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Generous gift celebrated with unique, but poorly advertised, festivities

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor

University leaders revealed last Wednesday in a surprise announcement that trustee William Dietrich will be giving Carnegie Mellon $265 million. This is a momentous event, and we join the rest of the university in thanking Dietrich for his generosity.

By any standard his donation is extraordinary. We are confident that future generations of students will have more opportunities and resources as a direct result of this funding. Dietrich’s choice of Carnegie Mellon is a tremendous vote of confidence in the university’s future. In particular, Dietrich credited Carnegie Mellon’s global reach and interdisciplinary philosophy for prompting his donation. The additional strategic funding that Dietrich’s gift will provide will improve Carnegie Mellon's existing programs worldwide, and it will also allow the university to create new partnerships and improve programs in every college. The contribution is even more striking since he never attended the school as a student.

One might think that a bequest of $265 million — one of the largest private gifts ever given to higher education — would attract attention on its own, but university officials decided to maximize the impact of Dietrich’s announcement by secretly organizing a day-long series of celebratory activities. In doing so, they ensured that Sept. 7 will be a day to remember thanks to a day filled with free T-shirts, cups, blankets, and food given away on the Cut, as well as a high-profile concert by Guster and a truly impressive fireworks show. University leadership succeeded in creating a day of celebration that could appeal to all facets of the campus community.

All the same, we are a little confused as to why, amid two months of detailed planning, it took until the day before the events for anyone to announce to the student body that anything was happening at all. Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno said that the events’ purpose was kept under wraps in order to “make the historic announcement not just to our university community all over the world in a synchronized way but also to have an opportunity to share with the world the news of this incredible gift.” We can understand that. But content and scheduling are independent questions. It is not difficult to get excited about $265 million once the news has been announced.

Asking Carnegie Mellon’s famously busy students to drop their schedules at the last minute, on the other hand, goes against the very work ethic that inspired Dietrich to make his donation. As Dietrich said in his commemorative speech, Carnegie Mellon students “never stop looking for a better way to do something, and they never stop working to make things better tomorrow than they are today.”

It would have been in the campus community’s best interest to have had a reasonable warning of the donation so that we all could have fully participated in and enjoyed the festivities surrounding Dietrich’s donation. Although Dietrich’s philanthropy has the potential to transform Carnegie Mellon’s future, many current students might have missed out on much of the event’s magnitude, given their usual focus on academics and student organizations.

Despite this, we are excited for university’s future endeavors and grateful for the generosity of Bill Dietrich — a generosity that will surely not go to waste.