President Cohon spreading himself thin

Just before the turn of the new year, Carnegie Mellon President Jared L. Cohon was appointed chair of a new committee set to advise the Department of Homeland Security on travel policy for foreign visitors. Cohon has served on the Homeland Security Advisory Council in other capacities since 2002, when George W. Bush appointed him to the council.

This is just one of many affiliations Cohon has outside of his role as president of Carnegie Mellon. According to the biography on his presidential website, Cohon serves on the board of directors of Mellon Financial Corporation; American Standard, Inc.; the Health Effects Institute; the Heinz Center for Science, Economics and the Environment; the Council on Competitiveness; the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust; the Urban League of Pittsburgh; and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development.

With such a long list of corporations and organizations with which Cohon is affiliated, it seems as though he’s being pulled in too many directions. For many students, interactions with Cohon will only occur during first-year Orientation and four years later at Commencement. Cohon is not the sort of figure you’re likely to bump into around campus these days, though this probably hasn’t always been the case.

A photograph from the September 10, 2001, issue of The Tartan shows a smiling Cohon on a grassy field as inflatable dinosaurs move in from all sides. The photo, taken at that fall’s Student Activities Fair, shows a scene that seems much less likely to occur today.

Cohon is deliberate in keeping in touch with students through his Student Advisory Committee, the office hours he holds on a regular basis, and by inviting undergraduates to his own home for dinner in their senior year. While these steps may keep Cohon in the loop, students at large do not
develop much of a connection with the president of their university.

This is not to criticize Cohon’s roles in assisting government agencies and serving on the boards of more than half a dozen organizations. Cohon is Carnegie Mellon’s ambassador to the world, and his involvement in other areas outside of academia serves our university well. In fact, it’s common for the presidents of elite schools to sit on the board of several organizations. MIT President Susan Hockfield sits on a dozen.

Cohon’s commitment to developing Carnegie Mellon’s stature as a top-tier university, expanding its global footprint, and augmenting its endowment are unwavering, and his exposure to the leaders of government, industry, and philanthropic foundations is critical to his success.

But Cohon will do well to heed the words of many an academic advisor: Be careful not to let your extracurricular activities come before your school work. We just want you home for dinner, baby.