Cohon’s open forum is a step to better administrative communication

Though few students knew about it, about 100 members of the Carnegie Mellon community had a chance on Friday to sit down with President Cohon for a question-and-answer session on the state of the university. The lunchtime open forum, hosted by Staff Council, proved to be a worthwhile event.

Too often, we are compelled to use this space to bemoan the lack of direct communication from university, college, and student leaders. In that light, Friday’s open forum was a refreshing change from the status quo. Cohon’s answers were pleasantly informative and frank, covering everything from his yearly salary — $556,000, plus benefits, tax offsets, and a retention bonus he entirely re-gifted to the university — to the possibility of a university-run East End shuttle service.
Many of Cohon’s discussion points, in fact, would have been relevant and interesting to students. While we cannot fault our peers for not attending an event that was not advertised to or aimed at them, we do wish that a similar open forum could be set up to focus on student concerns. According to Official Communications e-mails, the last general-audience “open town meetings” with the president occurred in March and April of 2009, with the March event again hosted by Staff Council. However, half of the undergraduate student body has graduated since then.

Any student’s e-mail archive would show a continued stream of communicative messages, both from Cohon and other administrators, surrounding major campus or world events. However, we would still welcome more frequent chances to have a less structured, two-way dialogue with our university’s top leaders. Back issues of Carnegie Mellon’s “8 1/2 x 11 News” service show that Cohon has hosted a student office hour once or twice a year in the past, but this information is not widely disseminated to students, nor is it mentioned on the Office of the President’s homepage.

Congratulations are due to President Cohon and Staff Council for last week’s enlightening event; at the same time, we call upon the university administration and our own student leaders to apply this successful strategy for the benefit of the rest of the Carnegie Mellon community.