New experience initiatives sound great, if they happen

This Wednesday, April 20, President Subra Suresh sent an email to the campus community announcing new plans to “[enrich] the CMU experience,” inspiring cautious optimism.

In the email, Suresh outlined six action items: he will form a President’s Advisory Board for the CMU Experience; Provost Farnam Jahanian will convene a campus-wide task force on the student experience; the Eberly Center will create a pilot program to enhance student experience in the classroom; the University will open a new wellness center twice the current size; Counseling and Psychological Services (CaPS) will improve access to care; and the Cyert Center for Early Education will double its enrollment to accommodate graduate students and faculty members with children.

Altogether, these steps are a promising start. It is important to balance long term aims to change campus culture with more short term improvements to resources like CaPS and the Cyert Center for Early Education, and these steps seem to do that. But they are only a start.

Campus administration likely feels pressure to offer a quick response to complaints students have brought to the President’s Office this semester. The suicides in March were symptomatic of a dangerous culture that we have known exists for a long time. The campus community reacted with the strength of its frustration, revitalizing old grievances in face of the inaction from the university on a serious, long-term public health issue.

Because of the pressure, these announcements are coming prematurely. The plans they promise are not yet developed enough. Even though conversations have begun, the announcement came before the members of the advisory board or the task force could be chosen. Most of the more active items still do not include timelines.

Students are justifiably hungry for a meaningful change in our CMU Experience. We do not want to be spoon fed false promises while gentle rhetoric encourages us to open wide.

These proposals outlined by President Suresh are good ideas that could end up bearing fruit in the future, once concrete plans have been drawn. The Eberly Center’s program to analyze classroom culture and the Cyert Center enrollment increase are appropriate answers to the serious problems our campus faces, and on the surface, they seem to show problem-solving initiative.

However, without names of people in charge of the planning, specific timelines, and specific goals, they only show that people intend to talk about talking about problems on campus.
The administration has defaulted on promised change before. Improving campus diversity has long been a goal touted by the administration, but just this week the Student Senate’s white paper highlighted how little tangible progress has been made.

With this recent example of how jargon does not necessarily lead to results on our minds, it is reasonable to be suspicous of the new initiatives.

The Tartan is eager to see how these projects play out and if the University will make good on its promises. Until then, we remain skeptical.