Letter to the editor: The Board of Trustees, Donald Trump and accountability

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Accountable. For over 40 years at Lehigh, I was held accountable by my department chair, my Dean, other administrators, and by the students I taught and directed. And I held people accountable, such as students, staff members, and administrators. It seems that accountability is a two-way street and very important for the smooth conduct of an institution.

Last October, Lehigh’s Board of Trustees decided that it would take “no action” regarding the request to rescind President Trump’s honorary degree. The Board offered no explanation, nor did it mention any of the considerations involved in discussion before telling our community “no action.”

Did the Board consider the allegations of sexual misconduct against Mr. Trump or his various misogynistic comments over the years as the Board did when they rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree?

Did the Board look at Mr. Trump’s attitudes toward “scientific inquiry,” whether it is climate science or the effects of coal mining on the environment and human health? Has Lehigh not existed in part to promote science and the scientific method?

Although the Board paid some allegiance to Lehigh’s “Principles of Our Equitable Community,” did it debate and discuss the many instances in which Mr. Trump has broken those principles by bullying and worse?

I would like an explanation from the Board for its reasons for “no action.” Until stakeholders know what the reasons are, I must judge the Board to be avoiding being held accountable. The Board is powerful and bears important responsibilities, but someone has to hold its proverbial feet to the fire.

R. N. Weisman

Professor Emeritus

Lehigh University

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11 Comments

  1. Robert Davenport on

    I see a difference between Mr. Cosby and Mr. Trump. Mr. Cosby has been shown to be a different person than he seemed to be at the time of his honorary degree. I think it may be fair to say that Mr. Trump is essentially the same, presidential election not withstanding, as when he received his honorary degree. You can fault the board existing at the time for that misstep.

    That being said, Mr. Trump is now our President and and deserves our respect as such, even if he himself seems not to give the office the respect it deserves. Action on the degree should be postponed until Mr. Trump no longer holds the office. He needs to pay attention to running the country rather than have to deal with hits to his ego, a task which seems to gravitate to but at which he has problems successfully accomplishing.

    I like to think that President Clinton could have saved lives, several with Lehigh connections, if he had more time to consider the implications of Bin Laden et al rather than dealing with impeachment. There would have been lots of time after he left office to address the discretions/crimes with which he had been accused.

    I agree with your points but I believe it is more important not to add fuel to the fire at this time. The board has decided to kick the can down the road without discussion, I think it is a wise choice for Lehigh at this time.

  2. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Don’t think any sexual assault allegations held up under scrutiny. Aren’t you innocent until proven otherwise? With respect to accountability, take a look at the economic success in Trump first year resulting in tax cut & lowest unemployment level in 30 years by year end.

  3. Amy Charles '89 on

    Wonderful. LU alumni from the days of men-only: a good German and curdled Colonel Blimp. What could be bad for recruiting?

      • AMY CHARLES '89 on

        A democracy requires more than loyalty, Robert; it requires you to pay attention and form your own considered opinions about what’s going on in front of your eyes, and then be willing to act on them and live by them. It’s possible you were short a few humanities courses, but it’s never too late. Might I suggest both Speer’s autobio, selfserving though it might have been, and P. Ball’s Serving the Reich: the Struggle for the Soul of Physics under Hitler, and maybe round up with Arendt’s essay “Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship”. The first two are about how technical types responded to Hitler’s rise: they did not distinguish themselves, I’m afraid. The third picks apart how they went wrong, particularly with regard to obedience, also to thoughtless loyalty to an idea that had already been mangled beyond recognition.

        In general, if it’s going to be a contest, the artists and writers seem to have done better. We have a whole Eastern European literature to show us that, and the first Czech post-Soviet president, who came to Lehigh to visit his old friend Zdenek Slouka, spent four years in prison as the price of speaking up against his government; he was a playwright back then.

        You could learn from people like that.

  4. David Donnelly '87 on

    If the administration and/or faculty of Lehigh retracts the honorary degree given to President Trump, we must insist that all members of the administration and faculty be held to the same standard. The standard that some propose to impose on honorary degree holders, no rude or inflammatory comments and no alleged sexual misconduct, might well require a very large percentage of the Lehigh administration and faculty to resign or be fired. I ask that the Lehigh Puritans pushing for this empty gesture open themselves up to the scrutiny they seek to impose on others. Let’s see how many survive.

    • AMY CHARLES '89 on

      As my daughter says: Cool beans, Miss Feens.

      Yeah, I mean if we’re going to purity-test fac/staff/hons/trustees/admin till we don’t have any rapists, Bell-Curve-wavers, or sexual harassers left, I might even be happy to have my kid apply there. I’m seeing no downside to this. We might even slippery-slope our way into a situation where you stop seeing Lehigh frats in the news for various and assorted crimes.

  5. Name is withheld to protect the innocent on

    Perhaps the journey from being a world renowned research university to a run of the mill liberal arts college has taken a turn

    • AMY CHARLES '89 on

      I have bad news for you. Outside the region, only old people seriously into college wrestling have heard of Lehigh, and the Brits, once informed of its existence, still persist in calling it Le-HIGH, as though it’s French.

      People have heard of Penn State, though.

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