Professor provokes conversation about Trump’s honorary degree

A clip from the November 20, 1987  Brown and White issue announces that Donald Trump will be the 1988 commencement speaker. Recent events have started a discussion on if the honorary degree Trump received at this speech should be recinded. (Courtesy of the Brown and White Archives)

A clip from the November 20, 1987 Brown and White issue announces that Donald Trump will be the 1988 commencement speaker. Recent events have started a discussion on if the honorary degree Trump received at this speech should be recinded. (Courtesy of the Brown and White Archives)

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comments, professor Richard Weisman is asking members of the campus community if Trump’s honorary degree should be rescinded.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 In accordance with Lehigh’s board of trustees, the university has since rescinded Cosby’s degree.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.”

Courtesy of the Brown and White Archives

Courtesy of the Brown and White Archives

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.

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  1. Everyone is being too dramatic here. These are comments in the political playing field. Obama said he was against abortion at the end of his 1st election to clinch a new amount of votes that he was told would help him win. Trump voters apparently are less educated & poorer people. Could he can give back the 2 million jobs that are lost overseas to China’s stealing-economy. Which should we put more attention to? Ask him to donate some cash for more cyber security programs at Lehigh for an old-timey Anti-Communist theme for the second term! Problem solved!

      • No, Alums don’t have hiring and firing authority. We do have the power to reserve any future giving. Lehigh was once a conservative community, proud to be concerned with facts and logic, not the PC topic of the week. We understood the Constitution, and didn’t focus every free minute on gender studies. We were unconcerned with race, religion, color or background. We are now seemingly trying to be like all the other so-called progressive ivy league schools, to our detriment. Bring back “sink or swim”, and do away with “safe zones” and “trigger words”. Donald Trump is one of the few bright spots on the horizon, and the PC community at Lehigh seems all too willing to bully conservatives with their thought police. To all those that (see reference inside the article) were “insulted”, per the ultra lefty NY Times, put on your big boy pants and stop whimpering. There is no Constitutional right to be free from “being insulted”. I’m sure we gave lots of honorary degrees to folks that deserve them far less than Donald. They just happen to admire Marx more than Jefferson.

        • Jim, you are just clearly wrong, and your attitude is poor. If you don’t immediately repudiate the candidacy of Trump then you truly did not educate yourself at Lehigh.

          • John. It is rather obvious from reading your comment that you were not “educated” at Lehigh. Rather, it would appear that you were brainwashed by the prevailing leftist orthodoxy that doesn’t tolerate differing viewpoints.

            Several years ago a former Lehigh professor wrote the following about his experiences while working there:

            “At Lehigh, which is a smaller university, it was a one-party state. It was completely stultifying. Every opinion was policed. There was a very aggressive feminism; there was a strong Marcusian Marxist view; there was a kind of one-worlder view of looking to the UN as the great hope. The university had racially segregated ethnic housing. There was a PC hard line and no deviation was tolerated. The oppressiveness of the atmosphere was almost indescribable. Because it was a small school which did not tolerate dissent, and they were very thin skinned about it, I smiled a lot and didn’t really express my views other than with the students. I would have had to be very careful about what I said on campus prior to getting tenure. I would have had to watch my every word.”

            The above was published in 2006. My understanding is that Lehigh has become even more intolerant since then.

  2. P. N. Davidson on

    When I attended Lehigh there was little time for PC or policing speech. Those in academia may be under the false impression that the subject serves to enhance Lehigh’s reputation as a national university. Be advised that in the real world the subject is risable at best. Professor Weismann’s expertise should best be focused on substantive issues. Say, a timely solution for the Flint, Michigan water problems. Matters of legitimate importance to Lehigh and humanity.

  3. P. N. Davidson on

    It’s not lost on Alumni that Lehigh has slipped from #32 ranking to barely within #50 ranking National Universities within the past 20 years. Now there lies a problem worthy of discussion. Lehigh Faculty would be well advised to again “dare to be great” rather than continue to waste limited campus time on nonsensical issues.

  4. What a joke. Professor Weisman is trying to enforce ideological hegemony in the Lehigh community. If you don’t subscribe to the dominant political narrative pervasive throughout academia, he wants you punished. Bill Cosby had his degree rescinded because Bill Cosby is a serial rapist. Donald Trump used words. To quote Richard Dawkins, “if you can’t speak your mind at a university, where can you?” This anti-free thought/speech attitude is genuinely disturbing.

    I also can’t stand the cowardice of Prof. Weisman’s position. He intentionally sits the fence to, ironically, avoid his words blowing up in his face. He’s “just trying to start a conversation.” He “doesn’t know whether he would rescind his degree.” Weasel words.

  5. If you can’t have free speech at Lehigh,maybe free donations should also stop?? Trump voices many of the things,Americans find disturbing. May not be said in our so-called politically correct way,but at least it is brought out in the open.

    • Joe Giansante - '76 on

      My donations stopped when my 20 year class gift commitment was completed. And, given how the University has “devolved” over the years, donations will not be re-started.

      • Joe, it is not the university that has devolved. If you cant clearly see what an unqualified foul mouthed con man Trump is, and what his base approach is, then you need to evolve. Repudiating Trump is not about being PC, it is about denouncing unacceptable behavior. Trying to complain about it by threatening not to support Lehigh with donations is just petty, but it IS a tactic Trump would support.

        • John D — Unfortunately, you’ve made an assumption that isn’t true. My donations ceased in 1996, upon the completion of my commitment to Lehigh. This was long before Trump came on the scene, and had nothing to do with my opinion of him, or his involvement with Lehigh in any way. I chose to not continue donating after my commitment ended because, like many other universities, Lehigh began teaching its students WHAT to think, rather than HOW to think. Your comments demonstrate that, and also reinforce the old saying, “When you assume…” (And possibly that admissions standards have also declined…) Too bad you can’t get a tuition refund!

          • P.S. And hardly a week goes by when I don’t appreciate my Lehigh professors for teaching me HOW to think, especially considering everything that’s going on in our country these days…

  6. Donald Trump’s brother (who died several years ago) went to Lehigh. That brother’s son (Donald’s nephew) also went to Lehigh. It seems to me rather foolish for Lehigh to even consider rescinding the Trump honorary degree.

    Let’s face it, Lehigh undoubtedly gave Trump the honorary degree in the hopes of stroking his ego such that he would donate to Lehigh’s coffers. I have no idea whether that has ever happened.

    Certainly, regardless of whether Trump wins the presidency he is rather powerful

    Who knows what the unintended consequences might be for Lehigh if it foolishly slaps Trump in the face?

    My thoughts are that Prof. Weisman has not thought through the ramifications of his suggestion.

  7. As awful as Trump’s rhetoric is, and as hateful as his supports are, I don’t think it’s necessary to revoke an honorary degree issued back in the 1980s. Remember that up until a few years ago Trump was a vocal supporter of abortion and other “liberal” values that he now decries. The man is a text book narcissist and quite possibly a sociopath who has figured out how to tap the nerve that Fox News and other conservatives have been subtly stroking for years starting with the Bush presidency. Even rescinding Cosby’s honorary degree seems a bit misguided, but given the circumstances as Lehigh’s own troubled history with rape, it makes sense. If the Brown and White, or the University directly want to publish an opinion admonishing Trump that’s great. I just don’t see the point in digging this up. Hell, I’m not even convinced Trump is really being serious. I’m still waiting for him to jump up and yell “Got ya!”. Better than rescinding Trump’s “degree” why don’t we just record the names of everyone who supports his racist, misogynistic, xenophobic rants and make a note to never give those people honorary degrees.

  8. Amy Charles '89 on

    So let me get this straight: Clayton up there is afraid of taking a degree away from a guy who’s busy building a brownshirt organization because he hopes the guy will give Lehigh some money.

    Anything else you care to do for money, Clayton?

    • The Lehigh campus is filled with people wearing “brown shirts”. You can buy one yourself at the bookstore if you wish.

      When it comes to brownshirts of the other sort worn by Nazis, it seems to me that George Soros and exemplify what is meant by the term.

      Bernie Sanders proudly touts himself as being a socialist. The history of the world has demonstrated that socialism has been a miserable failure wherever it has been tried. It has led to the deaths of millions by both brutal murder and starvation.

      I note that brownshirt tactics have been on display recently in Chicago and elsewhere by the political left.

      A bit of surfing the internet shows that Prof. Ted Morgan supports Bernie Sanders. He has donated money to Bernie’s campaign, and writes glowingly about him on his blog at:

      I find it amusing that the last paragraph of that blog entry says:

      “It doesn’t take genius to catch the whiff of fascism in some of the passions aroused by the demagogues on the right.”

      When one listens to Sanders spew his rhetoric, one gets more than a whiff of fascism. The odor is so strong it is enough you make you gag and throw up.

  9. Trump is an American and wenshoukdnrrspectnour fellow citizens free speech. Not to mention he’s right! I’m voting for him. Lehigh didn’t manage to brainwash all of us…

  10. Lehigh’s “Principles of an Equitable Community” were a politically correct initiative only first implemented in 2011. Trump’s degree was awarded in 1988.

    Hence, in this case, applying them to previous degree holders such as Donald Trump is inapplicable, as it’s similar to an “ex post facto” law.

    Such “ex post facto” laws are prohibited by the US Constitution, and I would think Lehigh as a US university would want it’s own governance to be in accordance with basic American jurisprudence.

    Feel free to apply them to any degrees awarded AFTER 2011, but not before.

  11. Amy Charles '89 on

    Would the alumni here please post their class years? I’m trying persuade my daughter not to spend eleventy-billion dollars at Lehigh, and it’ll help if it looks like people like this went there recently. It’s really more the eleventy-billion dollars I object to, and of course her odds of making it off the Hill unmolested, but I’ll take it. (Where on earth were you guys during those muted rallies about apartheid? I didn’t see your B&W letters calling for more investment in South Africa.) Any thoughts on transgender bathrooms, by the way?

    Clayton: you crack me up. First you want to appease The Donald because you hope he’ll give, and now you want to appease him because you’re cowering at the thought of what he might do to Lehigh. Replace the UC with a giant gold mobbed-up-looking monstrosity, maybe. I hadn’t figured you for the Chamberlain type.

    Sorry, Dr. Cohen. Please thank Dr. Weisman for me for lancing the boil.

  12. Articles (and some of the comments) like this remind me why I decided to stop giving to Lehigh many years ago. The University looks very different from when I went there — lots of Political Correctness for it’s own sake, and not enough considered and balanced thought among the faculty and students. What a shame… it was a great place when I attended in the ’70s.

  13. Lehigh rescinded Cosby’s honorary degree. Trump should be next, This is a stain on our fine alma mater and our class of 1988.

    Both are accused sexual predators and Trump also scammed people with his fake university. He is racist against Mexicans, demeans women and suffers from Islamophobia.

    This is a Brown and White issue. Why not let our class vote on this?

  14. Henry F. Pastuck on

    It would appear that the awarding of an honarary degree to the future president may well have been prescient. the media created a painful caricature of an otherwise successful and prominent businessman who, despite ever prediction of failure, prevailed.

    congratulations President Trump.

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