Carnegie Mellon University

August 21, 2014

Dear Students, Staff & Faculty:

I hope that you have had an enjoyable and fulfilling summer.  I am excited to launch the new academic year with all of you and am especially pleased to welcome the new students, staff and faculty to the campus.  As I learned during my own “first year experience” last year, Carnegie Mellon is a very special community filled with vibrant, talented and engaged people from throughout the world.  You have earned the privilege of joining the Tartan family, and I look forward to our years together.

While I have communicated many exciting developments over the past year and recent months, I write today to share my reflections on a few ways that I would like us to celebrate and enhance the richness and vitality of our community.  Our individual and collective health and welfare is a core priority for my presidency.  Most often, a focus on health and welfare is centered on mind and body, but spirit, principles and ethics are just as critical.  For individuals, organizations and communities, this extends beyond taking care of oneself to taking care of one another.  In a place as diverse and vibrant as CMU, this has many dimensions, a few of which I underscore below.

Diversity.  Carnegie Mellon has a reputation for being an open community, one that embraces individuals of great and varied talents from all corners of the world, spanning every facet of personal characteristics and interests.  Our Statement of Assurance reinforces this as a matter of our composition, emphasizing our core value of respecting all people, all of the time.  Just as critical is our call to action, every day, to truly engage with one another, to step out of our comfort zones, to learn and grow, and to celebrate our common bonds and our differences.  This reality is reinforced and facilitated by our many diverse student organizations, the celebrations they host throughout the year, and by innumerable campus events hosted by this great institution’s students, staff and faculty.  This is deeply reflected in our orientation programs, with an energy and excitement that permeate the campus.  I have often noted that diversity, in all its forms, intrinsically enhances innovation because people with different backgrounds and life experiences usually look at the same issue through different lenses and from different perspectives.  This invariably creates an opportunity for them to correct one another’s hidden biases and assumptions much more effectively than more homogeneous groups can.

One of the more visible touchstones for us has been the program of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, an important national holiday that declares every year our commitment as a nation to openness and inclusion.  For many years, we have had wonderful traditions of celebrating diversity through various on-campus programs and activities.  They have benefited the campus community immensely.  At the same time, I have also heard during my “listening tour” last year various suggestions to adapt new models and mechanisms that would leverage several best practices of the past while providing major new opportunities as we celebrate the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  In direct response, I have decided to declare MLK Day a university holiday.  This will allow us to honor Dr. King, while extending and enriching the excellent service and community engagement programs that reflect our commitment to Dr. King’s dream throughout the month of January.   I have asked Dean Gina Casalegno to work with Student Affairs leadership and the students, faculty and staff involved in these programs to consider new ways to expand and extend celebration as we seek to increase the involvement of the campus and local community in these very meaningful experiences.  You will be hearing more about this topic in the coming weeks and months.

Values, Ethics and Integrity. A rich and empowering community is predicated on mutual respect, strong personal and professional ethics, and integrity without compromise.  This involves an unrelenting commitment from each and every one of us to treat others well at all times.   In all our actions, this also entails careful attention to conflicts of interest, and the need to manage the reality and appearance of such conflicts through transparency and timely communication.

To be a community where we all can flourish, our campus must be free from harassment or discrimination of any kind, free from sexual violence, and free from ill-treatment of any individual, regardless of circumstance.  It must as well be a community in which mutual respect, personal integrity, and affirming behaviors are embraced and reinforced.  The faculty, staff and student leaders throughout the campus will be a valued resource to help you both model our shared values and to support you in your responsibility to respond to issues, should they arise.

It is my absolute resolve to ensure that the values of this community, reflected in our various university policies, are upheld.  It is our expectation that you will familiarize yourself with the policies that guide the life of the campus.  While they may seem at times tedious to read, they will help you understand the value that we place on the safety, welfare and dignity of each and every individual in this community.

Each of us plays a pivotal role in reinforcing these values, and in the rare instances when we see others abuse this climate of trust, we must be willing to act and hold each other to the high standard that makes Carnegie Mellon a community of integrity.

Collaboration and Active Engagement. Your obligation as a member of this community is as critical in responding to a troubling issue as it is when you have a great idea, a creative solution to a problem, or an innovation that will advance our mission as one of the world’s great universities.  You are not merely a consumer of the Carnegie Mellon experience, you are a vital co-producer of that experience, which will evolve and mature through your contributions while here and throughout your life.  You will have the opportunity to be a critical player in the lives of others.  This is true in the classroom, studio, lab and on stage.  It is certainly true in the residence halls, on the playing fields and throughout the campus.  Your active engagement in this community is one of the keys to its vibrancy, and I look forward to your many contributions both to individuals with whom you are involved, and to the community as a whole.

Community Service and Regional Impact.  Your ability and obligation to engage is also true in the communities in which we live and work, in Pittsburgh and throughout the world.  At some point you will surely find yourself serving those less fortunate.  At CMU we aim to solve real world problems, big and small, near and far, with innovation, creativity, deep collaborations and hard work.  Engaging your talents to assist others can be among the most rewarding of your experiences here and throughout your life.  I hope that you will see these opportunities emerge as a critical part of your education and growth.

Personal Welfare.  Let me close where I began.  While the health and welfare of our community is a complex matter requiring everyone’s involvement, your physical and mental health are of paramount importance.  Carnegie Mellon is an energizing place, and as a result, it can be intense at times.  I know that you will push yourself, but in so doing know when to rely on others.  In addition to making decisions that support your physical and mental health, you will be developing a network of friends and advisors, taking advantage of counseling support when needed, and leaning on your pillars of support -- all will be cornerstones of a productive and fulfilled life.

I am looking forward to the upcoming year.  I’m sure that your many contributions here will make it a terrific one.


Subra Suresh