With all the news about Lehigh’s future, like the Path to Prominence and scheduled building renovations all over campus, most students are looking forward to Lehigh’s future. But, Lehigh has already changed a lot over the last four years.
Four years ago, Lehigh’s president was Alice P. Gast. But, in 2014 she left her position for the Imperial College of London. In her place stepped then-interim president and now-president of the board of trustees Kevin Clayton, who started traditions like “Pizza with the President.” But his tenure was always meant to be a short one — soon into the fall 2014 semester, the university announced John Simon as the 14th president. He is Lehigh’s first “Instagram president” and makes his schedule and calendar known through posts on his profile.
Changes in the top administration brought about a lot of changes in administrative offices across campus as well. Most notably, John Smeaton retired as vice provost of Student Affairs after 32 years working at Lehigh, leaving Ian Birky as the interim provost. The Dean of Students Office also underwent changes when Sharon Basso, the former dean of students and associate vice provost of Student Affairs, and Allison Gulati, the former associate dean of students, left Lehigh. Katherine Lavinder now holds the interim dean of students position.
Other student offices faced turnover like the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, the Admissions and Financial Aid Office and the Office of Residence Life, among others. The staff turnover and new administration from the top down set off new agendas for Lehigh.
Umoja and diversity
In November 2013, a student — who was later found and expelled — vandalized the Umoja house on campus. A rally was quickly organized for the night after the incident, and many students showed up to speak about their experiences with discrimination on campus. This act prompted conversations about diversity and inclusion as well as a civil rights investigation.
Although the impact of this one event on other initiatives can’t directly be measured, Lehigh has implemented and revamped initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion in the years after the Umoja incident. Arguably the biggest change is Donald Outing’s inaugural role as vice president for equity and inclusion, but it took three years after the incident to implement.
Other initiatives established in the past four years include the summer scholar institute, joining the American Talent Initiative and implementing gender neutral bathrooms across campus. Although campus initiatives have improved across campus, Lehigh has a ways to go to make the university an inclusive and diverse place, including improving on its socio-economic and faculty diversity.
In Summer 2013, the Mountaintop initiative officially started its inaugural summer session, and it’s been steadily growing. Every summer , Mountaintop Bay B and C fill with students working on projects like creating sustainable homes, producing 3-D printed exoskeletons and showcasing faculty that had been at Lehigh for over 40 years.
The self-guided process of the Mountaintop projects has been credited with giving students a different type of learning not commonly found in higher education. Additionally, it has exposed undergraduates to academic research, an area usually confined to graduate students.
The initiative has given students the opportunity to work on projects and learn outside of the classroom but has only been a summer opportunity. This all could change as Khanjan Mehta finishes up his first semester as the vice provost for creative inquiry and director for Lehigh’s Mountaintop initiative. One of his proposals is to make Mountaintop into a year-round experience as opposed to just a summer one, giving students a longer time frame to finish their proposed projects.