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.
Class of 2015