The sentence that drew the most criticism is: “Students assume an unusual degree of responsibility in inquiry, in the co-curriculum, and in the self-governance of this purposefully small and vibrantly diverse community.” The emphasis on students’ responsibility was taken to be appropriate, but the phrasing troubled several respondents: “unusual” (compared to what?); “co-curriculum” (a new coinage); “self-governance” (a justified claim?); “vibrantly” (self-congratulatory).
We have rephrased: “Students assume substantial responsibility for undertaking inquiry and for shaping their education within and beyond the curriculum.”
Diversity and community:
Some respondents would like more explanation of how having a diverse community supports the other goals mentioned in the statement. We hope to have provided that by moving the topic of diversity to the third paragraph, where it forms a link between admission and the lives of our graduates: “From its founding, Amherst has brought together the most promising students, whatever their financial need, in order to promote diversity of experience and ideas within a purposefully small residential community. Its graduates have linked education with leadership—in service to the College, to their communities, and to the world beyond.”
Some respondents would like more detail about the unique intellectual style of Amherst education and the transformations that it entails. Finding a formula to which everyone can subscribe may be a betrayal of the disputatious tradition of the liberal arts and of Amherst in particular. Like the ubiquitous “excellence,” such distillations tend to ring hollow in mission statements. On our reading, they end up stringing out clichés, virtually interchangeable among institutions, that speak most eloquently by their omissions (see "Popular phrases in mission statements" below ) . “Critical thinking” is standard, as if anyone taught uncritical thinking, and independence of mind is popular, but often without attention to cooperation, empathy, and imagination. One eminent university succinctly affirms the “development of mental, civic, and creative capacities” (is “mental” not part of “civic” and “creative”? is civic engagement not creative?).
Acknowledging that this is an important topic and worth future attention, we invoke the principle of “first, do no harm” and hope that the trajectory of our mission statement frames the variable set of cognitive, emotional, and social attributes that the College fosters.
We have taken numerous smaller suggestions: Omit “with each other” from the second sentence; add “administrators”; clarify how far “purposefully” extends (eliminated in the rephrasing); add “residential”; change “financial means” to “financial need’; get rid of “For nearly two centuries”; make the statement shorter (it is, by eight words); make the statement quotable (we did our best).
Popular phrases in mission statements: Critical thinking [assessment, analysis] / aesthetic sensibility /expression / independence of thought / appreciation of the insights of established traditions of learners / reflection / free inquiry / knowledge for its own sake / intellectual growth / logical thinking / mental discipline / compassion / synthesis as well as analysis / broad education with depth in some areas / lifelong learning / useful to society and happy with oneself / respect the complexity of human understanding / understand and appreciate differences and similarities among all people and societies / freedom from parochialism and prejudice / ability to put theory into action / balance of emotional engagement and intellectual detachment / fulfill intellectual and emotional potential / integrity / spiritual dimensions / use information and communication resources / take responsibility for personal, social, and intellectual choices / courage of their convictions / to speculate, to feel, to inquire boldly, to enjoy, to change, to create, and to communicate effectively.