Town hall details strategic plans

Credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor Credit: Abhinav Gautam/Photo Editor

University administrators, faculty, staff, and students met in Posner Hall last Wednesday for the last of three campus-wide town halls to refine Carnegie Mellon’s Strategic Plan. The meetings are a precursor to the finalized Strategic Plan, which the university expects to announce at the beginning of next semester.

The Strategic Plan, an initiative announced at the beginning of this academic year, is built on three main pillars: Transformative Teaching and Learning; Transformative Research, Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship; and The Transformative CMU Experience. A different team of administrators and faculty leads each focus of the Strategic Plan.

During the town hall, leaders from each focus area discussed how they were approaching their concentration and what initiatives they had come up with. Nathan Urban, interim provost, spoke about Transformative Teaching and Learning.

“Our students are not choosing to take intellectual risks … We want to encourage intellectual exploration,” Urban said. He outlined several possibilities for addressing this problem, including making more courses pass/fail, putting a cap on the number of units that students can take each semester, and ensuring that a course’s units accurately reflect the amount of work involved in that course.

Darrin Willis, a senior electrical and computer engineering major, said that the unit system was ineffective for him, because almost all of his classes are 12 units. “When I first arrived, I thought it was very nice that there was a unit system, because I thought it would allow for both harder classes and less strenuous classes,” Wilson said. “It would be interesting to see what it would look like if we had more 18-unit classes that were part of the standard curriculum, or other numbers of units.”

Next, Richard Scheines, dean of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, proposed a method for engaging students in interdisciplinary work. Scheines outlined a curriculum in which students would begin learning about a topic during their first year, and carry their work with that topic through a senior capstone project that would focus on interdisciplinary research.

Vice President for Research Farnam Jahanian spoke next about Transformative Research, Creativity, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship. This focus area was broken down further into four smaller categories: reputation, environment, culture, and infrastructure.

Jahanian spoke most about methods for improving Carnegie Mellon’s environment and culture by fostering a more inclusive dialogue on campus between faculty and students and working to “provide the foundation for our students, staff, and faculty to be leaders in their life [sic],” according to the slides that accompanied his presentation.

Vice President for Campus Affairs Michael Murphy and Dean of Student Affairs Gina Casalegno led the discussion on the last focus of the Strategic Plan, The Transformative CMU Experience.

Murphy began by asking audience members, “What kind of lives do we want to lead?”

Casalegno outlined ways to create a “transformative Carnegie Mellon experience,” speaking on behalf of Vice Provost for Education Amy Burkert, who could not attend the town hall. Casalegno suggested an “innovation term” — an I-term — a period of time during which students could be on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, but without the pressures of their everyday academic lives.

Erik Pintar, an electrical and computer engineering major and fifth-year scholar, said that an I-term would be the ideal time for students to learn and work together without the burden of their coursework. “It’s not often that students are at Carnegie Mellon without a lot of work, without a lot happening,” he said. “And I think that time when we do, when we don’t have work hanging over our heads, could allow that open thinking and the free time to be together and think with other students, without thinking about grades and organizations and things like that.”

Murphy emphasized the potential of everyone within the Carnegie Mellon community. “What we inherit at this place is enormous, enormous talent…. In an extraordinary community with extraordinary people, there’s an opportunity to go beyond.”