Pittsburgh City Councilors Ricky Burgess and Daniel Lavelle sent a letter to Carnegie Mellon University on Wednesday, urging the school to join their efforts to enhance racial equity in the city. The letter came after CMU came under fire for omitting communities of color from a student orientation map.
The university apologized for the incident, but the councilors’ letter raised broader issues about CMU's engagement with the city.
The letter noted that the University of Pittsburgh had established community centers in Homewood and the Hill District, while the Community College of Allegheny County -- where Burgess works as an adjunct -- had a branch campus in Homewood.
"Unlike some local institutions that have a presence in African-American communities, your university has no distinct presence," the letter said.
The letter also noted that CMU doesn't make tax payments to the city, unlike some schools elswhere. (None of the city's largest nonprofit employers pay city taxes, and efforts to receive some form of support have floundered for years.)
Burgess said they want the school to join in an "All-In" initiative that he and Lavelle launched last year. He said he hoped the school would provide faculty, staff and student participation for the initiative's efforts, and that it would contribute to efforts to encourage affordable housing and entrepreneurship in the black community.
“I believe they could serve in an administrative role ... research best practices, help staff and co-sponsor annual conferences,” Burgess told WESA. “There’s a number of ways to make stronger African-American communities.”
In a statement, CMU said, "We appreciate the constructive outreach from the Pittsburgh City Council members, and we have already reached out to them to schedule time to further this important dialogue. Our students, faculty and staff are directly engaged in neighborhoods across the city in service, community driven-research and other outreach programs. CMU is deeply committed to partnering with government, higher education, community and business leaders to build a better city for all."