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President Jared Cohon Speaks to CMU Student Senate

President Jared Cohon attended last Thursday’s Undergraduate Student Senate meeting. Cohon opened the floor for questions and addressed student concerns varying from stress levels to the recent land acquisition. (credit: Devon Beahm/Photo Staff) President Jared Cohon attended last Thursday’s Undergraduate Student Senate meeting. Cohon opened the floor for questions and addressed student concerns varying from stress levels to the recent land acquisition. (credit: Devon Beahm/Photo Staff)

“Thanks for coming in on the most beautiful day we’ve had in a while. I arranged spring for you, so you see what kind of caring president I am.” With this statement, Jared L. Cohon, the president of Carnegie Mellon University, began his speech at the Carnegie Mellon Student Senate meeting last Thursday.

Cohon, who spoke as part of the Student Senate’s Spotlight Speaker Series, maintained his good humor as he talked about a number of topics. He addressed Carnegie Mellon’s recent land acquisition, the loss in endowment due to the economy, and the university’s role as an international institution, along with various day-to-day issues.

“The thing I would say we’ve been working on for at least 20 years is improving the undergraduate experience. We still work harder than any student body in history, no doubt about it,” Cohon said, drawing smiles from his audience. “The stress level is too high, but we’re not going to change the challenges of our program. What we continue to do is find ways to support you, to reduce stress, to make sure you feel supported and that you know how to get help when you need it. And that you do get help when you need it.”
Cohon then opened the floor to questions from the Senators, beginning with a question about Carnegie Mellon’s transfer student community. “We make it very hard for students to transfer here,” Cohon said in response to a question on why the transfer class at Carnegie Mellon was so small. “We have to get each department to accept transfers, and maybe because of our unusual programs, it’s very hard to get them to accept them. But there is room for more transfer students here.”

One question in particular — about how the recent deaths in the campus community have affected the outside perception of Carnegie Mellon — seemed to rattle Cohon. Speaking haltingly, Cohon said, “The two deaths were terrible and should not have happened. We as an administration have learned as much as we can from them to try and avoid that happening again. With regards to public perception, it is a problem. These things matter. But I don’t think people think that way about Carnegie Mellon. I think they see stories like that as atypical.”

However, Cohon’s speech ended on a positive note. “We’re very proud of our student body here,” he said. “They’re a talented, brilliant, determined bunch.”

Speaking after the event, students had mixed reactions concerning the question and answer session.

Stephanie Schneider, a sophomore Senator representing the Tepper School of Business, said, “I think it was more about bringing things to his attention, but I don’t know that this was a perfect venue to go into detail about any of these things. But as Student Senators, we just want to get the ideas out there.”

Alex Blair, a junior Senator representing the Science and Humanities Scholars program, pressed Cohon on Carnegie Mellon’s units system, and summarized his question after the event.

“The discrepancy is between the number of units and the number of hours that the student actually has to spend working,” he said. “I think you could reduce the workload and still maintain rigor.”

However, in response to Blair’s concern, Cohon said, “Life at Carnegie Mellon will never be perfect, and if the first thing that comes to mind is working harder, for more hours than you’re getting credit for, that’s both fixable and not too terrible.”

“This isn’t the place to get solutions,” Blair said. “I think that’s why he threw it back at me.”

“Sometimes it’s hard to ask the person on top about stuff because he doesn’t always know the details of things,” said Thomas Tuttle, a junior Senator from the School of Computer Science. “But I think it was fine.”

Tuttle was more enthusiastic when speaking about the event in general. “I think it was really nice that [Cohon] came here and just talked to students. He’s a lot more approachable than most people in his position.”