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CMU may make “innovation” a dead buzzword

With the walls of the Sherman and Joyce Bowie Scott Hall going up and continuous discussion of the soon-to-be Tepper Quadrangle, it is not hard to see that Carnegie Mellon is fast-growing and changing from the local tech school it started as 114 years ago. In that time, we have become a world-class institution with many achievements in the arts, sciences, and engineering disciplines. But as we grow with our recent achievements, we need to remember that the quantity of buildings, or centers, or initiatives that we have does not make us a quality institution.

The words “global,” “innovation,” and “initiative” seem to have entered Carnegie Mellon’s communications and stuck. It is a surprise when a campus-wide email does not contain one, if not all, of these favorite Carnegie terms. Being innovative is like having power, but as Margret Thatcher once said, “If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” This campus is, of course, full of brilliant people with fascinating ideas and amazing achievements. But if we keep shouting at the world about how “innovative” we are then all we are bound to receive is a global eye roll.

Instead of setting up new “umbrella structures” and vague initiatives, we should focus on breaking down the structures and letting the brilliant individuals of this campus shine. Their light will be far more impressive then any speech about our innovation could ever be.

The growth of initiatives and schools is surely meant with the best intentions, but none of these things will make us rise in the eyes of our peer institutions. Part of what makes Carnegie Mellon great is our ability to conduct research within a small community. No doubt the school could use a few more students’ tuition payments, or another professor’s grant money, but as a community we must toe this line carefully. Part of our strength comes from being a small but mighty research community in which people’s paths can cross outside of their home departments.

As we move forward, we must remember the value of integrity and dignity in the way we present ourselves as an institution to the world. Our heart must remain in our work, and we must only modestly and accurately boast of our innovative initiatives when they truly deserve promotion.