Murphy named VP

Twenty-six years ago, Michael Murphy was the area coordinator for Donner Hall. After progressing through a wide variety of jobs at Carnegie Mellon, including dean of Student Affairs for 15 years from 1990 to 2005, he has risen in 2008 to the top level of Carnegie Mellon leadership: he is vice president for Campus Affairs.

Campus Affairs, formerly Enrollment, was headed by Bill Elliott, who retired last year after 38 years at Carnegie Mellon.

Murphy will oversee 32 departments, including Student Affairs, Housing and Dining, Athletics, University Police, and many others.

Murphy has many ideas moving forward, but so far he is easing into his new job.

“It’s a little premature,” he said. “I’m two months into the job, and I think anybody two months into a job who tells you they have concrete five-year plans is probably not someone who listens to other people as much as they might.”

Murphy intends to listen to faculty, staff, alumni and, of course, students .

Murphy considers students the consumers of the Carnegie Mellon experience, the mix of academics, involvement in campus activities, and social life that constitutes their education here. More than being just consumers of the Carnegie Mellon experience, students are the co-producers of that experience, Murphy says, and so students need to participate. “We benefit when there’s that kind of engagement.”

One item on Murphy’s immediate agenda, though, is to fill the position of dean of Student Affairs. The search will take a year, and Murphy’s target date for the new dean’s first day is July 1, 2009. Interim Dean G. Richard Tucker will lead this search and form a committee this fall.

Murphy also intends to continue former Student Affairs Dean Jennifer Church’s initiative to earmark on-campus housing for incoming first-years. The purpose is to create a greater feeling of community among the first-years by placing them in dorms that are close to one another, such as Donner and Hamerschlag houses, and lend to greater interaction.

“We’ll continue on that trajectory, but we won’t do that in one fell swoop,” he said.

Earmarking of first-year housing created a shortage that fell on the current sophomores, who had last pick of rooms. Murphy admits there was “bristling” last year and wants to be fair to upperclassmen. Hence, Carnegie Mellon has expanded the number of rooms it has in Fairfax Apartments. Murphy is also looking into the possibility of a new dorm.

“We’re an interesting place in the sense that it’s rare for an institution to guarantee housing for students for all four years if they stay in housing,” he added.

At the same time, Murphy and university officials have no plans of expanding the size of the undergraduate population. “I think the overall the undergraduate population is about right for our campus,” he said.

The size of that population has been growing — inadvertently — as record numbers of applications have made it difficult to judge the yield, or number of accepted students who decide to enroll at Carnegie Mellon. The class of 2012 is the largest ever at 1481 students — nearly 50 students greater than the previous record holder, the class of 2010.

For students of all years, Murphy intends to emphasize fitness and athletics; they’re “high on my list,” he said.

Murphy believes that his 15 years interacting with students as dean of Student Affairs will help him succeed in his new position. He feels that “our students are special, and not just in the ways that they’re so bright and accomplished in the academic realm, but really good and decent people … [who] are committed to the place. And over those 15 years, I had the opportunity to really see that, not just believe it in some abstract way.”

Murphy hopes to support the evolution of a vibrant campus community and social scene, which has formed in the 20 to 30 years even though academics still dominate students’ attention.
“So one could look at that and say, well, gosh, there doesn’t appear to be the unbridled social atmosphere that you might characterize as being typically collegiate, but I think that’s something to be maybe proud of.”

Murphy respects the “intensity” and focus of students.

“If you want to be one of the great actors of the 21st century or one of the great engineers, architects, then you come to Carnegie Mellon to do that. That’s seriousness of purpose.”
Murphy does believe, though, that Carnegie Mellon students still manage to have fun and enjoy life on campus, “but certainly not to the exclusion of their work,” he said.