President Suresh reflects on tenure

Brian Trimboli Apr 26, 2015

University President Subra Suresh summarized the many initiatives born of the first two years of his presidency during his first annual update to the Carnegie Mellon community last Wednesday. Cohon University Center’s McConomy Auditorium was filled almost to capacity with students, faculty, and staff for the event. Vice Provost for Education and Professor of Biological Sciences Amy Burkert introduced Suresh, and reminded audience members before the talk began that it was a closed event meant only for members of the Carnegie Mellon community.

Suresh marks the end of his second year as Carnegie Mellon’s president with the update, hoping for it to become a yearly event. “This is the beginning of an annual event,” Suresh said, “where near the end of the academic year I give an update about what happened during the year and what our challenges are, and what we as a community have done together and what we still have to do in the following year.”

Suresh hopes to present to the university during the fall semester as well, allowing community members to ask him questions rather than presenting an update, as he did last week.

Suresh emphasized recruiting talent to Carnegie Mellon while keeping a strong focus on diversity. “For a university like Carnegie Mellon to be a global leader — in research, in education, in artistic theater, in innovation — we have to be able to attract the best and the brightest students from around the world in an increasingly competitive environment for resources of talent,” he said.

A diverse community, Suresh said, creates a more innovative university culture. “When we have very different people looking at the same issue from very different vantage points through very different life experiences and through different lenses, they can address the same problem in slightly different ways.”

Suresh also mentioned two university initiatives announced last week, including further expansion along Forbes Avenue near Craig Street, and two new endowed funds of $1 million each that will support work in the arts and humanities.

“Today, the university will begin seeking developers who want to partner with us on a major, mixed-use development on land the university owns on the south side of Forbes Avenue, near Craig Street,” said Farnam Jahanian, who will soon become Carnegie Mellon’s provost after a year serving as vice president of research, in a university-wide email sent the day before the address about the Forbes Avenue development. “This development could include research space for faculty and students, space for external partners, labs and studios for collaborative industry-academia use, office space, a quality hotel, parking, and some retail space.”

Among the other initiatives that Suresh mentioned were the Simon Initiative, the upcoming Tepper Quadrangle, and the university’s fundraising efforts.

The university, Suresh said, has raised an unprecedented amount of money in the last two years for the endowment, which has long been much smaller than those of older peer institutions.

“What we are looking at in just the next three years is a half-billion dollars in new construction, more than 750,000 new square feet of space,” Suresh said about the university’s various planned expansions along what he calls the “Forbes Avenue innovation corridor.” According to Suresh, this expansion is the largest since the university’s founding and original gift from founder Andrew Carnegie.

Student Body President-Elect and junior policy and management and Chinese studies double major JR Marshall was galvanized by Suresh’s speech.

“I think we have plans to become more than something that we are right now, which is a world leader in innovation and research, a kind of forefront university — a pioneer university,” Marshall said. “It’s nothing new; I don’t think this university’s been anything but, but I think it’s time for the university to take on a leadership, a pioneer attitude.”

Jibby Ayo-Ani, junior information systems major and student body vice president-elect, agreed with Marshall, emphasizing that the university’s progress relies on effort from every member of the Carnegie Mellon community.
“It’s everyone’s responsibility. You know it doesn’t always come from the leadership — it comes from every person. So we are taking on that responsibility, as students, as faculty members, as administration, in relation to things that we as a university are focusing on,” she said.

Suresh’s overarching message was one of hope for Carnegie Mellon’s future.

“I knew a lot about CMU [before I became president]. I was very proud of being given the opportunity to come here, to lead this wonderful institution. And what I’ve learned in the past two years is that I’m even prouder now; I’m even more optimistic.”