Carnegie Mellon University

June 25, 2020

Dear Members of the CMU Community: 

On Monday, we received a petition, which is attached, regarding the decision of Dr. Kiron Skinner, director of the Institute for Politics and Strategy (IPS), to appoint Ambassador Richard Grenell to be a senior fellow in the institute for the next academic year. There is a wide variety of opinion on the appointment of Ambassador Grenell as evidenced by the numerous petitions and notes we have received, including several notes of support. As a university president who believes deeply in freedom of speech, I am grateful to be part of a community that is willing to share its opinions openly, and engage in civil discourse on the themes and values that are foundational to the academy. As this latest petition raises issues related to these topics, it requires a further response that goes beyond Provost Jim Garrett’s original statement to the faculty on the matter and I am writing to provide additional clarity and to outline some forthcoming actions. 

Let me begin my response by noting that the university’s long-standing practices for the appointment of individuals to positions such as fellows, practitioners-in-residence, artists-in-residence, entrepreneurs-in-residence and the like (whether staff or special faculty), vary across CMU’s colleges and schools, but generally instill broad discretion in the heads of departments, centers and institutes. This is in direct contrast to the policies and practices required for the appointment of regular faculty (tenure, research, teaching and librarian tracks), which provide additional levels of review in accordance with each college or school’s policies. In cases of initial appointments with indefinite tenure, as well as reappointments and promotions on all tracks, and conferral of tenure on the tenure track, there are reviews at the department, college and university levels, followed by approval of the provost, president, and board of trustees. All employees of the university are expected to honor the university’s Code of Business Ethics and Conduct, which includes, in pertinent part, provisions about respect for others, the university’s embrace of diversity as a core value, and the commitment to establishing a campus culture that reflects a fundamental respect for different ways of living, working and learning.  

Had the financial restrictions imposed as a result of the pandemic not been in place, the Grenell appointment would have proceeded without review by the deans who are responsible for overseeing IPS, as such review would not have been required. (I note that fellows and other similar positions are routinely appointed across the university without any review beyond the department head.) Given the pandemic restrictions, however, the deans reviewed this appointment to ensure that it met the requirements of the financial restrictions. Since this position is being funded with gifts that were given to IPS, the deans overseeing IPS found that the pandemic restrictions had been met, and that based on their understanding of CMU’s own policies and historical practices on academic freedom, Dr. Skinner had broad discretion to make this appointment. Thus, they approved the appointment, and their approval was then confirmed by the provost. 

However, given the questions that have been raised about the appointment of Ambassador Grenell by members of our community, Provost Garrett and the three deans have asked me to appoint a special committee to review whether this appointment was considered and approved in a manner that was consistent with university policies and procedures. The committee will be chaired by Dr. Mark Kamlet, University Professor of Economics and Public Policy and Provost Emeritus, and will include Dr. Denise Rousseau, the HJ Heinz II University Professor of Organizational Behavior, and Dr. Randy Bryant, University Professor of Computer Science, who is also past chair of the Faculty Senate. I have charged that their review should afford an opportunity for Dr. Skinner to present Ambassador Grenell’s qualifications to be an IPS Fellow and to describe the potential benefits the fellowship will bring to CMU and our students. I expect the committee to complete its work expeditiously and advise me of their assessment within the next few weeks. 

This petition, signed by so many CMU faculty members, also raises questions that have broad implications beyond just the Grenell appointment in IPS. These questions go to the very heart of the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression, embodied in our own policies and practices, that have long protected CMU faculty, staff and students. The first question is whether our current practice of affording wide discretion to the heads of departments, centers and institutes to make appointments such as these (fellows, artists-in-residence, entrepreneurs-in-residence, visiting faculty, professors of the practice, and the like) without further substantive review, serves the university well, or whether additional levels of review should be required. The second question is whether principles of academic freedom apply to the first question, and whether the characterizations of academic freedom in the petition are consistent with our own policy and historical practices. I have asked Provost Garrett to appoint a special commission to study both of these questions and deliver its findings and recommendations no later than the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. Provost Garrett will communicate with the campus by the end of July regarding the appointment of this commission. 

As an academic community that values the free exchange of ideas, we respect the variety of viewpoints expressed by members of the community on this matter. We appreciate your forbearance as we work through both the individual and the macro-issues raised. We look forward to continuing this dialogue in the months ahead. 


Farnam Jahanian
Henry L. Hillman President's Chair