Cohon elected chairman of the AAU Executive Committee

Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon has been elected chair of the Executive Committee of the Association of American Universities (AAU). Cohon, who had served as vice chairman for the past year, began his one-year appointment on Oct. 19, succeeding Henry Yang, chancellor of University of California Santa Barbara.

“I am proud to be elected chairman of AAU’s Executive Committee, and I look forward to helping AAU accomplish its mission of support for our leading research universities,” Cohon said in a press release.

Founded in 1900, AAU is a nonprofit advocacy group consisting of 61 U.S. and two Canadian leading research universities.
“We seek to ensure sustained federal funding of basic research and graduate education and policies that make universities’ efforts on behalf of research and education both graduate and undergraduate, as productive as possible,” said AAU Vice President of Public Affairs Barry Toiv.

“Part of this effort will be to remind policymakers of the extraordinary economic, health, and national security benefits the partnership between the federal government and research universities has produced for the American people.”
The 61 AAU universities in the United States award more than half of the nation’s doctoral degrees and host 65 percent of postdoctoral fellows.

“Being a part of AAU is a highly sought-after accolade,” Cohon said. “Carnegie Mellon’s invitation to join came about 25 years ago in 1982, reflecting the very rapid rise of Carnegie Mellon from the late ’60s and ’70s.”

“Dr. Cohon has been a leader in AAU for a number of years,” said Toiv. “His most important responsibility will be to help guide the association through what promises to be a very challenging funding and policy environment in the months and probably years ahead.”

The upcoming midterm elections make this year particularly important. “Even if the balance of power doesn’t tip, there will be many new members in Congress, and one of the responsibilities of the chair is to educate these members about the needs of research universities,” said Cohon.

Since assuming the presidency of Carnegie Mellon in 1997, Cohon has repeatedly demonstrated his capacity to advocate for the interests of research universities.“Here is one recent example,” said Cohon. “There is a government policy that restricts the export of defense or military technologies. That has been on the books for a long time and makes sense … but someone got the idea that the policy should extend to foreign graduate students studying at American universities, that foreign students would actually need to be licensed to get access to a high tech piece of equipment or laboratory.… It was in our view crazy and not workable, but the government was serious about it.”

These proposals would have resulted in serious effects on international students and scholars both at Carnegie Mellon, and across the nation.

“The proposed recommendations would have had a dramatically adverse impact on the ability of foreign scientists, scholars, and students to be involved in research conducted on campuses in the United States,” said Assistant Vice President for Media Relations Teresa Thomas in a press release.

According to Toiv, Cohon played an important role in convincing the federal government not to impose these rules, explaining to the government officials that they made it very difficult for international students and faculty to engage in critical research on U.S. campuses.

For this issue, Cohon had the advantage of his experience in the Department of Homeland Security. “On the Advisory Council, issues like export controls would come before us, and I was by virtue of the positions aware of conversations and discussions that were related to this export policy,” said Cohon.

However, Carnegie Mellon has always been the main focus of Cohon’s advocacy efforts. “I’ve tried to make sure AAU presidents and staff were educated about Carnegie Mellon and what an important role we play as a research university in this country,” Cohon said.

And as a president of Carnegie Mellon, Cohon has taken it upon himself to ensure that the university receives recognition for its research. “People tend to tell me how we don’t get as much attention as other universities. Everybody seems to be craving more appreciation,” said Cohon. “I have never met a Carnegie Mellon person who doesn’t feel that Carnegie Mellon is not as well-known as it deserves to be.”

“So at AAU, I have worked to raise Carnegie Mellon’s profile,” Cohon said. “I can’t tell you how the other members of AAU thought of Carnegie Mellon when we joined back in 1982, but I think our standing right now with them is at the highest it has ever been.”
Although Cohon’s appointment and the AAU’s work in general has relatively little impact on Carnegie Mellon’s undergraduate students as a whole, Cohon still hopes that they can appreciate how much more recognition and acclaim Carnegie Mellon has recieved since joining the AAU in 1982.

“I want undergraduates to think it’s a cool thing for our president to be a leader of all of these universities, and it’s a valuable thing that there is an organization looking out for Carnegie Mellon and other research institutions.… Your university is better known and known in the best way among these very important 63 people,” he said.