Whitman Prepares for Mission Statement Adjustment

Rachel Needham, Staff Reporter

On Sept. 15, Whitman College President Kathy Murray announced a plan to redraft the institution’s mission statement.

“When I was a candidate for Whitman’s presidency,” Murray wrote in an email to the community on Sept. 22, “I told the search committee that I was pretty sure I could put Whitman’s mission statement on a slip of paper and put ten other small, residential liberal arts college mission statements on slips of paper, and if I put them all in the middle of the table, nobody on the search committee would be able to select Whitman’s.”

The current statement pledges a commitment “to providing an excellent, well-rounded liberal arts and sciences undergraduate education … intended to foster intellectual vitality, confidence, leadership and the flexibility to succeed in a changing technological, multicultural world.”

Illustration by Eric Rannestad

While the new statement is still under review–Murray herself called it a “drafty draft”–the president made clear that she intends to home in on three themes: “a liberal arts education that is rigorous and supportive, a distinctive location and a personal narrative that connects to a life of purpose beyond Whitman.”

In an email to The Wire, President Murray said, “Our mission statement should guide our work and communicate our highest priorities. It is largely an internally facing document, but people from beyond the campus (accreditors, foundations, prospective students/parents) certainly pay attention to it, as well.”

This redraft comes on the heels of the Board of Trustees’ recent approval of five Strategic Priorities laid out by the Strategic Planning Committee, which had been in the works since the summer of 2016.

“What I understand the pivot to be––from the old mission statement to this new draft mission statement––is focusing more on the specific Whitman experience, like geographically … and then orienting more on a personal narrative idea,” Megumi Rierson, a senior Politics major and the ASWC Director of Diversity and Inclusion, said in an interview.  

“I think if I’m going to read generously, the focus on developing a personal narrative could be something really valuable … on the other side of that, this whole, like, focus on developing a personal narrative that can go beyond the classroom feels a little bit like a fancy LinkedIn profile,” Rierson said. “I don’t want to be cynical but that’s kind of the trend in higher education, is to develop students who are able to market themselves and have their own brand. And it’s really tough because both of those things [the value of the personal narrative and a trend towards branding] can be true at the same time.”

The drafting committee aims to present the new mission statement to the Board of Trustees for approval during their February session and implement it before the 2018-19 academic year commences.   

Professors David Schmitz and Timothy Kaufman-Osborn declined to comment.