U Mass Boston drafts a new mission statement designed to both compel and chill speech

November 25, 2022 • 11:30 am

The University of Massachusetts at Boston (UMB) already has a Mission and Values statement, but in view of what every other college in America is doing—making their mission statements more about social justice than learning—they’ve proposed a revision that is more explicitly antiracist and ideological. In fact, it prescribes what its members should believe and should do, including holding other members of the community to the statement’s professed values.

It’s the kind of statement that we’d never see at the University of Chicago, for by prescribing and compelling speech (and behavior), is serves to chill the speech of those who dissent. (It’s an explicit violation of our Kalven Report.) And that chilling quashes discussions that are one of the essential missions of the university: through argumentation and conflict, even if it’s uncomfortable, should come truth.

The article below (click on screenshot), an open letter from many academics who dissent from the proposed statements, also includes UMB’s proposed “vision statement” and “mission statement”, which I’ll put here:

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.

Now I agree with much of this, but I don’t that this should be prescribed as a shared set of “values,” much less a set of values that everybody has to hold everyone else to.

The letter is long, and I won’t give it in full, but show a few choice paragraphs. At the end you’re welcome to sign it if you’re an academic—you don’t have to be at UMB. They’re looking largely for STEM people, for the letter notes that there was only one representative from the UMB College of Science and Mathematics on the committee that drafted the Mission and Vision statements. (The College of Science and Mathematics is said to be the “second largest college on campus”). The implication is that had more STEM people been on the committee, it wouldn’t have produced statements like these, though of course STEM faculty are often just as woke and authoritarian as humanities faculty.

Now the mission statement may be well motivated, as many of these are, but its effect is to chill speech, particularly because the vision statement drives effort far away from the search towards truth and towards ideological actions, and because many people may disagree with the call to “hold each other accountable” to put the values (also subject to debate) into practice.

An excerpt (bolding is in the statement):

We believe this document is deeply flawed in content, direction, and representation. Moreover, we believe that the absence of significant changes to this draft would bring serious damage to the College of Science and Mathematics, to the reputation of UMass Boston as a beacon of knowledge and education, and to the demographically and ideologically diverse group of students we serve – particularly those who see education as a means to rise socio-economically.

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 you’re an academic, particularly in STEM, sign if you wish, but do pass the link along to others who may wish to sign. I just appended my name and a comment.

h/t: Luana

14 thoughts on “U Mass Boston drafts a new mission statement designed to both compel and chill speech

  1. I’ve signed it. Thanks for sharing. They must be moderating the signatures, as neither mine nor PCCe’s signature are there yet.

    1. The signatures are updated manually and this is a rather old letter so I don’t check it often. The new signatures will appear later today, sorry about the delay!.

  2. Two months ago Tablet posted an excellent piece written by John Sailer entitled “Higher Ed’s New Woke Loyalty Oaths”. Many recent developments augur poorly indeed for the future of freedom of expression in our universities, as well as portending an academic environment in which research and scholarship will be increasingly judged from a “consequentialist” (not “deontological”) perspective.

  3. Just signed, with a brief comment. The lack of STEM faculty on the committee that concocted the draft mission statement unfortunately reflects a familiar fact: most of us STEMmers prefer to devote our time to doing the old-fashioned functions of the university, the discovery and dissemination of knowledge, rather than drafting vacuous advertising copy about it. To update an old saw: those who can do something, do it and teach it; maybe those who can’t, serve on “mission statement” committees instead.

    1. It wasn’t for lack of trying. The mission statement committee, as well as the other “strategic planning” committees, were carefully pre-selected and populated by the “right” people. Initially none of us complained since we all preferred to do… you know, actual work. But then when we saw the end result…

  4. I am a graduate of UMB’s earliest years (Class of 1970 – BA in Biology magna cum laude) at the academically free and unconstrained and diverse University of ‘Gas-echusets’ in the Park Square campus in downtown Boston. My time at the UMB literally changed my life. Instead of pursuing a career in Library Science at Simmons College, I chose evolutionary and conservation biology and initiated my post-grad studies at the also academically free and even more diverse University of Chicago (MSc. 1972) When the opportunity arose, I moved to the implacably anti-apartheid University of Cape Town. For my comments on the recent academic and social tragedy a UCT, (and human evolution) search for:
    Tim Crowe Rational Standard Author
    During my 40 years at UCT, I helped to develop educational and research programs to foster non-racialism and equal opportunity and preservation of the African landscape.
    I regard the proposed Mission and Vision statements as anti-thetical to free speech/research and effectively a reification of racial thinking and systemic racialism.

  5. Much as I chafe at the ode to Kendi, a host of problems would disappear if Kendi’s language “anti-racist” is replaced with “anti-racism” – namely, knowing precisely how to identify racists (struggle sessions, perhaps) and then how to give them a good firm “anti-” treatment.

  6. > …though of course STEM faculty are often just as woke and authoritarian as humanities faculty.

    Maybe you have a different concept of “often” but this statement strikes me as highly unlikely and misleading. If we use “political party” as a rough proxy for “woke” we see some non-stem departments with faculty ratios like 40 to 1 (D to R) and nothing close in math or physics departments.

  7. I see the CSM’s excellent response dates from March this year. I wonder if there have been any developments since?

  8. ProfCC: “Now I agree with much of this, but I don’t that this should be prescribed as a shared set of “values,” much less a set of values that everybody has to hold everyone else to.”

    Me: “Dear U Mass Boston- I have my own set of values, thank you very much. Some of them align with yours, others don’t. But I can defend them, using debate and argumentation, down to the very essentials. They are gathered through life experience and also through years of study of social justice as it has been argued and debated for hundreds of years. Can you do that? Did you even know that body of work exists, or did you ignorantly write it off as the patently ignorable ‘work of old dead white European males’, and create your own values from scratch? Which, you see, would be as indefensible as, say, ignoring all of biology and arguing that biological sex is not binary. Your case would be embarrassing if it were not so sad.”

  9. U Mass: “We hold ourselves and each other accountable”

    I suspect this means “We expect everyone (professors, students, rumor mongers) to inform the DEI office about colleagues who show insufficient enthusiasm for these “values”. Who will, of course, be dealt with in the spirit of kindness and mutual respect. — Sincerely, Ministry of Love, 1984″

    I wonder, is “the office of DEI” synonymous with “corpus dei”?

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