In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, protestors gather by the UC flagpole at a silent rally asking Lehigh to revoke President Donald Trump's honorary degree. In a Feb. 5 meeting, faculty members from the College of Arts and Sciences announced a motion to revoke President Trump's honorary degree. (Roshan Giyanani/B&W Staff)

Faculty announce motion to rescind Trump’s honorary degree

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In a Feb. 5 meeting, faculty from Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences announced they would present and discuss a motion to rescind President Donald Trump’s honorary degree at a university faculty meeting on Feb. 12.

According to the FAQ website, the motion is “a call by the faculty to the Lehigh board of trustees to rescind President Trump’s honorary degree based on a long history of numerous documented statements that are antithetical to (Lehigh’s) core values and beneath the standard for Lehigh’s honorary degree holders.”

University faculty members will vote on whether they would like to present the motion to the board of trustees on Feb 12. The vote will be administered electronically “to maximize the opportunity for faculty to exercise their voice.”

Michael Raposa, a professor of religion studies and the faculty member who presented the motion at the CAS faculty meeting, said President John Simon and Donald Outing, the vice president for equity and community, were made aware of the motion.

Ziad Munson, an associate professor of sociology, said unlike several petitions circulated among Lehigh community members, this motion will be formally voted on by all Lehigh faculty.

In October 2017, the board of trustees decided to take “no action” in response to a petition to rescind Trump’s 1988 honorary degree. As of Feb. 7, the petition has collected 31,001 signatures.

“We can’t control what the trustees do, but we can control what we do,” Raposa said in the meeting.

Raposa said he, along with other faculty members, were stunned time and time again by Trump’s rhetoric. It was the president’s most recent remarks about Haiti and African nations that sparked further conversation among CAS faculty.

The motion includes a “non-exhaustive” list of statements made by President Trump, which CAS faculty believe “provide strong evidence of an ongoing disregard for the values that are the foundation of this university.”

While the motion calls upon the board of trustees to revoke Trump’s honorary degree, some faculty members are more concerned with the implications of the motion rather than the outcome of the potential vote.

Munson said the motion is important because whatever the outcome may be, the fact university faculty spoke up will forever be in university records. The action is also a way to evade the bystander effect.

“If you are watching something terrible happen to another person, and you don’t do anything, if you just stand in silence, that is in some ways making you complicit in those terrible things,” Munson said. “The feeling is if the faculty simply stay silent on this issue, they are complicit. If they don’t say anything or call it out for what it is, then they are part of that racist speech.”

Peter Zeitler, a professor of earth and environmental sciences, said the motion is narrowly focused and does not have to do with faculty’s political viewpoints.

“The motion is not about politics,” Zeitler said. “It’s about (Trump’s) public statements and behavior. It’s not about questioning his right to say these things, it’s questioning whether or not we should honor him with a degree.”

The FAQ website states the motion does not undermine free speech because, “with the right of free speech is calling out repeated statements that are racist, sexist, and demeaning.”

Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion and Africana studies and the director of women, gender and sexuality studies, said the motion is important for faculty members because it is an act of holding the community and their colleagues accountable.

Miller said faculty members, as well as students, must live by Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community, but the matter of Trump’s honorary degree encompasses more than those principles.

“This is bigger than just the Principles of our Equitable Community,” Miller said “They are important, but this is a much bigger scale. This is about social values in the larger reality of this planet that we share, it’s about equitability, it’s about human rights.”

The Principles of Our Equitable Community state that Lehigh community members, “confront and reject discrimination in all its forms.”

In 2015, the board of trustees decided to revoke Bill Cosby’s 1987 honorary degree. Munson said a double standard exists in the decision to rescind Cosby’s degree while allowing Trump to keep his.

Munson said the idea that Lehigh can move forward with any principle of racial justice is belied by the different treatment they have given to Cosby and Trump.

“If the governing board of the university — the board of trustees — is not willing to treat honorary degree holders equally,” Munson asked. “How by the same sort of principles, can they expect the larger Lehigh community to do that in their daily lives?”

Robert Rozehnal, an associate professor of South Asian religions and the director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, said it is important for Lehigh faculty to say what they think, and not just for themselves.

“We are sending a very powerful signal,” Rozehnal said in the Feb. 2 meeting. “This is a signal to students, staff and prospective students considering this space.”

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21 Comments

  1. Robert Davenport on

    I am pleased that in the near future that the faculty will probably be able to say to students that they agree with the petition to remove Donald Trump’s honorary degree. Also thanks for playing the race card, it has been hiding recently. The difference is that Mr. Cosby is a convicted criminal while Mr. Trump is a sitting President of the United States. Personally I’m not happy that he got the degree in the first place but that is one of the many things I’m not happy with. Wait until he is out of office to take action.

    • Mr. Cosby was not a convicted criminal, as you purport, at the time his degree was revoked. The Board of Trustees voted to rescind Bill Cosby’s Honorary Doctor of Laws degree on or about October 14, 2015, following his admission under oath during a deposition to certain behavior “antithetical to the values of Lehigh University and inconsistent with the character and high standards that honorary degree recipients are expected to exemplify.” This occurred before any verdict was reached in any criminal case against Mr. Cosby. There is no standard to be applied to Donald Trump that would require his criminal conviction as a condition precedent to rescinding his Honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

      Other than sparing Lehigh the Twitter rath, why should the Board of Trustees wait until Donald Trump is out of office to take action if, in their judgment, such action is warranted? Out of respect for the office of the presidency? If the University were to rescind Donald Trump’s degree, it would be for his words and actions that have already demonstrated a lack of respect for the presidency and the American people.

      • Robert Davenport on

        “If the University were to rescind Donald Trump’s degree, it would be for his words and actions that have already demonstrated a lack of respect for the presidency and the American people.” Just because Mr. Trump does not respect the office is no reason to lower myself to his level.

        Thanks for pointing out that Cosby was not convicted at the time his degree was rescinded. Despite that fact Mr. Trump is the President. There seemed to be no movement to rescind until he was elected. I don’t think there is any hurry in rescinding because he seems hell bent on continuing to act in the same manner as he has for the last 20+ years.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      For god’s sake, Robert, the good-german thing is out of season. Please stop. The office of the president didn’t receive the degree; a mobster did. The Oval Office cannot help being occupied by a mobster at the moment. We are not insulting the presidency by doing the right thing about its tenant.

      • Sorry Amy, but the mobster lost in the 2016 election. The proven fixed investigation into her misuse of classified information, and the documented spying on her opponent shows who the mobster is, despite left wing media hysteria saying otherwise.

  2. Professor Raposa,

    Thank you for the Trump 2020 campaign donation. We need to make sure PA stays red. Keep up the good work!

    Make America Great Again!

  3. Please remember to rescind giving to Lehigh University if this corrupt, politically biased motion is passed. Give the money to the PA GOP instead. Trump is the lawfully elected President of the United States, and the people made their choice. Harry Truman spoke in much the same way, and was also vilified by intellectual snobs, but Truman was a great President. MAGA!

      • Hillsdale College? That’s a fine idea.Now that I have more take home money since the tax reform, and I am not giving to Lehigh at the moment. Thank you.

  4. “Robert Rozehnal, an associate professor of South Asian religions and the director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, said it is important for Lehigh faculty to say what they think, and not just for themselves.

    “We are sending a very powerful signal,” Rozehnal said in the Feb. 2 meeting. “This is a signal to students, staff and prospective students considering this space.”

    Spoken like an arrogant thought policeman, Rozehnal. First, the professors are not the entire Lehigh community, and do NOT have the right to speak for the rest of us. Second, you seem set on intimidating any student who disagrees with you. The message is clear that freedom of speech and thought will not be respected at Lehigh, which is unacceptable.

  5. It is clear that free speech is dead at Lehigh,or at least at this paper. Pointing out that the Clintons fixed the investigation into Hillary’s emails and used the FISA court to spy on your opponents gets you censored. Sad. I remember when this country used to have a free press.

  6. I will laugh when this happens, gets national news and then the $1Billion capital campaign disappears.
    Way to go Lehigh! Way to alienate at least half of your alumni!

    I already stopped giving, and many others will follow. Lehigh is a Wesleyan, Berkley wanna be.

    My advice to the faculty is: Stay out of politics. Why would I consider sending one of my kids to business school here if the faculty are leftist socialists?

    Do you really think Donald Trump gives a damn about some honorary degree from Lehigh? All that you will get out of this is bad press and the complete liberalization of the University.

    Who the hell wants to pay $65,000 to have their child exposed to leftist ideology from Tenured professors in their Tenured cocoon ?( not the real world where they cannot get fired?) ?

    Your hubris is astounding.

    I predict Alumni donations absolutely TANK in the next few years..

    Freedom of speech is great but ACTIONS HAVE CONSEQUENCES. (Especially stupid ones.)

  7. My giving is on hold. This movement will not benefit my student at all. I am not racist for having a different opinion. I am not immoral for not buying into the rhetoric of such a spiteful movement. And finally, when you cash my tuition check, you are responsible for my student’s pursuit of a scholarly and creative education, not some watered down indoctrination sessions.

  8. Class of 89 Grad on

    A petulant, juvenile, virtue-signaling, temper tantrum. That is what this looks like to this Class of ’89 graduate.

    This is not a “powerful signal.” It is a sign of weakness.

    I have a better idea. Why don’t you stop conferring honorary degrees altogether? Since the person being honored by this degree has presumably accomplished enough to warrant the “honor” it’s unlikely any of these individuals need further approval or affirmation from Lehigh.

    Conferring these degrees is like the academy awards; a narcissistic celebration of the academy itself. Get over yourselves and start teaching the students to focus on things that matter.

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