculty (erroneously, I think) attribute the warped new statements as “likely accidental” because “the College of Science and Mathematics only has one representative on the committee [that drafted the statement] despite being the second largest college on campus.”
Well, they may be right, but I doubt it. It is the humanities and social sciences that are most vocal and active in this type of authoritarianism, and why would omitting scientists and mathematicians be an “accident”, anyway?
Do read their entire response, which is a heartbreaking plea for the University of Massachusetts at Boston to return to its traditional mission. That’s not going to happen, and the way things are, in ten years there will be no public (and few private) universities in America who don’t see their main mission as social engineering and therapy.
One quote from the faculty’s response, which at the end calls for a “significant revision” of the draft mission and vision statements. (Bolding is the authors’, not mine.)
We believe the Mission and Vision Statements trample on the fundamental role of the university: to facilitate the creation, curation, and dissemination of knowledge. To elaborate, we believe that the main goals of a university are to empower the pursuit of knowledge, to cultivate lifelong learning, to foster the exchange of ideas, to encourage critical thinking, to unequivocally support free inquiry, and to instill respect for a diversity of ideas and viewpoints.
Under no circumstances can political or ideological activism be the primary purpose of a public university. This is not to say students, faculty, and staff cannot be activists. Quite the contrary: individual people are the agents of social change, and as such they should be encouraged to organize and fight for a better society. Moreover, the public university can play an active role in educating students on pressing issues of social injustice as well as effective methods of activism. However, in this regard the role of the university is to empower people to take action themselves – not to coerce students, faculty, or institutional units to do so.
It is important to emphasize that the fundamental role of the public university can neither be political nor ideological activism. In part, this is due to the illegality of compelled speech in public institutions and our legally binding commitment to academic freedom as outlined in the so-called “red book” on academic personnel policy. Additionally, ideological activism cannot be a central goal of the university because at times it will conflict with education and research. The search for truth can never be subjugated to social or ideological beliefs.
We raise these points about the purpose of the public university because we believe the current drafts of the mission and vision statements radically depart from these fundamental tenets, and instead promote a chilling environment for the pursuit of truth. This is most evident in the Vision Statement which discusses diversity, equity, expansive notions of excellence, wellness, an ethic of care, plural identities, climate justice, environmental justice, and racial justice, and then states that “We hold ourselves and each other accountable to ensure these values drive all decision-making in research, pedagogical innovations, resource allocation, and the development of policies and practices.” That is, these values – which have very distinct ideological interpretations – must drive the direction of every researcher and department on campus, and as a community of scholars we will hold people accountable when their research does not actively promote these values.
If your research on quantum computing is not perceived as promoting climate, environmental, or racial justice – will you be held accountable and your resources re-allocated?
If your department makes the data-informed decision to support the use of standardized tests as a measurement of student learning or preparation, but the campus views this as being opposed to wellness, an ethic of care, equity, or an expansive notion of excellence, will your department be held accountable and its resources re-allocated?
This is, to me, very sad. The American University is disappearing, and with it its traditional values of research, teaching, and learning. It is now becoming a vehicle for the ideology of the Far Left. I’m on the Left, but wouldn’t want for a minute to make my own politics into a “mission statement” for my universities
And universities should not be the vehicle for ANY ideology. The University of Chicago’s Kalven Report prohibits, with very few exceptions, any official moral, political, or ideological statement by the administration or units of the University, such as departments. This is because those kind of statements involve the chilling of speech—of making university members afraid to speak up if they have problems with “official stands”. (We of course welcome individual or signed group arguments, but not official ones.)
The third paragraph of the excerpt above explicitly echoes the Kalven Report’s statement. Without such a rule in place, there is nothing to prevent universities from degenerating into units that push their own political beliefs on students and postdocs. How can you learn to think, or even learn, period, when you are afraid to speak up against official statements issued from on high?