University strategizes for future

Last week, faculty, staff, and administrators met to discuss the future of Carnegie Mellon. In a series of six town hall meetings over the last month, members of the campus community have discussed different aspects of the university’s strategic plan, which will contain a detailed report of the university’s goals for the next 10 years. The document will be finalized this fall.

On Thursday evening, the topic of discussion was education and student life. Michael Murphy, vice president of enrollment, and Indira Nair, vice provost for education, spoke about how the strategic plan will develop and, specifically, what will be emphasized in the education and student life section of the plan.

The last strategic plan was written in 1998, according to Murphy.

“Our goal is to look at what happened with the last plan and think about what the next strategic plan might say,” he said.

The strategic plan is divided into six sections, each with its own committee. In addition to education and student life, the subgroups are research, regional impact, international initiatives, community success, and finance and infrastructure. After deliberation through April and May, the final documents will be drawn up in October and be sent to the Board of Trustees for approval in November, Murphy said.

Nair, along with Jennifer Church, dean of student affairs, are the co-chairs of the Education and Student Life Committee.

Nair spoke about the positive development of student life and its effect on students on campus.
“Twenty years ago, student life didn’t exist,” she said. “Now, students tell us they learn more outside the classroom than inside. It gives them the chance to collaborate and challenge their ideals.”

Nair stressed the importance of balancing personal fulfillment with academics.

“It would be nice if students graduated with an education, but also well-adjusted and happy,” she said.

Inside the classroom, the committee wants to develop a faculty that will facilitate student-faculty interactions, where individual professors will share their passions for their subjects with students, Nair said.

Nair also said that students often misunderstand the meaning of “interdisciplinary.”

“Students don’t think the school is as interdisciplinary as faculty know it is,” she said. “Their idea of interdisciplinarity is based on their inability to take classes in other departments.”

The goal of the university’s interdisciplinary-minded curriculum is that students gain a broad knowledge to successfully navigate the world, in addition to expert knowledge in one or two things, Nair said.

“We deal with real problems here, and real problems aren’t limited to one discipline,” she said.
In addition to faculty development and interdisciplinary learning, the other three goals of the education and student life section of the strategic plan are metacurricular enrichment; integrated advising; and communication, writing, and information and media literacy. The latter was largely motivated by faculty feedback, in which professors stated that they wished their students were better writers.

Nair also praised some of the developments in the university over the last 10 years that were goals in the 1998 strategic plan, specifically the increased number of environmental science courses (now at 31), and the development of the University Lecture Series.

In discussion, audience members bemoaned the shortage of university classrooms, but supported the committee’s idea of the centralized advising structure.

Faculty said that they wished they could offer students more guidance as they began the process of choosing their courses of study.

“I don’t want students to feel pressured to make this decision, but welcome it,” said Tim Haggerty, director of the Humanities Scholars Program, at the meeting.

Five more town hall meetings will take place over the course of this week. The next meeting will cover finance and infrastructure and will take place today at 6 p.m. in Rangos 3.