Ricardo Hall, Lehigh’s vice provost of Student Affairs, shows off his PEZ collection in his office on Dec. 5, 2017, at Williams Hall. Previously, Hall was the associate vice president of Student Affairs at the University of Miami. (Sara Boyd/B&W Staff)

Taking a deep dive: Ricardo Hall reflects on his first semester at Lehigh

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Colorful PEZ dispensers fill the walls of Ricardo Hall’s office, neatly lined on wooden stands built by his father-in-law. In front of the dispensers sit framed photos of his family, particularly his daughters, who have played an important role in helping Hall acquire his collection.

Family is important to Hall, Lehigh’s new vice provost of Student Affairs. He said the stars aligned when he heard about the opportunity to work at Lehigh — it afforded him the ability to take the next step in his career all while being closer to family.

Hall previously served in a variety of roles at Wake Forest and Clemson universities and most recently worked as associate vice president of Student Affairs at Miami University since 2006.

Patricia Whitely, the vice president of Student Affairs at Miami, said Hall simply loves working with college students and is able to connect with them to bring about change.

“He is able to enact, embrace and challenge change,” Whitely said. “He is able to have uncomfortable and sometimes difficult conversations, especially around diversity and inclusion, and students respect him as well as enjoy him.”

While it was difficult to leave Miami’s year-round warm weather behind him, Hall said he was excited to arrive at Lehigh as the university was beginning a new plan for the future.

“When the Path to Prominence was introduced, I said to myself, ‘This is so forward-thinking,’” Hall said. “The university recently celebrated its 150th anniversary and now institutional leadership is saying, ‘We want to do even more, be even better, be more prominent.’”

Anne Anderson, an associate professor of finance and head of the search committee to identify the next vice provost of Student Affairs, said the university was searching for someone who could be a change agent during this significant time.

“We weren’t looking for someone who could simply keep the ship afloat, we wanted someone who would actually start steering the ship in a different direction,” Anderson said. “And that direction had to be one that would move us to the next level.”

Hall was on board, but he needed to get all hands on deck.

In order to better understand Lehigh students and become familiar with the campus culture, Hall said he had to take a deep dive into the university. Although the University of Miami has a similar student profile to that of Lehigh, Hall had to acclimate to a new community.

“Lehigh, it’s different,” Hall said. “The pace is different, it’s a little bit slower than in South Florida. Lehigh has a diverse community, both the greater Bethlehem metropolitan area and the campus community, but it’s defined in different ways.”

Hall said he also needed to get to know the university’s town-gown relationship with Bethlehem, as well as the working relationship between students and faculty, to truly see Lehigh through the eyes of a student.

Hall said he spent much of his first months on campus observing and getting to know students in their own spaces. From attending athletic events and checking out tablings on the front lawn to grabbing lunch with first-year students and signing up for Bed Races, Hall said everything he has done was in an effort to gain a first-hand Lehigh experience.

Part of getting and understanding that experience also meant investigating Lehigh’s perceived party culture.

“I would drive around midnight, one in the morning, Thursday, Friday night, just to see what was going on,” Hall said. “I’d watch students shuffling down the Hill, going over to Hillside (Avenue), Fourth Street, Third Street, looking for house parties, and I get that.”

Hall said he understands that Lehigh students want to have fun, like college students around the nation. However, they must do so safely and develop an awareness of those around them, including South Bethlehem residents who are often disrupted by parties on weekday nights.

“Lehigh students have somewhat limited social options,” Hall said. “There is no South Beach for Lehigh students like there is in Miami, so parties are going to happen in the properties adjacent to campus in Bethlehem.”

Soon after he arrived at Lehigh, Hall recognized how many spaces were available on campus and how infrequently they were used on Friday and Saturday nights. Since then, Hall has worked with student organizations to provide further social options, like Late Night Lamberton.

Hall said students think in straight lines and right angles when considering social options, and instead, wants them to think outside of the box when looking for ways to socialize with peers. He said thinking outside of the box will also allow students to better understand what Hall considers Lehigh’s two-sided circumstance.

“There are two perceptions, and one is actually a perception and one is a reality,” Hall said. “First, there is the reality that we are a top 50 institution, which is clear and consistent in the national rankings. Then, there’s this perception that Lehigh is a party school. We have to decide who we want to be.”

Hall said partying is something college students do, but it should not be part of the Lehigh identity.

Much of Lehigh’s identity formation, or transformation, will take place in the coming years as the Path to Prominence unfolds.

Hall said he is developing a new strategic plan with every division of Student Affairs and encouraging his staff to envision what their services will look like when there are 1,000 more students on campus.

Student Affairs will also play a large role in the Bridge West Housing Project as well as the re-envisioning of the University Center. Hall said students will start to think more outside the box, and welcome changes to Lehigh culture, as they watch the university change its physical and social landscape.

“I’ve dug a little bit deeper and heard from students that this is the way it’s always been and we really haven’t thought much to move outside of our box, outside of the social categories we’ve placed ourselves in,” Hall said. “But I’ve also seen a genuine willingness of students to engage and embrace change.”

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4 Comments

  1. “Hall said partying is something college students do, but it should not be part of the Lehigh identity.”

    Why not? Lehigh is one of the few top 50 institutions that is also considered a top party school. Lehigh is living proof that the two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It has been our culture for 150+ years, and like it or not, is part of the reason Lehigh alum are so successful. Lehigh’s reputation actually attracts students who like to burn the candle at both ends, academically and socially, and these students turn into highly successful graduates who are coveted by employers in the “real world” for their ability to do so.

    Who decided Lehigh’s formula for success needs to change? Very interesting that Hall was hired by a committee headed by Anne Anderson, who has chaired many Student Conduct hearings that led to recent expulsions of fraternities. Obviously she is not a fan of the Greek system (“…we wanted someone who would actually start steering the ship in a different direction.”). One doesn’t really need to wonder what his true feelings are about Greek life, even though he calls himself a Greek.

    I will be very interested to hear about Mr. Hall’s strategic plan for the future of Lehigh. Just because Lehigh’s “physical and social landscape” may change as a result of the Path to Prominence, Lehigh’s culture of success does not need to change merely because an outsider looking to make his mark before moving on to yet another institution says so (Wake Forest, Clemson, Miami, Lehigh… who’s next?). If the crackdown on Lehigh students by LUPD and BPD gives us any insight into his plan, he has shown his stripes early and does not belong here. What kind of institution goes out of its way to target its own students and have them arrested? Are the students who now have arrest records viewed as nothing more than collateral damage as Mr. Hall stomps on them as he climbs the corporate ladder? As a Lehigh alum and parent I am outraged by this development. Lehigh should be in the business of educating, not penalizing. It certainly should not be out to get its own students! And since alcohol-related hospitalizations have actually increased this semester since he took over, it proves the crackdowns have not achieved their intended result. As Vice Provost of Student Affairs, Mr. Hall is fully responsible and accountable for this miscalculation, and should remedy it as soon as possible, beginning with the hiring of the new police chief next semester.

    While Lehigh is decidedly not for everyone, there are more than enough outstanding students interested in it and its culture just the way it exists now. This is what makes Lehigh unique. It doesn’t need to change for change’s sake, or because a few activist students (or administrators) want to make a statement at the expense of the majority of students and alumni. It doesn’t need to be like every other plain-vanilla top 50 institution. Students should want to attend Lehigh for what it uniquely offers, not because they want to change it. If you feel Lehigh needs to be changed before you attend, do yourself a favor and go somewhere else where you’ll be happier, and don’t try to ruin the college experience for those who chose Lehigh for what it is. While there is always room for improvement and more social options at Lehigh, in the end most college students still want to party (with or without alcohol). Karaoke and movie nights just won’t cut it. If this reality is not figured into his plans, Mr. Hall really does not understand the culture at all, and is NOT a good fit for Lehigh.

    • "I'm Not Mad." - Asa on

      I’ve sat on both University Committee on Discipline hearings and fraternity/sorority accreditation panels with Professor Anderson and I can tell you that she is passionate about the student experience while holding both students and student organizations to a high standard. Can she be gruff at times? Yes. But please don’t doubt her sincerity. As an alumnus/a and a parent, I would hope you would be proud that faculty are taking an active role trying to develop a positive student experience and campus community, as many professors do not share Professor Anderson’s dedication in that department. As for Dr. Hall, he’s highly credentialed and I’m somewhat confused as to why, after his only being at Lehigh for a semester, you’ve already maligned him as “in it” to climb the corporate ladder of student affairs. As great as Lehigh is, it has it’s problems and, quite frankly, the social culture is one of those problems. I loved the work hard play hard attitude at Lehigh and, much to the surprise of my parents, I never saw us as an outlier party school in comparison to other schools, though then again my only college experience was the Lehigh experience. But there are record numbers of high-risk hospitalizations from alcohol, and that was happening before Dr. Hall got to Lehigh. Last year, there were four critical cases—one of which the hospital advised the University they thought the student would certainly die. As a parent, it’s concerning why you wouldn’t want student affairs professionals to look critically at what’s going on within the social culture at Lehigh and to take calculated measures to recalibrate the direction of the ship. Blaming it on policing and overlooking student behavior, and their own responsibility for it, is one sided and setting the new vice provost for student affairs up to fail before you’ve even given him a fair shot.

  2. Mr. Hall clearly does not belong at Lehigh. He does not understand the Lehigh culture and is focused on criminalizing students that do not fit his narrow minded agenda. Lehigh students have social skills as well as being academically motivated. If Lehigh let’s this outsider change its culture, then Lehigh will cease to be Lehigh.

    • Calm Down Stephanie on

      First of all, Dr. Hall. He has a doctorate in educational leadership from Clemson University, not to mention about 20 years of experience in higher education and student affairs. Second, you talk about outsiders yet former Vice Provost Smeaton and Dean Basso, both of whom also have their doctorates, were once outsiders at Lehigh (Smeaton came from Ohio Wesleyan and Basso came from Farleigh Dickinson and *gasp* Lafayette) and ultimately did great things to develop the Lehigh you’ve come to know and love today during their times at the helm of student affairs. Though John Smeaton and Sharon Basso’s tenures didn’t come without issues. There’s a drinking culture at Lehigh that has progressively gotten worse and more dangerous (long before Ric Hall got to campus about 6 months ago) and all I’m getting from reading these comments on various B&W articles and speaking to students is a backlash against University initiatives that are aimed at addressing these problems. Keep our Lehigh the Lehigh that sends students to the hospital every weekend with alcohol poisoning because, you know, work hard, play harder! Make Lehigh great again! Did you know that Dr. Hall is subsidizing the cost of hosting on-campus events in an effort to drive social culture back onto campus and out of the basements of rickety old off-campus houses? That he supports piloting serving controlled alcohol at certain on-campus events and parties? That he is pushing a wider variety of evening activities and offerings that aren’t alcohol centered for people who might want a different Lehigh experience? Not all 5,075 of the undergrads at Lehigh want to go out 5 nights a week. We haven’t seen enough from Dr. Hall yet to already decide to run him out of town.

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