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Letter to the Editor: Student participation vital in strategic planning

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Carnegie Mellon is embarking on a critically important strategic planning process. This process will set the stage for the evolution and development of Carnegie Mellon both in the next few years and for the next decade. As a member of the Carnegie Mellon community for 45 years, I have witnessed a number of strategic planning events led by former Presidents Cyert, Mehrabian, and Cohon. Each one resulted in significant changes in the direction of Carnegie Mellon, and these have been critical evolutionary steps that have brought the university to its position of prominence today.

As I think back over previous strategic planning initiatives, however, I am struck by the absence of strong direct student involvement. Yet nearly every aspect of the strategic plan will have a direct impact on our student body, and we want to encourage student input in the strongest possible way.

I am writing to encourage broad student participation in this planning process — along with all other members of the campus community. President Subra Suresh has identified three major thrust areas: Transformative Teaching and Learning (led by Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College, and Nathan Urban, interim provost), Transformative Research Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (led by Jim Garrett, dean of the College of Engineering and Farnam Jahanian, vice president of research), and the Transformative CMU Experience (led by Ramayya Krishnan, dean of the Heinz College and Michael Murphy, vice president of campus affairs).

I want to encourage all of you to become engaged in this process. There are a number of ways to participate. First, there will be a campus-wide town hall meeting — the first in a series of such meetings — scheduled for Nov. 17 at 4:30 p.m. in the Posner Center, at which many of the thrust leaders will be present to gather campus input. Second, you can contact any of the thrust leaders mentioned above and convey your ideas. Third, you can visit the strategic planning website at www.cmu.edu/strategic-plan, or send an email to strategic-plan@andrew.cmu.edu. Finally, you can discuss ideas within your own student organizations and have those organizations directly engage in the process.

Strategic plans are important and lead to real change. Planning in the Cyert administration resulted in each department narrowing its research agenda to a few areas in which it could be nationally competitive, as well as a concentrated focus on interdisciplinary research and teamwork. This led to the development of signature programs like engineering and public policy.

Under the leadership of President Robert Mehrabian, the strategic plans emphasized the quality of the undergraduate experience. This resulted in the improvement of faculty teaching and advising, and the construction of the Jared L. Cohon University Center as a tangible way to enhance the students’ academic and nonacademic experience.

There were many changes that took place under President Jared Cohon. In my mind, one of the most significant was the strategic decision to strongly develop the university’s capabilities in the biological sciences, even though Carnegie Mellon did not have a medical school. This required a significant investment by the university, and led to the strengthening of the department of biological sciences, the creation of a department of biomedical engineering, and the creation of the Ray and Stephanie Lane Center for Computational Biology, each of which have greatly broadened opportunities for our faculty and students.

President Suresh has been in office for only 16 months, but he has already shown the ability to accelerate new initiatives, such as the Simon Initiative in technology-enhanced learning and BrainHub, which is integrating our many brain science activities across campus while also creating new global academic partnerships. The current strategic planning effort is especially important given our president’s great strengths in creating and executing major initiatives.

The strategic plan will focus on both short-term and long-term directions, and there are many simple and radical ideas that must be explored. For example, should we change the university calendar? Should we institute some sort of winter term for either non-academic and/or academic short courses, service projects etc.? Can we make better use of technology to eliminate many of the large lectures and replace them with smaller, more interactive classes? Is it advisable to increase the course offerings that combine faculty from different colleges, such as the new IDeATe program? Although we have substantial diversity in our undergraduate student body, how can we enhance interaction among the many distinctive groups on campus? Can we bring more of the academic portion of the undergraduate experience into the dorms? What changes can we make to further enhance the student experience?

These are only a few of the areas that the upcoming strategic plan can address, and each would have a significant impact on our students. At this seminal moment in Carnegie Mellon’s history, I call on the entire campus community to engage in the process and have a hand in setting the university’s course for the next decade.

John Lehoczky
Interim Executive Vice President
Carnegie Mellon University