Here’s Wendell Berry’s answer:
The thing being made in a university is humanity. Given the current influence of universities, this is merely inevitable. But what universities, at least the public-supported ones, are mandated to make or to help to make is human beings in the fullest sense of those words — not just trained workers or knowledgeable citizens but responsible heirs and members of human culture. If the proper work of the university is only to equip people to fulfill private ambitions, then how do we justify public support? If it is only to prepare citizens to fulfill public responsibilities, then how do we justify the teaching of arts and sciences? The common denominator has to be larger than either career preparation or preparation for citizenship. Underlying the idea of a university — the bringing together, the combining into one, of all the disciplines — is the idea that good work and good citizenship are the inevitable by-products of the making of a good — that is, a fully developed — human being. This, as I understand it, is the definition of the name university.
From “The Loss of the University,” in Home Economics.
For comparison, here is the mission statement of my alma mater, which also happens to be the university nearest to Berry’s farm:
The University of Louisville shall be a premier, nationally recognized metropolitan research university with a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences and to the intellectual, cultural, and economic development of our diverse communities and citizens through the pursuit of excellence in five interrelated strategic areas: (1) Educational Experience, (2) Research, Creative, and Scholarly Activity, (3) Accessibility, Diversity, Equity, and Communication, (4) Partnerships and Collaborations, and (5) Institutional Effectiveness of Programs and Services.
If it were pared down, the core of this mission is “intellectual, cultural, and economic development of communities and citizens,” which isn’t too bad (except that I’m not sure how one develops the intellect of a community, and many students at UofL are not citizens, but I get their drift). Somehow, though, I find Berry’s “responsible heirs and members of human culture” to be far more missional.
About the author:
The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.