In a Feb. 5 meeting, faculty from Lehigh’s College of Arts and Sciences announced they would present and discuss a motion to rescind President Donald Trump’s honorary degree at a university faculty meeting on Feb. 12.
According to the FAQ website, the motion is “a call by the faculty to the Lehigh board of trustees to rescind President Trump’s honorary degree based on a long history of numerous documented statements that are antithetical to (Lehigh’s) core values and beneath the standard for Lehigh’s honorary degree holders.”
University faculty members will vote on whether they would like to present the motion to the board of trustees on Feb 12. The vote will be administered electronically “to maximize the opportunity for faculty to exercise their voice.”
Michael Raposa, a professor of religion studies and the faculty member who presented the motion at the CAS faculty meeting, said President John Simon and Donald Outing, the vice president for equity and community, were made aware of the motion.
Ziad Munson, an associate professor of sociology, said unlike several petitions circulated among Lehigh community members, this motion will be formally voted on by all Lehigh faculty.
“We can’t control what the trustees do, but we can control what we do,” Raposa said in the meeting.
Raposa said he, along with other faculty members, were stunned time and time again by Trump’s rhetoric. It was the president’s most recent remarks about Haiti and African nations that sparked further conversation among CAS faculty.
The motion includes a “non-exhaustive” list of statements made by President Trump, which CAS faculty believe “provide strong evidence of an ongoing disregard for the values that are the foundation of this university.”
While the motion calls upon the board of trustees to revoke Trump’s honorary degree, some faculty members are more concerned with the implications of the motion rather than the outcome of the potential vote.
Munson said the motion is important because whatever the outcome may be, the fact university faculty spoke up will forever be in university records. The action is also a way to evade the bystander effect.
“If you are watching something terrible happen to another person, and you don’t do anything, if you just stand in silence, that is in some ways making you complicit in those terrible things,” Munson said. “The feeling is if the faculty simply stay silent on this issue, they are complicit. If they don’t say anything or call it out for what it is, then they are part of that racist speech.”
Peter Zeitler, a professor of earth and environmental sciences, said the motion is narrowly focused and does not have to do with faculty’s political viewpoints.
“The motion is not about politics,” Zeitler said. “It’s about (Trump’s) public statements and behavior. It’s not about questioning his right to say these things, it’s questioning whether or not we should honor him with a degree.”
The FAQ website states the motion does not undermine free speech because, “with the right of free speech is calling out repeated statements that are racist, sexist, and demeaning.”
Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion and Africana studies and the director of women, gender and sexuality studies, said the motion is important for faculty members because it is an act of holding the community and their colleagues accountable.
Miller said faculty members, as well as students, must live by Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community, but the matter of Trump’s honorary degree encompasses more than those principles.
“This is bigger than just the Principles of our Equitable Community,” Miller said “They are important, but this is a much bigger scale. This is about social values in the larger reality of this planet that we share, it’s about equitability, it’s about human rights.”
The Principles of Our Equitable Community state that Lehigh community members, “confront and reject discrimination in all its forms.”
In 2015, the board of trustees decided to revoke Bill Cosby’s 1987 honorary degree. Munson said a double standard exists in the decision to rescind Cosby’s degree while allowing Trump to keep his.
Munson said the idea that Lehigh can move forward with any principle of racial justice is belied by the different treatment they have given to Cosby and Trump.
“If the governing board of the university — the board of trustees — is not willing to treat honorary degree holders equally,” Munson asked. “How by the same sort of principles, can they expect the larger Lehigh community to do that in their daily lives?”
Robert Rozehnal, an associate professor of South Asian religions and the director of the Center for Global Islamic Studies, said it is important for Lehigh faculty to say what they think, and not just for themselves.
“We are sending a very powerful signal,” Rozehnal said in the Feb. 2 meeting. “This is a signal to students, staff and prospective students considering this space.”