Farnam Jahanian, the nationally recognized computer scientist, successful entrepreneur, senior public servant and respected leader in higher education, has been appointed as the 10th president of Carnegie Mellon University. The appointment is effective immediately, with a formal inauguration scheduled for fall 2018.
Jahanian’s distinguished and multifaceted career in academia, industry and the public sphere — and the many realms where those sectors intersect to support research and education — led him to Carnegie Mellon in 2014, as vice president for research. He then served two years as provost, and took over last July as CMU’s interim president.
With the strong support of the university’s trustees, as well as academic and administrative leaders, Jahanian has led a period of accelerating momentum in education and research at the nexus of technology and human life. The board of trustees voted unanimously on Jahanian’s appointment Wednesday.
“A rigorous, international search has made it clear that Dr. Jahanian possesses a rare set of qualities and experiences that make him exactly the right leader for this university at this extraordinary moment in its history,” wrote James E. Rohr, chair of the CMU Board of Trustees, in a message to the Carnegie Mellon community. “Dr. Jahanian embodies a bold, boundary-crossing, creative approach to the most important issues of our time — the very qualities that define and differentiate Carnegie Mellon, positioning this university to shape our world at the nexus of technology and human life.”
“During his time as provost and interim president, Dr. Jahanian has led this institution with an irresistible urgency and a determination to seize the opportunities at hand,” Rohr wrote. “He has enabled the deans, senior administrators, faculty, staff and students to pursue excellence at every level of their work. Through the power of his vision and his deft understanding of human nature, he has facilitated new levels of collaboration across the institution — an essential step in securing CMU’s place among the greatest universities in the world.”
At a campus celebration on Thursday, which was webcast live, President Jahanian said he was humbled by the opportunity.
“Today, I am deeply honored to accept this appointment as the next president of this great institution, in the fantastically vibrant city of Pittsburgh,” he said. “It is a great privilege and a tremendous responsibility.”
Rohr said Jahanian’s breadth of experience, boldness of vision and his pragmatic creativity in his leadership, embodies the qualities that make Carnegie Mellon great.
“I would venture to say that in CMU’s lively history no presidency has been more important that the one we are about to enter and really for the best reasons,” Rohr said. “This is an extraordinary time for Carnegie Mellon University.”
Jahanian said it was a thrill to know he would be working not only with faculty, students, staff, alumni and parents, but also civic and community partners, leaders from the foundation community, policymakers, corporate partners around the world and many of the university’s supporters.
“Together, we will continue to do work that matters — work that benefits people all around the world,” he said. “We hear a lot about the headwinds facing higher education these days. And they are real. … It would be easy to fall into hand-wringing, or to become so paralyzed by the myriad of problems out there that we miss the enormous opportunities in front of us. So today, I stand here as a true believer in the power of higher education.”
Jahanian said in talking with students from CMU’s international campuses — some students from CMU-Africa and CMU-Qatar were at the celebration — he has noticed that young people look at the world with the same optimism, bold aspirations and desire to make an impact.
“And no matter where they come from, students know that the education they receive here at CMU will provide the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” he said.
At the event, Jeanne VanBriesen, faculty co-chair of the Presidential Search Committee and chair of the Faculty Senate, said Jahanian’s combination of vision, dedication and engagement impressed the committee as much as his academic credentials and experience.
“As we listened to our community, key themes for the future of Carnegie Mellon and the traits of its next leader became clear. Our search for a high-energy leader with the motivation to leverage our innovative and collaborative culture and build on our dedication to our students led us to Dr. Farnam Jahanian,” VanBriesen said.
“Carnegie Mellon is fortunate to have found such a focused, experienced leader who will raise the global profile of this institution,” added Tod Johnson, vice chair of the board of trustees and chair of the Search Committee. “This is an important step for CMU at a time of great promise.”
CMU Alumni Association Board President Deborah Yue attended the Thursday event to represent the more than 105,000-member CMU alumni community.
“I’ve found Dr. Jahanian to be a dynamic and visionary leader who personifies Carnegie Mellon’s motto ‘My Heart is in the Work,'” Yue said. “Although Dr. Jahanian has only been part of the Carnegie Mellon University family for a few short years, he has really embraced the entire university community.”
Jahanian, who enthusiastically joined CMU’s campus life and has become a fixture at Tartan athletic competitions, arts performances and student-run service events, said that there is no better place to shape the future than at Carnegie Mellon.
“It’s a remarkable honor and privilege to work with the students, faculty and staff who are seizing the possibilities of this century and solving its problems,” he said. “As data and digital technology transform our world, Carnegie Mellon is positioned like no other institution to bring about world-leading breakthroughs in those realms, but also in the fields that help humanity benefit from this revolution, from policy to ethics, business to the arts and humanities. There’s no other place like this.”
Jahanian grew to become a noted scholar and academic leader during his 21 years at the University of Michigan, where he held the Edward S. Davidson Collegiate Professorship in the College of Engineering. He served as director of the Software Systems Laboratory from 1997 to 2000 and chair for Computer Science and Engineering during a period of rapid growth for the department, from 2007 to 2011. A widely published expert in cybersecurity and networks, Jahanian’s scholarly work in distributed computing and network protocols and architectures ultimately transformed how cyber threats are addressed today.
“The trustees of Carnegie Mellon have made a wise decision in selecting Farnam Jahanian as president,” said Mary Sue Coleman, currently president of the Association of American Universities (AAU) and president of the University of Michigan from 2002-2014. “He brings deep scholarly expertise, real world experience, and federal government leadership, all qualities of which are ideal for a university with global reach.”
Throughout his career, Jahanian has been an active practitioner and advocate for basic research as the foundation of an innovation ecosystem that addresses societal priorities and drives global competitiveness. Working with former graduate students from the University of Michigan, he founded Arbor Networks to commercialize highly scalable, service provider-class solutions for network security. Today, technology created by Arbor Networks has been widely implemented by hundreds of major companies and government organizations around the globe. In 2008, the research behind Arbor Networks was recognized with the ACM SIGCOMM Test of Time Award.
In 2011, Jahanian was approved to lead the National Science Foundation Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering (CISE) in its mission to advance scientific discovery through its support of fundamental research and transformative cyber infrastructure. He oversaw presidential initiatives, such as the National Robotics Initiative and the National Big Data Research and Development Initiative, as well as championed the US Ignite and I-Corps public-private partnerships.
He has testified before Congress on a broad range of topics, including cybersecurity, next generation computing and “big data” analytics. He also served as co-chair of the Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NITRD) Subcommittee of the National Science and Technology Council Committee on Technology, providing overall coordination for the R&D activities of 17 federal agencies.
That advocacy continued when he joined Carnegie Mellon in 2014, and has remained a focus for him in several roles at the university. He was appointed provost in 2015 following a national search. As chief academic officer, he had broad responsibility for leading the university’s colleges, schools, institutes and campuses, in addition to significant responsibilities for long-range institutional and academic planning, including the university’s budgeting, facilities and other critical functions. Jahanian was appointed interim president when Subra Suresh stepped down in 2017.
Jahanian guided the campus-wide dialogue that led to Strategic Plan 2025, and has since led efforts to implement the plan. He also has enhanced the competitiveness of CMU’s research enterprise, diversifying sources of funding and growing stronger relationships with foundation and industry partners. During his tenure as provost, CMU launched several major interdisciplinary research centers, including the Risk and Regulatory Services Innovation Center Sponsored by PwC and Metro 21: Smart Cities Institute.
“I’m very excited that Dr. Jahanian has been selected as the President of Carnegie Mellon,” said Edward Frank, a vice chair of CMU’s Board of Trustees, and a Ph.D. graduate from its School of Computer Science. “Farnam has demonstrated his ability to solve many of the complex issues that challenge both CMU and all of our nation’s universities. He is an outstanding academic and administrator. I know he will excel as our new leader — and, along with our faculty, students, and staff, strive for excellence. I very much look forward to working with him over the coming years.”
Jahanian has become a vocal proponent of Pittsburgh’s vital tech scene, and the role that academia, government and industry can play together to advance the region’s leadership as an innovation hub. He oversaw CMU’s launch of the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Institute, an independent entity supported by more than $250 million in public and private funding.
During his time as provost, CMU launched several educational innovations that better meet the needs of CMU students in the new economy, including first-of-its-kind behavioral economics programs and a new undergraduate computational biology major. To support these new curricula, Jahanian championed several critical investments in the university’s academic infrastructure. In July 2017, he announced a $20 million initiative to renovate classroom and learning spaces, embracing the future of learning with inspiring, hands-on, collaborative and technology-driven environments.
Projects and initiatives that enhance the CMU Experience have been the hallmark of Jahanian’s leadership. During the 2016-17 academic year, he chaired the campus-wide Task Force on the CMU Experience, which has focused on creating intentional structures for mentoring and nurturing; offering new spaces and opportunities for reflection, play and meaningful interaction; and engaging in a more proactive approach to health, wellness and student success.
Jahanian is particularly well-known for his enthusiastic engagement with students, and his deep understanding for the CMU experience.
“Many of us that know Farnam are amazed at his empathetic approach to campus issues and his commitment to transparency. As a senior who is graduating soon, I leave with full confidence that Carnegie Mellon University will be in good hands,” said Neal Choudhary, Student Body president who is studying business administration and statistics.
“Farnam has been a strong advocate for graduate students and has always welcomed candid discussions around the needs of graduate students,” said Travis Carless, president of the Graduate Student Assembly and a Ph.D. student in Engineering and Public Policy. “He has been a good partner to the Assembly, and we are confident he will continue to promote a better graduate student experience. We look forward to continuing to work with him.”
Jahanian takes the reins at a time of unprecedented momentum for the university. With its distinctive cores of excellence in computation and data, in interdisciplinary problem-solving, and in new forms of creative expression, Carnegie Mellon has become a destination of choice for both research partners and outstanding students. Bolstered by record-breaking enrollment of women in the STEM fields, the university celebrated a major milestone in fall 2017, when women made up more than 50 percent of the incoming undergraduates.
In spring 2018, CMU will open a 300,000-square-foot building in the David A. Tepper Quadrangle, which will serve as the new home for the Tepper School of Business as well as a central campus hub with a welcome center, the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship, and a laboratory for technology-enhanced learning, among other amenities. This February, the university announced the creation of the Block Center for Technology and Society for interdisciplinary investigation of the economic, organizational and policy impacts of technology. All of these efforts were made possible through generous philanthropy, in support of the university’s ambitious agenda.
In a June 2017 message to campus, Jahanian shared that building on this momentum will require the passion and support of the entire community. “I am more excited than ever by what we can achieve together, bound by a shared vision to advance the human condition and by a core set of values that includes integrity, inclusion, collaboration and empathy,” he wrote.
Jahanian holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
He currently serves as chair of the National Research Council’s Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (CSTB), sits on the executive committee of the Council on Competitiveness, and is a trustee of the Dietrich Foundation. He also is a board member of the Computing Research Association (CRA), the National Center for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT), the Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM) Institute, and the Allegheny Conference on Community Development, among others.
Jahanian has been married to Teresa Jahanian since 1989. Teresa, known as Tris, also is a computer scientist and holds two patents for her work in high-performance transaction processing. Prior to coming to Pittsburgh, she had a successful career in the financial industry, working as a software systems architect at EDS Financial Services and Fiserv. An active member of the CMU community, Tris serves as honorary president of the Carnegie Mellon Women’s Association. The Jahanians have three children: Sara, an undergraduate in her junior year at CMU, as well as Thomas, 24, and Daniel, 26, of Michigan. Their family also includes Penny, their dog, who also is a regular at Tartan events.