John Simon, incoming president of Lehigh, addresses students in Lamberton Hall on Thursday, April 9, 2015 during Student Senate's "Meet the President" event. Issues such as student health, the role of Greek life and the continuance of Arabic and Global Citizenship programs were brought up. (Katie Morris/B&W photo)

Incoming President John Simon participates in open forum with students

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Incoming Lehigh President John Simon came to campus April 9 for the “Meet the President” event, which was hosted by student senate. The event allowed the Lehigh community to ask Simon questions about his plans for several aspects of the university.

“There are many times at the university I feel like I’m at an opera in Europe, and there are seats you buy that are behind the pillars,” Simon said. “You can really enjoy the music but you can’t watch the show.”

Simon was speaking in regards to student senate’s imperative role in communicating the wants and needs of the Lehigh student body.

“There needs to be a collective message to help me see the show,” he said.

Cristina DeScisciolo, ’15, and Alexandra Stephanou, ’15, the co-chairs of the campus unity and student engagement committee of student senate, were the two students in charge of the event. They began development for the event in February, with the hope that students could get to know Simon.

Patrick Farrell, the provost and vice president for academic affairs, and Brad Scheler, ’74, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, joined Simon at the event.

Two students asked the administration about any initiatives or programs, like Posse and Questbridge, to promote diversity and attract students of color on campus. They also asked if there were plans to strengthen the Lehigh and South Bethlehem relationship.

Simon acknowledged the strained relationship between the City of Bethlehem and Lehigh. He said he has already begun discussions with the mayor. Scheler encouraged Lehigh faculty and graduate students to live in South Bethlehem to better the relationship.

“It’s more than just getting people here,” Farrell said in response to the questions about diversity on campus. He said Lehigh has been aggressive in recruiting a broad student body.

Incidents such as the vandalization of the UMOJA house, which occurred last year, were talked about. Simon said he wants to focus on discussions before these events happen so that when they do, everyone can come together and overcome it.

Scheler, who was a member of a fraternity during his undergraduate career at Lehigh, also discussed the ongoing debate regarding the location of Greek social life. Scheler said he believes allowing events on the hill may promote exclusivity, but realizes that there are also difficulties in keeping students safe off campus, which is the most important goal for the university

Several students also questioned the longevity and state of certain programs.

Michael Horgan, ’16, and Isabel Buenaga, ’17, were frustrated by a lack of communication with the Lehigh administration. The two students are a part of the Global Citizenship Program, which allows students to travel to a foreign country for humanitarian efforts. However, the Global Citizenship Program is being reexamined.

“It was the best decision I’ve made academically and socially,” Buenaga said of the program.

Buenaga said she was happy with the way Simon responded to her concerns.

“I think he is a really good thing for Lehigh,” she said after the event. “He really understood what a lot of faculty don’t get about being global and being connected with the global community. He was very down to earth.”

Horgan shared some of the same sentiments, but still had concerns.

“I was really impressed with the new president,” he said. “I really liked what he had to say, but I do think that our question was not addressed to the extent that we may have liked and they may not have understood where we were coming from and our frustration. I definitely gained a huge respect for the three men. “

Jose Sierra, ’16, the parliamentarian of student senate, agreed with many of the suggestions put forward by the Lehigh leadership.

“Student senate needs to be taking risks,” Sierra said. “How do we enhance communication between our constituents, senate and the administration?”

Farrell was pleased with the outcome of the event.

“The questions were really important for Lehigh, questions about diversity, questions about campus life, questions about health,” he said. “They weren’t all easy to answer but I enjoyed it, and hopefully students felt like it was a constructive conversation.”

The student senate will also be having a “Meet the Senate” open forum on Thursday from 4:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in UC 308.

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