Suresh should be vocal on good and bad news
When the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at the University of Oklahoma was revealed as a collection of racists who used drunkenness as an excuse for their actions, one of the few bright spots I could see in the story was the statement made by the University President and former United States senator David L. Boren in response to the leaked videos. When the allegations emerged, Boren took a strong stance.
“These people have acted in a way that is absolutely reprehensible and disgraceful. I don’t have words in my vocabulary to adequately describe how I feel about people who would use those words in that way, and chant in that way,” said Boren, according to The New York Times.
I’m glad that there hasn’t been a scandal of similar magnitude during Subra Suresh’s term as Carnegie Mellon’s president, but it does bother me that I have no idea what sort of reaction I could expect.
Right before spring break, Carnegie Mellon had a bad week in the press. Hundreds of rejected students received acceptance emails due to a software error, an embarrassing development for a university known largely for its computer science program. A few days after that story broke, a mentor in first-year housing turned himself into the Pittsburgh Police Department for invading the privacy of multiple students. Though the incident had occurred months before, the university only informed the general population after news media broke the story.
It is not technically the university president's role to talk to the student body about bad news. The Dean of Student Affairs is generally given that task, working to portray the university and its administration in the best light possible. But it seems to me that President Suresh should be clearly involved with the campus community, and that as the leader of our community he should be an active and frequently heard voice in that community.
Since he has taken office, President Suresh’s communications to the students have largely consisted of announcing new donations to fund the Simon Initiative and ProSEED or providing updates on the construction of the new Tepper Quadrangle. Also frequent are important announcements regarding the departure and appointment of important administrative positions. Reminders about speeches and information about important developments such as this are, of course, part of his job.
One of the few exceptions to President Suresh's typical communications is an email sent out in August after the death of Michael Brown at the hands of the Ferguson Police Department and the subsequent nationwide protests. In the email, Suresh reminds us that we need to have an open dialogue and respectful atmosphere in order to deal with the issues of race and prejudice, even if he doesn’t go into any specifics.
It’s a political email designed not to offend anybody and it’s understandable, but it also closes with a reminder about the recent expansion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. In this email, which urged attendance of day’s events, more is said about a speaker for a Simon Initiative event than any of the other activities for the day.
There’s nothing technically wrong with the communications sent out by President Suresh’s office. However, the president is ultimately responsible for the entire school, not just sending out good news about funding for programs and projects that are unlikely to directly impact most current students.
It’s understandable that President Suresh doesn’t want to use his position for politics and wants to avoid controversy. But the community would benefit from hearing from our leader when it has nothing to do with the nebulously defined Simon Initiative, or when the news is bad. I urge Subra Suresh to communicate more frequently with his students, to be a presence with simply stated stances on issues that impact us, who is not afraid to express opinions and help us understand his vision for our school.