The path that runs from Chandler-Ullmann to Lewis Lab is made of hundreds of bricks placed side by side. Trees line Memorial Walkway, which is one of the many notable spots on campus. The numerous art pieces on the path are physical representations of Lehigh’s wealth.
While it is a physical path, the “Path to Prominence” is not another name for Memorial Walkway. It is instead a plan presented by President John Simon to increase the number of students by 1,000 and diversify the student body, add 100 new faculty members, establish a college of health, build new residential spaces and build a new research space, among other things. Provost Pat Farrell said there is a 10-year plan in place, which means some of the first students to be affected by the expansion may not even be in high school yet.
Even though the current Lehigh students may not be affected by this, they always will have ties to the university as alumni. As current students and members of Lehigh, we should encourage the administration to ensure these plans are not implemented at the cost of the Bethlehem or Lehigh communities.
Prominence and notoriety stemming from the proposed additions can have a positive impact, which should be the goal, if conducted in certain way. The physical expansion has the possibility to infiltrate the South Bethlehem community more than ever before. When Lehigh expanded in the 1950s, houses on several streets in South Bethlehem were acquired by Lehigh University to the dismay of community members.
“People still held on to this feeling that Lehigh was responsible for destroying their world in a sense,” said Kimberly Carrell-Smith, a history professor of practice, in a previous interview with The Brown and White.
The Path to Prominence is impressive on paper and may be impressive in practice, but this path should not be paved with missteps that hurt the neighboring community. To prevent this, one possible placement of some of these new facilities could be on the 755 acres of land Lehigh owns in Upper Saucon.
The plan, which Farrell said will not take away from current programs at the university, also should not be expected to fix existing problems through expansion.
The potential addition of 1,000 students who are diverse is commendable, considering Lehigh students are predominantly white and from Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey. The addition of these students almost seems pointless, however, if they end up being as homogeneous as the current student body.
Lehigh has also fallen in several rankings over the past few years. However relevant or true these rankings may be, adding on to Lehigh should not be misconstrued with working to make internal, academic improvements.
When we come back for our reunion, we want to see a university we can be proud of, not one that is diminished by ambitious goals and destroying a community. We should concretely stand against making Lehigh better if that leaves a negative impact on the community. If we return to a campus that has many features we didn’t have while we were students, we should be able to walk down Memorial Walkway proud of the way in which the university expanded.