CMU announces opening of Block Center for Technology and Society

Mass emails, which have detailed things such as a measles outbreak and a sniper threat in recent weeks, have often created more questions than they have answered. The most recent of these emails, announcing the creation of the Block Center for Technology and Society in the Heinz School for Information Systems and Public Policy, was no exception with little information available about the role the Block Center will play at Carnegie Mellon. The principal difference is that this email, rather than detailing a crisis on campus, outlined a new frontier for research at Carnegie Mellon.

The Block Center will be funded by a $15 million donation by Keith Block, vice Chairman, president, and COO of Salesforce, and his wife, Suzanne Kelley, vice president of Consulting Operations and Project Management Office at Oracle. The center, according to its barebones website, will be “dedicated to the interdisciplinary investigation of the economic, organizational, and public policy impacts of technology.”

Keith Block is an alum of the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Science, graduating in 1984 with a degree in Management and Policy Analysis and Information Systems, before receiving his master’s degree at the Heinz School for Information Systems and Public Policy in a five-year accelerated degree program. He has maintained close ties with the university since then, serving on the Heinz College Dean’s Advisory Board, setting up the Keith Block Entrepreneurship Fund at Heinz, and supporting efforts to renovate Hamburg Hall, the home of Heinz College. Block was labeled, according to a Heinz College press release by former Carnegie Mellon President Subra Suresh at the dedication of a classroom in Hamburg Hall to him, as one of Carnegie Mellon’s “most avid proponents.”

Block stated in a Carnegie Mellon press release that he felt that the Block Center meets a need to examine the expansion and innovation happening in the world and that Carnegie Mellon is an ideal place to carry out that mission: “Innovation delivers powerful advancements that will have a profound impact on everyone... CMU sits at the intersection of technology and policy — uniquely positioned to bring together the public and private sectors to make the world a better place.”

The intersection of technology and policy to which Block refers is exemplified by the work done at Heinz, which is the locus for graduate studies for both information systems and public policy at Carnegie Mellon. The mission of the Block Center is to provide resources to this interdisciplinary study of technology and society, with interim president Farnam Jahanian stating in his university-wide email that “the Block Center will allow for a deeper connection between the many CMU programs focused on exploring the impact of technology on the human condition, bringing together thought leaders from across campus and around the world to tackle complex issues such as the future of work.”

Carnegie Mellon University sends hundreds of students from every college each year to work in the tech sector, with a recent release of 2017 MBA employment statistics showing that 43 percent of Tepper School of Business graduate students find jobs in the field of technology. With this contribution comes a responsibility to understand how those students’ work will impact society. As interim president Farnman Jahanian said in a Carnegie Mellon press release, “foreseeing and addressing the challenges posed by the rapidly increasing role of technology in our lives is a critical focus of our work here at Carnegie Mellon.”