Director’s Letter

5/21/17 - Boston, Massachusetts Carrie Preston, Director of Kilachand Honors College walking towards the stage at the start of the 2017 Boston University Commencement on Nickerson Field on May 21, 2017. Photo by Doug Levy for Boston University Photography

Launching Kilachand’s New Website

In 2017, the Kilachand directors and staff began to evaluate and revise our mission statement, promotional materials, and website. We started with the mission statement, circulating the text by email, which gradually, through the handy mechanism of “track changes,” became a rainbow of revisions and comments. I showed the paragraph we drafted to a respected leader from what I sometimes call the “business world,” as if that’s a separate sphere from “the university.”* She informed me that mission statements are not paragraphs; they should be just one sentence, something that could be “rattled off” with a handshake. It was back to drafting and track changes, and we currently have a two-sentence mission statement:

The mission of Kilachand Honors College is to offer a challenging education grounded in critical and creative thinking and interdisciplinary problem-solving. Kilachand provides an integrated, four-year curriculum in which students address important global, societal, corporate, and geopolitical challenges over the course of the program.

As a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies, the brevity of a mission statement does not come easily to me. I’ve always felt more comfortable working on an expansive book project than a word-limited article. I also like to indulge in research on, for example, the history of words, so I looked up “mission statement” in my trusty Oxford English Dictionary, which stated that such statements are typically associated with the military and business worlds (see note below about dividing up “worlds”). The cool thing about the Oxford English Dictionary for someone of my wordy inclination is that it gives particular examples of how the phrase has been used throughout history. “Mission statement” is surprisingly young; the first example, from 1967, referenced statements clarifying the missions of particular military aircraft. But the second example, just four years later, was from the Journal of Higher Education and reads: “There is a high probability that such a set of goal statements would be no more meaningful than many ‘mission’ statements now found in college catalogs.” Now that is a sobering sentence. It characterizes the mission statements found in college catalogs, or perhaps on college websites like this one, as meaningless.

How do we make a mission statement meaningful? How do we make a college website embody that mission? We need to understand a mission statement as a provisional attempt at articulating a much larger set of achievements and aspirations that could never be boiled down to a sentence (or two). It will need to be revisited and rewritten regularly as we assess what we are becoming and what we want to be in the future.

At Kilachand, we have been engaging our students in the work of discovering and evaluating Kilachand’s mission, as it bears on what the “business world” (see note below again) would call our “brand” and the redesign of our website. A team of students, mentored by Associate Director Paul Lipton, conducted interviews and distributed surveys to help us understand how Kilachand is understood throughout the university. After the initial fact-finding phase, members of the team helped us redesign our website to both embody our mission and be useful for our community. We hoped this exercise would empower our own students who are deeply invested in the ongoing experiment of Kilachand. We are delighted to be launching a new website informed by their work.

Kilachand is a close-knit residential learning community that offers innovative courses, expert mentoring and advising, provocative enrichment experiences, and opportunities for an independent Senior Research project. Kilachand recognizes that we face tremendous challenges as students, scholars, and citizens of the world, and to confront them effectively, we will need to deploy the best tools of all the disciplines: the arts and humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, and the applied knowledge of our professional schools. Kilachand’s interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum is designed to give students the critical skills and flexibility of mind to think about global challenges in all their complexity and to use whatever methods necessary to develop solutions.

That’s a big mission for just one sentence. It’s exciting to be continuing to work toward this mission with a new class of Kilachand students and a new website.

* One of Kilachand’s primary missions is to break down the imagined borders between, for example:
business and academia;
the arts and sciences and the professional schools;
the humanities and STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics);
the classroom and the world beyond.

Carrie J. Preston
Professor of English and Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies
Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Professor
Director, Kilachand Honors College