Lehigh’s board of trustees has decided to take “no action” in response to the petition to rescind President Donald Trump’s 1988 honorary degree from the university.
The petition — which was started by alumna Kelly McCoy, ’17, in August — had collected more than 30,000 signatures within a few days of its creation.
The board set a precedent in 2015 by rescinding comedian Bill Cosby’s honorary degree after he “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.”
In its announcement about the Trump decision, the board emphasized a commitment to the university’s values and its Principles of Our Equitable Community.
“These values provide meaningful guidance when deliberating or making decisions that impact the Lehigh community,” the statement read. “In considering a petition regarding the honorary degree given 29 years ago to President Donald Trump, the board of trustees engaged in lengthy, full and robust discussions. The Board has concluded that no action will be taken.”
McCoy — who, full disclosure, is a former design editor for The Brown and White —
expressed her disappointment with the announcement in a letter to the editor
, in which she called the board’s decision “a hollow commitment to ideology and an inconsistent application of logic.”
“A sworn testimony by a victim of assault apparently does not hold the same weight as the sworn testimony of an assaulter for Lehigh,” McCoy wrote. “The university wasted little time in 2015 dumping Cosby, one of the few African-Americans to hold an honorary degree from Lehigh. Yet, (Ivana Trump’s sworn deposition that Trump had raped her) had been public since 1993… However, our society is inclined to dismiss the experiences of women regarding assault, and Lehigh made no move to diverge from that status quo.”
Sociology professor Ziad Munson thinks the decision undermines the Principles of our Equitable Community by making them “hollow rhetoric instead of actionable principles.” Munson wrote in an email that he was disappointed with the trustees’ lack of action, a problem the board did not have when rescinding Cosby’s degree.
“Such a clear racial double standard will not go unnoticed on campus and will have a chilling effect on efforts to diversify Lehigh as well as diminish efforts to build a world class university,” Munson wrote.
In a recent survey
of the Lehigh community conducted by The Brown and White,
75 percent of respondents said they felt the board should rescind Trump’s honorary degree. In a related survey, 80 percent of respondents said the board was right in revoking Cosby’s degree.
Richard Weisman, the professor emeritus who had initially raised the question
of rescinding Trump’s degree in early 2016, told The Brown and White
he is “deeply dismayed” that the board members did not explain to stakeholders how they reached their decision.
“Did the members discuss Trump’s sexual predatory behavior as they did with Bill Cosby?” Weisman wrote. “Did they discuss Trump’s policies regarding science and compare that to the role of our university, especially one known for programs in science and engineering? Did they discuss Trump’s problem with telling the truth and compare that to the very basic role of the university? They acknowledge our Principles, but did they discuss Trump’s bullying?”
In response to The Brown and White’s request for comment, director of media relations Lori Friedman wrote, “The board’s statement is their full commentary on the issue.”
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated to include quotes from Kelly McCoy, ’17, professor Ziad Munson, and professor emeritus Richard Weisman.