CMU needs to think of students first
$265 million. That is an overwhelmingly generous, mind-blowingly large sum of money that, if distributed wisely, could make an enormous impact on Carnegie Mellon. But therein lies the question: How will the money be distributed?
As we've learned, the Dietrich Foundation will be formed to administer the fund to the university. One presumes, though, that the university will be able to make recommendations or requests as to where the money could be directed. If Carnegie Mellon is able to make recommendations to the Dietrich Foundation, let us hope that it decides to consult its chief investors: the students.
Think about it. Carnegie Mellon could not exist without its students. While Bill Dietrich's pledge to the university is staggeringly generous, Carnegie Mellon receives more money than that per year in tuition — nearly twice as much, in fact. $472,630,843, according to its 2009 tax forms, to be precise. And yet, despite all the money we pay to attend Carnegie Mellon, how often does the university administration communicate with students or consult them before making major decisions? How many students were consulted before the administration allowed the Roy A. Hunt Foundation to transform the library into Club Hunt, with its flashing LED lights? How did the university decide on the recent changes to the shuttle routes? Carnegie Mellon students pay a lot of money to attend this school; the least the university could do would be to acknowledge the trust inherent within that sort of major investment and show that they respect us and our opinions.
I must admit, I transferred to Carnegie Mellon last year from a private liberal arts college where the university's president was basically the school's unofficial mascot. He held office hours in the library once a week, so that students could come ask him questions or voice their concerns; he was always a public figure around campus; he was universally adored. To come from a school where the administration makes it a priority to listen to and respect their students, to a university where the administration appears to rank its own students somewhere below professors' research and its partnerships with major corporations in importance, is not only unnerving — it's frankly insulting.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Jared Cohon needs to expand his office hours and personally spend four of those hours sitting in Maggie Murph Café every week, waiting for students to come talk to him. I understand that he's a busy man. But I think the university does need to stop and think about respecting its students more. Perhaps if the student body felt like the administration actually cared about them, Carnegie Mellon's alumni giving rate wouldn't be a mere 16 percent (Princeton, for comparison, has an alumni giving rate of 60 percent). Although the university does consult students frequently, it is a select group of students that does not represent the entire Carnegie Mellon student demographic. It would behoove the administration to solicit broader student feedback; to reach out to those who aren't just straight-A students or the 50-100 student "leaders" on campus.
Luckily for the administration, Mr. Dietrich's pledge presents the perfect opportunity to reach out to the students and find out what they want Carnegie Mellon to try and accomplish with those funds. Not only will the administration be able to better decide on how to improve the university with Mr. Dietrich's pledge, but they will also be improving upon their relationship with the people that matter most to the university's future: us.