President's Statement on Diversity
Carnegie Mellon has developed a strategic plan that will guide the university's pursuit of excellence for the next several years. One of the priorities of our strategic plan is increasing diversity in all parts of the university. As with all of the elements of our plan, one person has been assigned the task of leading our efforts to increase diversity. That person is me. I take on this role with enthusiasm, for I attach great importance to our being a truly inclusive organization in which all of us can realize our full potential.
My role is, first, to articulate why diversity is important and a strategic imperative for the university. This statement is a beginning. It will be followed by various campus events and activities to heighten our community's awareness of issues and opportunities.
There are several arguments for achieving and maintaining a diverse faculty, student body, staff and administration.
Institutional Excellence I:
It is essential for the university's quality to be able to recruit and to retain the very best students, faculty and staff. Excellence is not limited to a single race, gender, ethnic group, religion or sexual orientation. There are large and increasing numbers of qualified candidates in each of these groups, whose admission as students or hiring into our faculty, staff or administration would add to the excellence of the university. We need to be a welcoming place—an institution where the success of each individual is a priority—if we are to be successful in the competition for the best people. And, part of being a welcoming place is having sufficient diversity so that no one in the university community feels isolated.
Institutional Excellence II:
Diverse perspectives and backgrounds breed the intellectual vitality essential for the health and progress of the university. Indeed, Carnegie Mellon has earned a reputation for interdisciplinary collaboration which has spawned important innovations in research, education and institutional structure. It seems obvious that the people collected at any moment in time will necessarily shape the nature and the outcome of those collaborations, and those people are influenced not only by their intelligence and creativity but also by their backgrounds.
Simply put, becoming more diverse will make Carnegie Mellon and the work it does better. Certainly, our students will be better-educated for having learned and lived in a multicultural community. Our research and service will be different—and some of it better in its transfer to and impact on society—as a result of the multiple perspectives brought to us by diversity. And, I believe, we can be a more effective organization when diversity is an attribute of our trustees, administration and staff.
Contributions to Social Progress:
Carnegie Mellon has contributed to the advancement of people from all segments of our society, and we can do more. This can be a controversial issue, especially when played out in the context of affirmative action. But, there is powerful evidence, most notably and recently from The Shape of the River by Bill Bowen and Derek Bok (the former presidents of Princeton and Harvard, respectively), that the opportunity to study in a university like ours has a significantly positive effect on minorities and on society.
Institutional Change and Leadership:
Some of us in the administration and the faculty had something of a revelation during last year's visit by the Middle States Association's accreditation team. In the course of a discussion of how to increase diversity, one of us asked, "What do you suggest that we do?" The reply, to paraphrase, was, "You're Carnegie Mellon! You pride yourself on being innovative. Here's your chance!"
I think the Middle States team was right: the challenge of diversity does present us with an opportunity to take advantage of Carnegie Mellon's culture of innovation.
But, we must understand that, unlike many of our past successes in interdisciplinary problem-solving, this challenge will not be solved with dispassionate analysis alone. Meeting this challenge will require each of us to recognize our own biases and limitations, to see Carnegie Mellon through the eyes of others, and to create an environment of mutual respect. If each of us is willing to do this, Carnegie Mellon will be a better place—and it will be a leader.
We are already doing many things at the department level and in the central administration to increase diversity at Carnegie Mellon. For example, the Department of History pioneered an African-American scholars seminar series, an effective recruitment and educational initiative that we are working to replicate in other departments. And, the Enrollment Group continues to pursue and refine our minority recruitment strategies. We will be doing more, both to enhance current efforts and to create new initiatives.
I want to leave you with three important thoughts. First, diversity is not just about numbers. Although we do measure and will continue to measure dimensions of diversity among our students, faculty, staff and trustees, we have no quotas. I look forward to the day when Carnegie Mellon's composition makes tracking the numbers superfluous.
Related to the measurement issue is retention, or success, which I think is a better term. It's not just a matter of increasing diversity in hiring and admissions. If we are not institutionally prepared to provide paths for success, those hired or admitted may not succeed, and Carnegie Mellon won't either. We must adhere to the ethical imperative, fundamental to a university community, that every qualified person who is invited to join us be given a reasonable chance to succeed through his or her own efforts.
Second, our commitment to diversity is long-term. This is an institutional commitment, now and until we become the university we envision.
Third, diversity is everyone's responsibility. Although I have assumed the lead responsibility for this part of our strategic plan, we must all act together or we will surely fail. You're the ones who serve on search committees, recruit students, allocate resources and create the environment in which we work and study. Our progress is in the hands of each of us.
I look forward to working with you.
Jared L. Cohon