Carnegie Mellon University

August 15, 2019

Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon University Community,

I write to you today about the vital importance of America’s research universities to our economic prosperity and national security, and the need to recommit to what has made us so successful. As public concerns and political debates emerge about global engagement in higher education, we must ensure that our research ecosystem remains strong. This requires steadfast commitment to both the free flow of ideas and the safeguarding of our work as required by the national interest.

In this time of intense rhetoric and in the wake of recent incomprehensible tragedies, it is important to remember that the United States is a nation of immigrants. People the world over flowed into this land, continually tempering and galvanizing us with new ideas and spurring the relentless renewal that has defined our global leadership. Here in Pittsburgh, generations of immigrants forged futures for themselves and their families — and the nation — in the factories lining the three rivers. Andrew Carnegie, an immigrant from Scotland, founded the Carnegie Technical Schools to educate the sons and daughters of those factory workers.

With this in our DNA, Carnegie Mellon has been an international university since our inception more than a century ago. And as our institution has grown and transformed, we have always been at the cutting edge of countless fields, such as artificial intelligence, performing arts, engineering, computational finance and behavioral economics, precisely because we have kept our doors open to the best and brightest from around the country and around the world. This is who we are and who we always will be. As an immigrant myself, I value this fundamental principle on a very personal level.

In the context of this great, open, immigrant nation, we also must recognize that foreign influence in the form of intellectual property theft, cyber attacks, espionage and other broad-scale, state-sponsored efforts are direct threats to our nation’s security and economic prosperity. Carnegie Mellon takes these threats seriously. At the same time, the negative tone of the public discourse on international issues and unjust scapegoating of segments of our community are causing mounting anxiety and unease on campuses across the country. Our campus, especially our international community, is not immune from this anxiety and we must take this just as seriously.

To break through the heat of this debate — one that is tinged with controversy and concern involving both immigration policies and U.S.-China relations — we must ask a fundamental question: how can we preserve and enhance the diverse research, education and innovation ecosystem that has fueled our nation’s broad prosperity since World War II? In other words, can we be both open and secure? I believe we can.

  • First, we must be — and are — ever-vigilant to protect our work and safeguard the national interest by following best practices, applicable laws and policies that shield us from foreign interference and exploits. We will continue to work directly with national policymakers and our colleagues at the Association of American Universities (AAU) to preserve the integrity of university-based research. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the AAU, and Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public Land-grant Universities, recently penned a joint op-ed about academic institutions preserving open collaboration while maintaining vigilance with respect to national security. Carnegie Mellon is proud to be part of a network of universities committed to both.
  • Second, we must double down on what we do best: leading the world in innovation, creativity and finding solutions to society’s most pressing challenges. America’s research and innovation ecosystem is the envy of the world, and it is powered by higher education, serving as an extraordinary engine of social mobility and catalyzing our nation’s economic prosperity. Our research enterprise has been successful because we have always competed globally not in the hope that others will lose, but in the belief that when we win, the world wins. That’s why we must not retreat from global engagement. We must not change how we do research. We must not cripple the engine that has delivered amazing benefits for society. In this most disruptive age, our nation must invest and out-innovate.
  • Finally, as a nation we must prioritize immigration policies that are central to continuing our global work and deepening our commitment to national security. This ranges from the need for swift and accurate resolution of visa and other immigration determinations for those seeking to join our university communities, to a final action by Congress on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. As we have before, we encourage our nation’s leaders to finally provide a solution for DACA students who came to the United States as children, were raised here and have always called America their home.

Today, CMU’s researchers and scholars are undertaking bold projects to solve real-world problems. Our discoveries in areas like robotics and cybersecurity enhance our nation’s economic prosperity and safety. We have been successful on those fronts only because of the dedication and contributions of all of our scholars and students, many of whom come from all over the world.

So, to the members of our international campus community, without hesitation and with heartfelt affirmation, let me say: We value you. We support you. We will always welcome you. This is a campus that is unafraid of inclusivity. We are compelled and defined by it. And that will never change.

Earlier this year, I charged CMU’s Committee on International Engagements with developing principles and processes to guide our efforts in the way we engage international partners. This work is happening in earnest — work that will result in our sustained ability to advance knowledge and develop talent through our research and educational missions. The committee will share its recommendations with the university community this fall.

As we embark upon a new academic year full of promise and opportunity, let us reaffirm our belief in the power of education to transcend social and economic divides. Let us take pride in knowing how much our work matters. And let us continue embracing the diversity that has always made, and continues to make, it all possible.

Warm regards,

Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President’s Chair
Carnegie Mellon University