Letter to the editor: South Mountain in shadow

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In the time that I have known it — from being a prospective student to a proud alumnus — Lehigh has always seemed like a community at a crossroads. Like any university, it has its own public persona both within and beyond its walls — a persona with both a light and a dark side. Lehigh is renowned for the strength of its academics, for its storied traditions, its beautiful campus and its cozy college-town feel. But equally, there are skeptics who cast aspersions on a country-club culture of privileged students attending an exorbitantly expensive private school, where social apathy and party culture are not just norms, but ingrained aspects of campus life.

It should go without saying that neither of these pictures — the rosy, halcyon image portrayed by the admissions brochures, or the font of privileged debauchery described in hushed tones and social media posts — tells the whole story. But I suspect that anybody who has spent time in our little community on the breast of old South Mountain would agree that both images represent a part of Lehigh’s unique culture.

When I was a student, I felt like Lehigh — with its emphasis on study abroad, interdisciplinary studies and individualized education across all three of its colleges — was growing beyond this limiting dichotomy by reaching toward a more diverse and inclusive future. I truly believed that leadership was taking action to ensure that our university was moving beyond the money trap that can so easily keep institutions of higher learning beholden to the most conservative voices of their communities; that the school was trying to remain relevant in an increasingly global and multicultural world by expanding its horizons, diversifying its outlook and making its campus a more inclusive and welcoming place for all.

I believed in Lehigh and in the Principles of Equitable Community that I saw plastered across campus and across the school’s online presence. But today, the announcement that the board of trustees has elected not to rescind Donald Trump’s honorary degree has shaken that belief. This may sound hyperbolic, but the inaction of the board speaks volumes more about the character of my alma mater than the misbehavior of any student ever has.

I cannot possibly believe that the board of trustees — a conglomerate of some of the school’s most accomplished alumni — is ignorant of the repugnance of our current president. His actions, words, policies and seemingly every fiber of his being are in clear and flagrant contravention of the principles which the board has sworn to uphold as stewards of our shared school. This much is incontrovertible — the innumerable moral offenses of Donald Trump paint a thoroughly damning tapestry of a man who is truly bereft of character and void of anything resembling an ethical principle.

Forget about precedent. Forget about making political statements. Forget about Bill Cosby, and forget, for the moment at least, about the complex social inequities that allow a pathological liar, sexual predator, racist and demagogue to leave a life as a failed and fraudulent businessman to become to the most powerful man in the world. These are all important issues, but the question at hand boils down to a single fact: Donald Trump is not a man who represents our community or our ideals. In fact, he stands in shameless public defiance of both. The only thing more disgusting than a leadership which cannot recognize this is one which does recognize it and yet refuses to act.

We may not know who on the board of trustees voted with their consciences and who voted for cowardice, but in their collective inaction they are all culpable. This board had the chance to move Lehigh toward the brighter future which it is striving to reach — a future of diverse viewpoints, critical thinking, and modern ideals. Instead, they chose to sink back towards a privileged past where injustices and misdemeanors are brushed under the rug for the sake of convenience. To this, I can only say, “For shame.”

The future will judge this board for their unconscionable moral failure, their unforgivable spinelessness, and their undeniable abdication of the very principles which they were elected to uphold. Whatever they may have gained in political expedience, they have taken for themselves at the expense of the university they were meant to protect.

Geoffrey Andrews
Class of 2015

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5 Comments

  1. I did pick up one thing from this whimpering, pedantic, and self important drivel – you clearly are well suited to judge “unforgivable spineless ness”. If a meaningless honorary degree given to a president thirty years ago promts this level of outrage, you may wanna consider transitioning towards the vertebrates of this world.

    • Geoffrey Andrews on

      Hi Will,
      I appreciate your thoughtful commentary on the merits of my letter and its content. Next time you are looking to discredit someone’s argument with ad hominem attacks, I might cheerfully suggest that you employ a spell-checker.
      Cheers,
      Geoffrey

      • Yasss Geoffrey on

        👏👏👏

        Since you’re too well mannered to retort with an ad hominem attack yourself, I’ll just say one word in your stead: deplorable.

  2. Tim Warner ‘88 on

    With the myriad of important issues that currently face the Lehigh community, it pains me to see that an honorary degree granted nearly thirty years ago is placed before our Board of Trustees, disguised as a legitimate threat to our great university’s future.

    Discussing weather the President should possess this degree or not is a colossal waste of the time for our leadership team…a team that is charged with solving real problems with real consequences that face a community that holds a very special place in all of our hearts.

    Alumni who follow The Brown and White closely certainly must be tiring of reading about students having “near-death” experiences on and off campus on any given Saturday night.

    I would ask the Board of Trustees to leave such frivolous topics as Mr. Trump’s honorary degree aside to continue their important work on student safety, academic excellence and the growth of what is truly a very unique “Lehigh Experience.”

    The focus belongs on 2017 and beyond, nurturing and advancing the atmosphere that has produced not only great achievers, but also great citizens.

    • Geoffrey Andrews on

      Hi, Tim!

      I think that this is an important topic for the Lehigh community to address and I apologize if I didn’t make my reasoning clear in my letter. I have two primary concerns:

      1) Granting an honourary degree is a clear endorsement of that person and his or her values and contributions to the world. That much we can surely agree on. So I do think that it’s still relevant that we as a school stand behind Trump, someone who flouts our sworn values in clear, public ways. Now, this wouldn’t be such a big deal if nobody had brought it up, but (and this brings me to point 2)….
      2) The community as a whole came forward with a clear objection to this state of affairs and exprsesed their dissatisfaction to the Board of Trustees. The Board has not only ignored these voices in their entirety, but has cravenly refused comment on their decision. Regardless of outcome, they owe their constituents transparency and honesty, and they have provided neither.

      This is why I wrote this letter – because Donald Trump does not represent our values, and because our Board does not represent our university.

      -Geoffrey

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