The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning. The university imparts information, but it imparts it imaginatively. At least, this is the function which it should perform for society. A university which fails in this respect has no reason for existence. This atmosphere of excitement, arising from imaginative consideration, transforms knowledge. A fact is no longer a bare fact; it is invested with all its possibilities. It is no longer a burden on the memory: it is energising as the poet of our dreams, and as the architect of our purposes.

Alfred North Whitehead, 1929

Neither colleges, nor consulting organizations, nor professional training schools can satisfy society's need for new knowledge and discovery. True, one could look to some sort of research institute to perform this function. But even this alternative would not wholly replace what universities can supply. It is the special function of the university to combine education with research.

Derek Bok, 1982

If it was ever true that faculty members' pursuit of individual interests automatically created a great university, it is certainly not so now.

William H. Danforth, 1995

Sixty-six years ago, even thirteen years ago, it was relatively easy to agree on the defining characteristics of the university. Most people would have said that the university is an educational institution, a research institution, and a cultural institution. Most people would say that today. The difference is that today we are not entirely sure that this is enough. Today we are being asked to behave in ways that, in some measure, challenge our instinctive sense of what is at the core of the university.

The university is not a business corporation, but we are being forced to think about ways of commercializing some of our activities and broadening our resource base. We are not a charitable organization, but we are reminded daily about our obligations to our community. We are not a government department, but we are told that we must find accountability mechanisms that will satisfy governments or they will begin to dictate what we do with our resources.

It would be melodramatic to call this an identity crisis. Universities have always faced challenges of mission and have always served a host of different masters, whether princes, patrons or politicians. The difference is that today we are being pulled in different directions simultaneously. Today we are told that we must not only continue to pursue our research and educate our students, but we must serve society more assiduously, pay closer attention to financial opportunities, cultivate our supporters more vigorously, establish better systems of accountability, and do all of this with fewer resources.

Increased demands on the university can set off diffuse reactions. Some people will hunker down in the library or the laboratory and try to ignore the storm around them. Others will demand that the university community throw itself directly into the storm and begin to work on all of society's problems. Still others will simply wait inside their offices and their departmental homes to see what university administrators will do.

We believe that the first response should be a reconsideration of mission. When everyone around us is demanding more and we are working with less, it is time to ask some basic questions about who we are, what we do and why we do it. That is what mission is all about.


The mission statement acknowledges that this is a university in the generic sense and it is also a particular University, McMaster.

At McMaster our purpose is the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge. In our teaching, research, and scholarship, we are committed to creativity, innovation, and excellence. We value integrity, quality, and teamwork in everything we do. We inspire critical thinking, personal growth, and a passion for learning. We serve the social, cultural, and economic needs of our community and our society.

The mission statement establishes some broad boundaries that delimit what it is we do and what it is we value. These boundaries cannot be so wide that they fail to distinguish a university from a business firm, or McMaster from its sister institutions. However, the boundaries must be wide enough that they respect all of the goals we wish to set for ourselves.

The mission also reflects those qualities that we want, and expect, to see in our daily lives at this university. They may not be the kinds of things that we talk about every day with our colleagues, but they are those values and aspirations that draw us here and make us proud to be associated with McMaster.

Finally, the mission statement helps us to clarify our priorities. Clearly, this mission statement contains no list of "things to do", no action plans. It is not supposed to. But the mission statement should help us to set realizable goals by providing a common touchstone.


The vision statement captures what it is we want to be, our aspiration. We have chosen a vision statement that connects with mission, sets high standards, and is both distinctive and respectful of McMaster's heritage. It also reflects our ambition to be a place of learning that is open to the world.

At McMaster University our vision is:

To achieve international distinction for creativity, innovation and excellence.

We will seek recognition for originality and imagination in research, scholarship and learning. We will encourage, recognize and reward significant achievement in those realms. A university with such a vision must be willing to measure its accomplishments against international standards.


It is fair to ask: Do we need mission and vision statements? It is difficult, after all, to extract specific actions, or even goals, from broad statements of purpose and intent. We believe these statements are essential. Without them, the University will lack a common framework and a common language for meeting its challenges and successfully planning its future. Naturally, there will be differences of opinion about what these words mean, although the process of framing these statements and discussing them in open forums has helped clarify their content and their implications. The goals articulated in the following section will take this process even further.

We will use these statements as reference points in the planning process that lies ahead. They will guide resource allocations and we expect them to assist Departments, Faculties, and operating units in selecting their own, particular goals. The mission and vision statements are also opportunities for us to mould our internal university culture and to recast our image in our external environment.

Finally, the mission and vision we have chosen are intended to capture values with which all of us can be proud to be associated. These statements are deliberately inclusive in their design, acknowledging that all of the constituent parts of the McMaster community--faculty, staff, students, alumni, volunteers--are critical to our success as an institution. Mission and vision provide the basic guideposts for making the inevitable choices that confront us all. The actualization of the mission and the realization of the vision are in the hands of every member of this community.


Our mission statement directs us to be creative, to commit ourselves to excellence, to inspire and to serve, all of which has to be done in the midst of an unprecedented fiscal challenge. This means that we have to make some significant changes to what we do and how we do it. If we respond well to this challenge, we have the opportunity to shape our own destiny, rather than have it determined by others.

We will have to begin the process by examining everything we do. We must ask why we are doing it, whether we are setting a sufficiently high standard and how we know that the standard is being met. Because it is clear that we cannot aspire to excellence in everything that we currently do, we will have to be selective. Whatever we choose to do, we must do well. These choices will almost certainly result in some fundamental changes.

But reshaping McMaster does not mean that we have to "reinvent" McMaster. We do not have to destroy what has gone before, especially our traditions of research and scholarship and our commitment to a liberal education. To fulfill our mission we cannot become either a specialized research institution, or an exclusively undergraduate teaching institution. We must remain a university that aspires to excellence in teaching and in scholarship, even as we move to strengthen those activities that make us distinctive and contribute to our international reputation. Accordingly, we will have to make some difficult choices with respect to the nature of our work.

So let us suggest some basic goals and guiding principles for this University which are consistent with the mission and with the changing fiscal demands that are being placed upon us. As we work toward achieving these goals, and we must achieve them together, ours will be a stronger institution, one that is on target to accomplish its mission.


Emphasizing Research
McMaster is known for the quality of its research. Our mission begins with our purpose--the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge--and we believe that this purpose is met most effectively by continuing to insist that faculty, staff and students work together to produce an environment in which research and scholarship can flourish. Of course, our commitment to creativity and innovation in these pursuits implies that we are open to new problems, new methodologies, and new interpretations in the pursuit of knowledge. We also value research that will serve the social, cultural and economic needs of our community and society. It is research that we ultimately count on to inspire critical thinking, personal growth and a passion for learning.

Linking Scholarship and Education
Since our commitment is to excellence in teaching, research, and scholarship, we reaffirm our belief that scholarship and education--or research and teaching, if those are more comfortable--are inextricably linked. Every full-time faculty member at McMaster should expect to be evaluated in both realms and should strive to have them inform one another. And every member of faculty should develop an active program of scholarship or professional practice sufficient to sustain informed teaching. In the interests of morale and efficiency, we will ask some members of the faculty to do more research, some to do more teaching, and we will respect these different contributions in our evaluation processes. But we commit ourselves never deliberately to isolate one from the other, or reward one and not the other. On the contrary, we will reward those who develop strategies to connect scholarship and teaching, who introduce students to the results of their research and who explain how research changes the curriculum.

Building Strengths
We cannot excel in everything, and we know that currently there are things we do at which we do not excel. We must give priority to those programs where there is a high level of demand, our performance is particularly strong or promising, and we can make distinctive contributions. It is unlikely that this will entail closing departments or faculties, but we shall have to reduce the number of courses we offer, change our curriculum, eliminate programs, and encourage collaboration among disciplines. Most of all, achieving focus will require all departments to refine priorities, establish objectives, and measure progress. Many departments will find that at the end of this process they have fewer resources, but a more precise niche. Some departments may have merged with others as a way of both invigorating their curricula and achieving economies. In all cases departments and programs will be expected to connect their plans to the University mission and to the criteria for resource allocation.

Rationalizing Province-wide
We are beginning discussions with other universities and with Mohawk College about sharing resources and reducing duplication. We expect these initiatives to increase efficiencies in administration and in curriculum planning as we come increasingly to rely on one another's expertise. We value quality. Therefore, we will not stand in the way of attempts to improve quality by removing unnecessary duplication in the post-secondary system, even if this means that our own programs have to be changed.


Valuing Students
Our commitment is to excellence in teaching, and that means we must listen attentively to what our students are telling us and respect their opinions about the learning experience at this university. Remembering that the student body is diverse--there are full-time and part-time students, graduates and undergraduates--we need to consider whether existing consultative mechanisms are adequate and whether there are enough opportunities for the mutual exchange of views. And if we are to inspire personal growth, then the academic, physical, and social environment in which students live and learn must encourage mature behaviour, provide for their emotional well-being, and meet their cultural and recreational needs.

Valuing Each Other
We will achieve our mission only if all faculty, staff and students respect and take pride in one another. Accordingly, we will continue to develop policies that protect academic freedom, reduce barriers to university education, and foster the realization of potential. We will support programs that ensure equal treatment, assist those with special needs, maintain a workplace that is free of fear, and provide a welcome environment for all students. We serve our community and our society by ensuring that we remain open to different modes of thought and different traditions. We inspire personal growth by showing respect for the contributions made by every member of this community.

Rewarding Accomplishment
Even in an era of reduced government funding, we must continue to identify and reward those whose work achieves new heights of research and scholarship, whose teaching attains high levels of performance, and whose valuable contributions allow us to serve our clients more effectively. In fact, we must improve our means of recognizing these accomplishments and of celebrating them both within and beyond the university community. In the same vein, those who further the University's mission by giving freely of their time and expertise, in their local communities and in society at large, must be recognized for their contribution to the reputation of the University.


Creating Partnerships
McMaster cannot accomplish its mission without help and in splendid isolation. That is why we must actively search out prospective partners and establish a series of alliances, including partnerships with other universities, with industry, with local governments, with community colleges, with other educational bodies, and with health care institutions. We cannot serve the social, cultural, and economic needs of our community and our society without making an effort to convey the impact of our research and teaching beyond the bounds of the university. By the same token, we have much to learn from others, and our partners should be chosen based on clear criteria, with attention to our mission and our needs.

Making Friends
The students, staff and faculty at McMaster have a strong tradition of generosity towards Hamilton and surrounding communities, and in some cases our programs have been developed to serve distinctive community needs. There is, however, much to be done if we want to convey McMaster's commitment to nurturing its friendships. Beginning with our alumni, in whose contributions to society we take particular pride, we need to build stronger relationships based on a genuine desire for their involvement in the University. In an era of higher tuition fees and greater reliance on fundraising, we cannot afford to be distant or uncommunicative. Our alumni, our students, and our extended family of parents and relatives must be part of an expanding circle of friends of McMaster. More than ever, we need to explain to them what our mission is, how we are achieving it, and why this University is worthy of their continued support.

Breaking Down Barriers
We value teamwork in everything we do, but effective teams require understanding. Our own students do not always understand the professional obligations of faculty, staff members can be critical of academic life, and faculty are not always appreciative of the work of others. All employees need to make a greater effort to understand the financial, psychological, and personal obstacles confronted by students. Teamwork begins with communication; the members of great teams understand one another. We should reward those whose initiatives succeed in bringing people together to create more effective ways of learning and better programs of study. Distinctions that are overly rigid isolate members of this community from one another, and ultimately erode the sense of teamwork and trust that this institution will increasingly need.


Creating Learning Opportunities
Our commitment is to innovation. This university has pioneered techniques such as problem-based learning, which have been diffused within McMaster and adopted by other institutions. Nevertheless, we continue to rely heavily on a relatively narrow range of teaching methods and on courses delivered within firm disciplinary boundaries. Disciplines are the reservoirs of academic strength, but they can also create barriers and inhibit studies that require input from several disciplines. Interdisciplinary programs bridge these barriers and create new opportunities for education, research, and collegiality. Because we inspire critical thinking, a quality that knows no disciplinary bounds, we should be constantly looking for ways of encouraging faculty, students and staff to explore and contribute to other sectors of the university. We must also anticipate new and effective modes of learning, including educational video tapes and software, courses via the Internet, electronic classrooms, and individualized curricula for non-degree and post-professional students.

Anticipating Needs
A McMaster graduate should have the analytical, technical, and communication skills necessary for self-directed life-long learning. However, the needs of life-long learners may not be met entirely by courses designed for full-time students, and the needs of all students may include a range of skills that are not offered in the regular curriculum. If the University is to inspire a passion for learning it must be prepared to adapt to the changing needs of its student body. The courses we offer to non-degree students should complement the university's mission, enhance post-degree education, and, in some cases, facilitate entry into degree programs. Degree programs themselves need reconsideration, including ideas for new degrees based on strategic partnerships with Mohawk and other colleges. Our continuing education efforts must be characterized by flexibility and entrepreneurship and those faculty and staff who contribute to these efforts must be recognized and rewarded.

Encouraging Initiative
Our mission is the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge and our commitment is to creativity and innovation. Creativity implies new and diverse methods that support learning, scholarship, and administration. These can come from anywhere inside the university community, but they require a culture that encourages new ventures and rewards initiative. This means that we must be prepared to give people the authority they need to innovate, to acknowledge that success and failure are inevitable parts of the process of innovation, and to reward and support the learning that comes from both.


Measuring Progress
We value integrity. Therefore we must measure our progress toward the goals we set. If we know why each of us is here, and what it is that we are supposed to be accomplishing, then we should be more than curious about whether we are actually succeeding. Conventional criteria, such as publications and teaching evaluations, are assessments of individual performance, but they do not measure whether departments, faculties, or the University are achieving their objectives. So, we have to set precise goals and develop measures to assess learning outcomes, research results, and the performance of our support units. We may never be satisfied with these measures, but that cannot be an excuse for not having any, or for using only those that are convenient or conventional. And to oblige us to attend to our mission and our goals, we must publish these performance measures, seek appropriate benchmarks for comparison, and invite the comments of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and our partners in the community.

Changing Structures
Evaluation will lead to demands for change. Some changes will be attitudinal and behavioural, but others will involve changing managerial and committee structures. We do not intend to cling to existing bodies or sanctify existing practices if the results of evaluation suggest the need for change. As we begin to outline the action plans necessary to achieve our goals, we will consider the possibilities of alternative distributions of authority, the simplification of managerial structures, more effective decentralization, new administrative technologies, and the elimination of nonessential regulations. Reorganization will not solve all of our problems, but we must be prepared and willing to change our structures if that helps us to achieve our goals.

McMaster has a wonderful past, replete with educational and scholarly innovation and achievement. That past has placed us in the forefront of Canadian universities and brought international distinction to many of our faculty, staff, students, alumni and programs.

Building on that past, and dedicating ourselves to institutional renewal, we can ensure that our University has a bright future. Nostalgia for that storied past is not sufficient. The status quo is not a viable alternative. McMaster will change, and it will change for the better, only as faculty, staff, students, alumni and volunteers are seized with a sense of common purpose, of distinctive mission, and of agreed goals. Directions is a necessary roadmap to fulfil McMaster's future promise.

Approved by:
McMaster University Senate, December 13, 1995
McMaster University Board of Governors, December 14, 1995