In this Nov. 10, 2016, file photo, two people hold up a sign asking the board of trustees to revoke President Donald Trump's honorary degree at a silent rally in front of STEPS. In response to a petition with more than 30,000 signatures calling for the repeal of Trump's honorary degree, the board of trustees decided today to take "no action." (Samantha Tomaszewski/B&W Staff)

Lehigh trustees decide to take ‘no action’ on Trump honorary degree petition


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.

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  1. I will continue to draw my students’ attention to Lehigh’s Principles of Our Equitable Community, and to incorporate them into my teaching. I hope that one day the board of trustees will consist of courageous people who practice, not just preach, these principles.

  2. Daniel N Gross on

    Extremely disappointing that the Bd of Trustees doesn’t have the conviction and courage in our own Principles of Equitable Community to do the right thing. What kind of precedent does this set for students and the values we hold as a community. Maybe we need to start a new petition to replace this ineffective and illogical board.

  3. Robert Davenport on

    Choose to respect others or take advantage of them. Obviously “respect” can be bought. As president Mr. Trump should be respected; why should you lower yourself not to respect the office? In my opinion Mr. Trump was an arrogant jerk before his election and will undoubtably continue to be so after his presidency. Pray for him while he is president, he needs it. If it is still important to strip him of his honorary degree after his service in the government, go for it.

  4. Lehigh’s “Principles of our Equity and Community” are a silly and phony expression of feel good politically correct drivel.

    A former Lehigh assistant professor with excellent academic credentials from Williams College and Cornell was quoted in the journal Academic Questions 12 years ago with regards to the actual atmosphere at Lehigh as follows:

    “Cornell as far as I could tell had one conservative professor in the entire university for purposes of public debate. 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 can be found in Academic Questions, June 2005, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 20–48.

    Little has changed at Lehigh since that was published. If anything, things have become substantially worse.

    President Trump’s older brother Fred Trump Jr. attended Lehigh. He was in the class of 1960.

    He was a member of the Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity. It was basically a Jewish fraternity in character at the time. But was open to admitting non Jewish members. Fred Trump was not Jewish. The fact that he became a member signifies that antisemitism was obviously NOT a characteristic of Trump family values. Nor is it today with President Trump’s children marrying spouses of the Jewish faith.

    Unfortunately, Fred went on in life to be an alcoholic and died young from that problem.

    I note his son (President Trump’s nephew) Fred Trump III also attended Lehigh, class of 1984. I understand he is doing well professionally, and works independently from the Trump empire.

    The reason that President Trump does NOT drink alcohol is because he observed what it did to his older brother.

    I note President Trump’s announcements this week of a “war on drugs”. This is a complex problem that has defied several presidents before him. I wish him luck with this effort.

    The realities are that Lehigh does have both alcohol and drug problems within the student population.

    The fact that Trump is anti alcohol by virtue of personal example and concerned about a serious national problem with respect to drugs informs me that Trump is aligned on the same side of important issues that Lehigh would like to solve.

    Hopefully, points such as these were among those debated by the Board of Trustees that led them to the decision to table the foolishness of whether to rescind Trump’s honorary degree.

  5. Good for the board. I was prepared to end my association and support of the university had they stripped his degree…

  6. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    DE Clayton stated the case nicely as there are even Lehigh Family roots here that I did not know. Congrats to Board on good decision despite the snowflakes objections!!

  7. What a shame the university has not followed the Principles of our Equitable Community. Truly disappointed in this decision and in the Board of Trustees.

  8. Democrat here. Can you people please stop campaigning for his second term? Because EVERY time you people throw a hissy fit and try to change the past just because you think Trump has the wrong opinions, you’re just furthering the stereotype that liberals are babies who cannot handle a loss. Stuff is NOT ALWAYS going to go your way, and whining ONLY makes people take you less seriously.

  9. For the most part, I don’t detect hissy fits in the posts here – just good-natured back and forth between people of differing viewpoints, as safeguarded, dare I say it, by the Principles of Our Equitable Community.

    Well, good-natured apart from Bruce ’67 calling some people snowflakes. But, in an academic setting, that post was undermined somewhat by his failure to deploy an apostrophe.

    I would be happy to meet on campus with any of the above posters and hear more about their hopes and concerns for Lehigh. There are a lot of interesting conversations happening right now, such as the debate last week on Trump’s first-year policies, with voices on both sides:

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