TITLE: Mission Statements and Implementation Details AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: May 04, 2011 5:39 AM DESC: ----- BODY: Last week, I thought out loud about the university's relationship with its students, which may be different from what some are thinking it is. I just ran across an interview with Tim O'Reilly from last week about the future of his industry. His industry is different from what some are thinking it is, too:
At O'Reilly the way we think about our business is that we're not a publisher; we're not a conference producer; we're a company that helps change the world by spreading the knowledge of innovators.
My university could do worse than simply stealing O'Reilly's mission statement. There is more to our mission, of course. Research universities, at least, have historically also been about creating knowledge; universities such as mine have been as much about integrating knowledge as creating it. Public universities also serve their states in various ways, not the least of which is preparing educated citizens for participation in public life. It's hard to serve all these roles, and ultimately it all comes down to students and learning. Mission statements and strategic plans have a bad reputation among faculty, and for good reason. They to be corporate statements diluted, by trying to say everything and, as a result, saying nothing much. But thinking hard about the real core of the university's mission might help us evolve and survive, rather than becoming the next dinosaur. Our mission certainly isn't about classrooms, packaged courses, and labs filled with general purpose computers. Those are implementation details, built from the technology of a particular era. Just as the book and newspaper are undergoing changes in their basic form as technology evolves, so too should the university experience. Some of the technology we use now belongs to a dying era. That's what makes the O'Reilly's statement I quote above so important. He has always recognized that his business is not defined by the technology of the time. Some people are afraid of changing technology because they do see themselves and their businesses as defined by their implementations. As technology evolves, O'Reilly is comfortable evolving his business model along with it, without abandoning what the company is really about. -----