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Faculty Forum Papers

A SENSE OF LOSS

By
Richard L. Clinton
Professor
Department of Political Science
Oregon State University

October 1999


When an ancient tree is felled or a graceful old building demolished, whatever replaces them seldom lessens my anguished sense of loss. With all the finality of death, what was no longer is, and I feel diminished.

Such is my feeling now as the university I have served for nearly a quarter of a century opts to replace its eloquent and time-honored Guiding Principles and Guidelines with a new, improved, committee-produced statement of Mission, Goals, and Values. Outside input was, of course, solicited, and I provided my two cents worth, which was duly acknowledged and ignored. Hence this note, the purpose of which is to lament a loss, to allow others to decide for themselves whether new is indeed improved, and to suggest that matters of this consequence ought to be voted on by the faculty.

No longer can OSU students, wondering just what they're getting into or are involved with, open the General Catalog and read the stirring assertion that "The highest aspiration of a university is to free people's minds from ignorance, prejudice, and provincialism and to stimulate a lasting attitude of inquiry. Oregon State University shares this aspiration with universities everywhere." Instead, they will confront the blander, less resonant, more prosaic statement: "Oregon State University aspires to stimulate a lasting attitude of inquiry, openness, and social responsibility. To meet these aspirations, we are committed to providing excellent academic programs, educational experiences, and creative scholarship."

No longer will OSU students be alerted to the feature that most distinguishes a university from other educational institutions: "Our social responsibility extends to offering informed criticism even when that criticism may not be well received, and we maintain an internal environment that will nurture this important contribution." On the contrary, they will now discover that "We are committed stewards of the loyalty and good will of our alumni and friends...," which carries the unmistakable implication that we must tread lightly lest we offend some potential donor.

No longer will OSU students encounter such an inspiring and nobly sculpted sentence as "Oregon State University's basic goal is to create a better academic environment for the intellectual and humane development of the men and women of the academic community and to maintain OSU as a center in which the freedoms to think, to learn, to relate, to experiment, and to develop standards of criticism and excellence are encouraged." Nowhere in the new mission statement, in fact, do the words "humane," "criticism," or "excellence" ever occur. In their place we find as a stated criterion for measuring our success "the effectiveness and productivity of engagement with businesses and constituents."

Awkwardly, abstrusely, almost forlornly, the new mission statement confesses that "Oregon State University aspires to be a top-tier university." Whatever happened, I wonder, to the old but altogether sufficient ideal of being a great university?


Opinions expressed by authors of Faculty Forum articles are not necessarily those of the OSU Faculty or Faculty Senate.