Lehigh, like all universities, is a business.
When I attended a board of trustees meeting in October, it felt like I had landed a meeting with the CEOs. I looked around at all the trustees, people whose faces I did not recognize but whose decisions emphatically shaped my Lehigh career.
In my closing remarks to the trustees, I called for accessibility and transparency within their committee and Lehigh’s administration. I made the request as the editor in chief of The Brown and White, but more importantly, I made it as a Lehigh student. That label, I feel, entitles me to know the truth from an institution that is supposedly acting with my best interests in mind.
The day after the meeting, the board decided to take “no action” in response to a petition to rescind Donald Trump’s honorary degree from the university. The Brown and White’s comment section and Facebook page erupted in heated debate from students, parents and alumni. Some were thrilled, others were disheartened, but most wanted an explanation from the trustees.
When I tried to reach out to get one, my email was referred to Lehigh’s public relations team.
“The board’s statement is their full commentary on the issue.”
Clearly my message about accessibility and transparency had not gotten through to them.
A week later on Nov. 7, the Lehigh community received an email from the Office of the Provost. It said the university had been made aware of allegations of sexual misconduct by a faculty member.
When I tried to gather more information, I received an eerily similar response from the PR team.
“The statement is the only information available.”
In the weeks since the email was sent out, I have been met with nothing but radio silence from the administration. Unanswered emails. Canceled meetings. Insufficient PR statements.
If the administration won’t cooperate with the newspaper, then how will students receive updates on the investigation? What implications will silence have on this university and the lives of past and future victims?
By operating as a business in an attempt to protect its brand, Lehigh is leaving its students in the dark and putting their safety at risk.
Lehigh praises the contributions made by one of its most prominent alumni, Marty Baron, ’76, the executive editor of The Washington Post. Baron was executive editor of The Boston Globe in 2002 when he led a team of investigative journalists who uncovered decades of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church.
On Nov. 27, Baron made headlines again when The Washington Post discovered it was the target of a sting operation meant to expose bias within the mainstream news media. The operation was unsuccessful — after collecting contradictory information from a woman who falsely accused Roy Moore of impregnating her as a teenager, The Post determined her story a hoax and published the truth.
When students and alumni pursue the truth outside of campus, their actions are celebrated. When it’s on Lehigh’s property, the same rules don’t apply.
Throughout my seven semesters on The Brown and White, I’ve had to explain the role of the media — and the duties of this newspaper — countless times. To students. To faculty. To angry readers. And now, to the administration.
The Brown and White is not a means of free publicity for events or fundraisers. Our writers and editors do not use its pages to promote their agenda. News stories are different from editorials. And no, we will not remove an article just because you don’t agree with it.
But this is what we will do — The Brown and White will continue to strive for the truth. We will honor the legacy of the Lehigh journalism department and its brave alumni. We will refuse to be ignored, silenced or intimidated. And we will always work on behalf of the students who deserve the truth.
The role of the press is to hold powerful institutions accountable, from the Catholic Church to the United States government to universities like Lehigh. This university has provided me with a valuable education, thoughtful friends and meaningful experiences. All I ask for in return — what I asked for in the board of trustees meeting six weeks ago and what I have yet to receive — is accessibility and transparency.
Democracy dies in darkness. The Washington Post made this its official slogan in February.
In his 2014 commencement address at Lehigh, Baron said, “To me, holding power to account is what the press exists to do and what often only the press can and will do.”
I hope to continue the legacy forged by past editors of The Brown and White. I will passionately advocate for students and ceaselessly pursue the truth. In a world where democracy dies in darkness, I’m making sure the lights stay on.
Emily Ward, ’18, is the editor in chief for The Brown and White. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.