Carnegie Mellon University

Dear Members of the CMU Community,

We are nearing the end of the academic year at Carnegie Mellon University, and much of the attention in weeks to come will focus appropriately on celebrating the outstanding achievements and milestones that make this university unlike any other. At the same time, we have suffered tragic losses — and the pain we have felt challenges all of us to consider what we can do to make this a stronger, healthier community.

While there is much to cherish in our traditions, campus conversations in recent weeks have questioned some elements of our long-standing culture, and probed many facets of the CMU experience for students, faculty and staff. We must embrace that self-examination, and use this energy to tackle important issues with renewed vigor and urgency. Enhancing the CMU experience has been a topic of discussion for several years; it was highlighted as a key part of the university’s strategic plan and I have emphasized it as a top priority. Now we must ensure that planning bears fruit. We aspire to become a national model for a community that helps all its members to flourish.

In order to bring new expertise and unbiased assessment to bear on a wide variety of questions, I am creating a President’s Advisory Board for the CMU Experience. Reporting directly to me, this permanent body of external advisers — the first of its kind on this campus to focus on such issues — will bring together a panel of national leaders in many disciplines, as well as CMU parents, who will offer insights and best practices to help place our historic drive for excellence within a context that is healthy, resilient and empowering. We will soon announce the full slate of members and the board will hold its first meeting on campus in fall 2016.

A number of other measures also are underway to build our community and improve the lives of all of us who call Carnegie Mellon home:

  • Earlier this month the Faculty Senate voted to undertake an examination of campus climate. I welcome this step. Following these conversations, I have charged Provost Farnam Jahanian with convening a campus-wide task force on the student experience, inside and outside the classroom.  This task force, whose membership will include faculty, staff, students and alumni, will begin developing near-term and long-term recommendations. Some steps may be taken as soon as this summer, and the task force will submit a full progress report to me by the end of 2016.
  • I also have asked The Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation to undertake a pilot program to enhance the student experience in the classroom. Working with input from the internal task force and other faculty and student groups, the program’s goal will be to enhance learning outcomes while addressing some factors that may contribute to stress for students and faculty.
  • The university will open a new wellness center in the 2018-19 academic year that will be more than twice the size of the current health and counseling facility. A campus committee has worked throughout this year to assess opportunities to use that key investment as a foundation for a variety of services promoting a holistic approach to wellness.
  • Several significant steps are being taken by the university’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) to expand hours and make access easier during particular times of need. If you need to talk with a counselor immediately, CAPS is available around the clock. CAPS also has expanded training opportunities for peer, faculty and staff response and other educational programs that help us help one another.
  • Finally, an update on our efforts to enhance child care, which is such an important quality-of-life program for younger faculty and graduate students: In the next two years, the current Cyert Center space will be expanded by doubling the number of presently available slots. A committee of faculty, graduate students and staff also has proposed a second site, and a feasibility study of this further expansion is underway.

Some of the challenges we face are common to all high-achieving, ambitious individuals and the institutions that bring them together. Some are unique to the history and circumstances of our own university. In each case we must do more as an institution and as a community. And I want to reiterate a theme that has arisen repeatedly in recent weeks, one that is critical as we enter the final weeks of our academic calendar: We are at our best when we live as community, caring for our own well-being and for one another, and remembering that we are not alone. I wish you a successful conclusion to the academic year and a refreshing summer to come.

Sincerely,

Subra Suresh
President
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair
Carnegie Mellon University