An organisation’s mission shapes and influences every action within that institution. The mission itself, though, is not derived through a simple process. Imagine if you will a university president stating a mission in an environment that has multiple factions pushing for their own agendas. Top-down organisational structures may succeed in such linear missions, but an educational institution is far more complex.
The rationale for a car plant is to produce cars. All employees can be judged against the eventual product–the cars. The president knows the organisational structure. He or she can see the cars and decide how they can be improved. The key point is the existence of the cars and the existence of the structure that allowed its being. Those on the factory floor have only a limited input into the eventual product; a car is the result of dozens of inter-relating components, each of which can be manipulated to alter the car. Education is different. The product is difficult to assess directly. There are many products when research, community outreach and other outside class contact components are considered. However, the employee who is responsible for the educational product is not the same person who creates the mission, and critically, is able to influence the mission through their direct actions. An educated student is not the same as a produced car. Missions in educational settings are complex.
I decided to show the interpretational malleability of a mission statement in my initial posting.
A mission statement encapsulates a set of values that mutually define and shape an institution (Wilson, Meyer, & McNeal, 2012). The mission statement serves many purposes: a guiding strategy for the higher education institution (Jacob, 2015); a developmental tool for sub-organisations within an institution (Aguinis, 2009); a clarion call that “organises people around common purposes” (Fugazzotto, 2009, p. 288). Furthermore, an organisation’s mission statement functions to consolidate the identity of the higher educational institute by separating itself as “a brand [to be] identified as something unique” (Wæraas & Solbakk, 2009, p. 251). The act of branding accords with the increasing marketization of higher education (Shin, Jung Cheol Shin Toutkoushian, 2011): a marketplace metaphor echoed in the graduate status of a particular university being a ‘product’ (Laureate, 2011). Tension is inherent to this development as mission statements embody aspirational hierarchies, power and control; aspects implying superiority and dominance that potentially alienate institutional members. As Orwig and Finney (2007) point out, higher educational institutions by their very nature are staffed by “highly intelligent individuals with diverse backgrounds, well-reasoned opinions, and staunch allegiance to academic freedom” (p. 262). Adapting from traditions steeped in “institutional autonomy, individual academic freedom and collective professionalism” (Blaschke, Frost, & Hattke, 2014, p. 713) to an environment directed by market forces presents organisational cultural problems. Hawkins (2015) relates a two-year dispute due to divergent ideas held by stakeholders in the mission statement creation process in an Australian university. Such internal conflict lead to situations in Portugal where the “mission statement … was more of symbolic reference rather than a reality” (Santiago, Sousa, Carvalho, Machado-Taylor, & Dias, 2014, p. 154).
Understanding the influence and limitations of an individual institution’s mission statement, therefore, becomes a critical step in assessing the viability of that institution. The notion of coupling offers researchers a tool to describe the relationship between aspects of an institution’s culture, methods and goals to its mission (Weick, 1976). Coupling refers to the degree that elements in a system are linked, or are responsive, to each other (Bess & Dee, 2012), and can be loose, i.e. the linkages are weak, or its opposite, tight. A mission statement may attempt to co-ordinate positioning at the international, national and local, or glonacal, levels (Marginson & Rhoades, 2002). Istanbul Bilgi University place an emphasis on extended community (Bilgi, 2011), a goal currently shared by only upper management (Laureate, 2011). Bilgi’s linkage between their regional aspirations at the managerial level and that held by their faculty is loose. The ensuing tension in their attempt to tighten this linkage is characterised as “the most challenging part” (Laureate, 2011, p. 2). In comparison, INTI University in Malaysia presents a compelling case for ‘glonacal’ success by informing readers of the meanings of the term ‘inti’ in both Sanskrit and Chinese, encompassing two international cultures that have a strong physical presence in Malaysia (INTI, 2015b). Malaysia’s Confucian heritage country status (Phuong-Mai, Terlouw, & Pilot, 2005) carries a strong paternalistic imperative. Loose coupling of the mission to produce critical thinkers who work well in collaboration (INTI, 2015a) may lead to strain between faculty, students and administrative staff.
Further tensions may be elucidated between the mission statement and other elements in an organisation. Key questions to ask include: are stakeholders’ sympathies with the mission or are there subcultures against it (Hatch, 1997, cited in Bess & Dee, 2012)?; and what is the dominant faculty culture and how does that impact on the mission (Birnbaum, 1988; Bergquist, 1992; Smart & Hamm, 1993, all cited in Bess & Dee, 2012)?; do faculty share the vision of how it incorporates with the triple-helix of university, industry and government (Leydesdorff & Meyer, 2003)? Information of the type available to Kezar and Eckles (2002) for Bilgi and INTI would help answer such questions.
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