Administrators in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations decided last semester to discontinue the class officers program, said Ricardo Hall, the new vice provost for Student Affairs.
While the incoming freshman class will not have the opportunity to elect a class president, Hall said the 15 current class officers who hold positions for the classes of 2018, 2019 and 2020 will retain their titles.
Joe Buck, the vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, said current class officers will assume the same roles they had in the past, with the exception of managing the senior class gift. Class officers are primarily responsible for soliciting donations from their fellow classmates.
Buck said the decision to discontinue the class officers program deals with issues involving resource allocation.
The Lehigh Fund, a committee under the Office of Development and Alumni Relations (ASA), manages both the class officers program and the Association of Student Alumni, a group formed in 2002 to promote alumni engagement and spirit traditions.
Jennifer Cunningham, the assistant vice president of alumni relations, said the lines between these two groups have become blurred over the past 15 years.
“We were managing two groups that were supposed to have unique goals and objectives, and they started overlapping,” Cunningham said. “We decided to devote the resources into one group and give class officers the chance to join ASA and work on that group.”
Buck said the class officers program was involved with initiatives that did not fall under the scope of the Office of Development and Alumni Relations.
William Pemberton, the president of the class of 2020, said he has spearheaded an initiative to save the program and restructure it for future classes.
“We rejected the idea of having to join ASA if we wanted to survive,” Pemberton said. “The great part of being a class officer is that we are able to be our own bosses. We’re able to represent the class in a way that we see fit, without having to report to an executive board.”
Hai Le, the president of the class of 2018, doesn’t think the class officers program should be absorbed by any other organization.
The class officers were informed of the program’s dissolution during the last week of the 2017 spring semester. Le said he felt blindsided by the decision.
“Many of (the class officers) were really upset because they committed so much time,” Pemberton said, “and to be hit with this news out of left field was very, very disheartening and very, very disorienting.”
Buck said the Office of Development and Alumni Relations is trying to rectify the situation and will continue to facilitate the class officers program.
“I think that’s a fair criticism that they didn’t get enough notice,” Buck said. “I would have preferred it to be communicated earlier.”
Pemberton said he has proposed an alternative program structure in which class officers no longer serve to solely solicit donations from their classmates but instead serve to address the needs of the student body.
He hopes the program will be shepherded by the Office of Student Affairs moving forward.
Hall said while the program might one day become a student organization recognized by the Office of Student Affairs, it will not be funded by his office.
“I’m encouraged by the fact that students associated with the program are interested in being a part of anything that might positively reflect on the university,” Hall said. “This particular program over time has seen its responsibilities assumed by ASA, and it is the Office of Development and Alumni Affair’s right to say that its needs are being met, so now we will work as best as we can to ensure that the students would like to remain involved.”
Hall said the class officers program could potentially lead an initiative to foster the relationship between Lehigh students and the Bethlehem community. While Pemberton thinks this is something Lehigh needs, he would also like to introduce his proposal and try to meet the needs of the student body.
Pemberton will be the last president to speak before his class.
“I’d like the tradition to continue to live in whatever way, shape or form it can,” Pemberton said. “I don’t want my work to go down the drain if it all just ends at me because that would defeat the purpose.”