Honors Theses

Date of Award

Spring 4-28-2023

Document Type

Undergraduate Thesis


Public Policy Leadership

First Advisor

Zachary Vereb

Second Advisor

David Rutherford

Third Advisor

Kathryn Kidd

Relational Format



Since the 1980s, research universities have utilized mission statements as a way to outline their management processes and their knowledge planning. However, even top research institutions across the United States fail to incorporate environmental verbiage into their missions. This study seeks to begin to understand the factors that contribute to a university’s decision to use or to not use bold environmental language in their mission statements, especially as this concerns climate change and sustainability. To accomplish this, I conducted a comparative analysis of all twenty-six public SEC and BIG 10 universities by extracting specific environmental terminology from each school’s ‘mission statement,’ ‘vision statement,’ ‘value statement,’ and ‘strategic plan.’ I then proceeded to interpret that data alongside key variables I hypothesized would have a significant impact on the presence of environmental verbiage. These include ‘Geographic Location,’ ‘Academic Program Strength,’ ‘Racial and Gender Demographics,’ and ‘Political Affiliation.’ The comparative analysis revealed that universities in the Big 10, which are more liberal leaning than SEC schools, publicly employ greater environmental verbiage overall. While politics was the biggest factor identified, several other compounding factors were realized. For example, the comparative analysis revealed that environmental terminology tends to be placed in strategic plans rather than mission statements, the latter which is more available to the public. I suggest that the rationale for this placement pattern coincides with the fact that strategic plans are not overseen by organizations such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), unlike mission statements. As one potential policy solution ideal, I propose passing new legislation that ensures that university strategic plans are legally binding. Ensuring that universities are not publishing false and/or vague narratives in their strategic plan just to uphold their image without doing any real work is critical, because these R1 research institutions are rightfully viewed by the public as leaders. Accordingly, they should also be environmental leaders.

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