Carnegie Mellon University

October 1, 2013

To the Carnegie Mellon Community:

For the past several months, my listening tour has facilitated many meetings with CMU faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, trustees, academic and administrative leaders, and friends in various formal and informal settings.

The listening tour will continue through the calendar year, but these forums are already revealing a snapshot of your aspirations and vision for CMU, and a sense of your concerns. You have raised some important issues, and different members of the CMU community view the same topics from very different vantage points and through different lenses.

Within this rich spectrum of views, some central themes have emerged as areas of interest and importance to the CMU community. Here is a list of these initial themes, in no particular order:

  • Strengthening the CMU Research Enterprise
  • Seed Funding of New Ideas
  • Strengthening Support for Scholarships and Fellowships
  • Nurturing CMU’s Leadership at Intersections of Technology/Education/Learning
  • Enhancing Quality of Life on Campus

Based on your input thus far, I am initiating further dialogue across campus to develop specific action plans, for the near-term and long-term, with respect to these five thematic areas.

  • Strengthening the CMU Research Enterprise: Increasing competition for resources, lingering uncertainty surrounding US government funding, and tighter requirements for compliance, transparency and accountability have led to greater demands on faculty and staff time for proposal preparation as well as for periodic reporting. As a result, many on campus see a compelling need to streamline policies and practices and to strengthen the information, human and technology infrastructure for the CMU research enterprise. Two steps have been taken recently to address these issues directly: First, Rochelle Athey has been appointed to head the Office of Sponsored Programs, and she is already reaching out to the campus community to seek input and find ways to streamline grant and contract processes and practices. Second, the university-wide Search Advisory Committee that I recently set up is already hard at work to find a new Vice President for Research. This committee will soon be scheduling town meetings to seek input from you for the search.

  • Seed Funding of New Ideas: While many activities on campus primarily rely on external sources of funding, we heard many comments from you about the critical need for seed funding that will nurture creativity in education and research, provide opportunities for thematic events and workshops, spur entrepreneurial activities, and enhance quality of life. Such seed funding is especially critical in light of the budget uncertainties and attendant delays associated with government funding. Seed funding is also particularly important in areas such as the arts and humanities, where formal sources of support from national or local entities are much more difficult to obtain. I will soon be announcing new models and mechanisms for seed funding that will leverage resources from a number of on-campus stakeholders and external sources. The new seed funding mechanism will also begin to address, at least partially, the aspirations of both undergraduate and graduate students to establish even greater intellectual, academic, and social connections beyond their own schools/colleges, disciplines, and residence halls.

  • Strengthening Support for Scholarships and Fellowships: Attracting top students to CMU at both the undergraduate and graduate levels is key to maintaining and enhancing the quality and reputation of CMU. Yet, CMU has a competitive disadvantage among our peer institutions when it comes to both the number, and amount of, undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships currently available. In partnership with various internal and external stakeholders, I am developing several mechanisms to strengthen our efforts to address this challenge. Further information will be provided in a subsequent communication.

  • Nurturing CMU’s Leadership at Intersections of Technology/Education/Learning: Advances in technology have provided new ways of disseminating knowledge and information to a global audience. Many feel that such advances will have a disruptive and transformative influence on the future of education and research. A number of institutions are employing online tools to reach a much larger cohort of students than typical on-campus course offerings. CMU has had a rich and distinguished history, through rigorous, interdisciplinary, and quantitative research, in creating new tools, technologies, and pedagogical methods that have set the standards for improving learning outcomes. The pioneering work at CMU on teaching and learning is not only already engaging a large community of learners from elementary to post-graduate education, it is also benefiting the educational experience within our own campus and generating activities in the private sector that are founded on CMU’s intellectual property. Yet this scientific achievement is little known even in some pockets of our own campus, let alone in the US or around the world. We have recently initiated extensive conversation among key faculty leaders on campus. Our goal is to crystallize CMU’s unique vision to significantly strengthen the broad spectrum of faculty-driven activities in technology-enhanced learning, while powerfully communicating your accomplishments that have led to new paradigms for teaching and learning. It is also our goal to enhance the impact of this work both on campus and on the national and international arenas by finding new ways to engage broader groups of CMU community members and numerous external stakeholders. You will be receiving detailed information on these plans and activities.

  • Enhancing Quality of Life on Campus: CMU prides itself on hard work. The passion for what we do and the drive to excel have enabled CMU to emerge as a leader in many intellectual and artistic domains. As a result, there is considerable interest among students, staff, and faculty in finding new mechanisms whereby the strengths of our creativity, scholarship, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit, and passionate immersion in work and career can be nurtured while simultaneously addressing complex topics such as stress, mental health, and career–life balance. Enhancing the quality of campus offerings for dining, relaxation, exercise, athletics, reflection, and social engagement through the development of new facilities and infrastructure, counseling, and stronger support and mentoring would also be critical steps in creating a better campus environment. I am initiating several levels of focused conversation among the leadership of campus affairs, academic units, staff, student groups, and alumni with the goal of developing short-term and long-term action plans to address this very important issue.

This update is just the beginning; we have much more thinking and discussing to do on each of these five areas. Follow-up actions to some of these themes will entail leadership emphasis, seeding or redirection of resources, and policy and process refinements; others might require significant fundraising, sustained commitment, and even new physical infrastructure. It is my intention to return to you with periodic updates on specific actions on each of these topics, while additional themes are discussed and emphasized as I continue my listening tour. Stay tuned.

We are laying the groundwork for CMU’s strategic directions and priorities for years to come, and I want to thank you again for all you have done to contribute to this process. In the meantime, I welcome you to continue to provide your comments and ideas at

With warm wishes,

Subra Suresh
President, Carnegie Mellon University