Donald Trump, a businessman and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, was given an Honorary Doctor of Laws Degree from Lehigh in 1988. Since declaring his candidacy for president seven months ago, Trump has insulted individuals and groups both online and during campaign events. Because of Trump’s often controversial comments, professor Richard Weisman is asking members of the campus community if Trump’s honorary degree should be rescinded.
“Not being a big fan of Donald Trump, I was listening to the radio one day and heard on NPR that a Scottish university was rescinding his honorary degree,” Weisman said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be an interesting conversation for Lehigh to have?’”
Weisman, a professor of water resources engineering at Lehigh, began his campaign in December by conversing with the Council for Equity and Community, the Graduate Student Senate, the Honorary Degrees Committee and the Undergraduate Student Senate.
Lehigh awards honorary degrees to those who are in accordance with the Principles of our Equitable Community, according to Weisman. These principles are Lehigh’s foundation of values that every member of the community has “a personal responsibility to acknowledge and practice,” according to Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community.
The year before Trump delivered Lehigh’s 120th commencement address and received his honorary degree, renowned comedian Bill Cosby received an honorary degree from Lehigh. In accordance with Lehigh’s board of trustees, the university has since rescinded Cosby’s degree. In October, Lehigh’s announced, “In sworn deposition testimony, Mr. Cosby admitted under oath to behavior that is antithetical to the values of Lehigh University and inconsistent with the character and high standards that honorary degree recipients are expected to exemplify.” Cosby has been accused of several sexual assaults.
Weisman acknowledged that he is merely starting the conversation and raising awareness among the Lehigh community. He hopes that enough people get involved that Lehigh’s board of trustees takes an interest in the debate. Weisman said the board of trustees is “the ultimate decision maker” and has the ability to rescind a degree, as they did with Cosby’s.
“I don’t know whether, if I were king, I would rescind his honorary degree without further consideration and really thinking about impacts,” Weisman said. He didn’t know if it would be a very positive or negative thing for Lehigh and acknowledged, “we shouldn’t be turning a blind eye to that kind of issue.”
Keith Gardiner, professor of industrial and systems engineering at Lehigh and a member of the Honorary Degrees Committee, said in an email that Trump’s recent behavior warrants a conversation about his honorary degree.
“Obviously Donald Trump was deemed worthy in 1988, his subsequent performance may or may not conform to every current idea and preference, but I don’t believe that removing his name from the records would achieve anything of merit with regard to Lehigh’s future,” Gardiner wrote. He noted that the topic would be an item for discussion at the next committee meeting.
Weisman presented the topic at the Graduate Student Senate meeting last Wednesday, but he did not stay for the discussion that followed. He said that the group deliberated the issue and will continue to do so.
Graduate Student Senate President Joe Brague called the removal of Trump’s degree a very hot topic, and he said the Robert Gordon University was one step ahead of Lehigh in rescinding the degree. The university revoked Trump’s honors after he made derogatory remarks about Muslims in December.
“In the past few months, Donald Trump has openly targeted and discriminated against Hispanic/Latino(s), Muslim, and female populations, which directly contradicts our principles of equitable community,” Brague said. “In my opinion, Donald Trump’s racism and sexism is far from diplomatic and unjust. As a university, we cannot condone these statements by allowing him to keep his honorary degree.”
Both Lori McClaind, dean of students and a member of the Council for Equity and Community, and Student Senate President Anna D’Ginto said that their respective organizations received Weisman’s request but had not yet had the chance to discuss rescinding Trump’s honorary degree. As a result, neither McClaind nor D’Ginto felt qualified to comment on behalf of the council or Student Senate, respectively.
“We’re reviving, trying to stir the pot,” Weisman said.