Mountain Hawks. Brown and white. Business and engineering. Path to Prominence. Donald Trump’s honorary degree.
Every brand has a handful of words consumers and onlookers typically associate with its personality.
How a brand obtains these cued connotations relies upon how it is represented.
Sometimes, it takes just one very public and memorable situation for consumers to associate a brand name with a related trigger word.
Take Proctor & Gamble’s laundry detergent brand, Tide. After videos of people eating Tide Pods became viral, the brand became associated with this alarming, but popular, trend.
Just like the Tide brand, Lehigh’s brand has been under media scrutiny largely because of the controversial topics that were discussed at board of trustees’ meetings March 1 and 2.
These two decisions draw a concern that the board’s motives are purely backed by monetary gain. Lehigh makes a hefty dollar off of investments in fossil fuel — an industry that has been proven to negatively impact our environment. Divesting would mean removing support of environmental damage, and allowing for potential reinvestment in more renewable resources.
Acknowledging the ethical and environmental impact of investing in fossil fuels shows Lehigh is more than just financially driven — that we have ethical values.
While the board’s decision about divestment would have long-term physical repercussions, the vote to rescind Trump’s honorary degree is more symbolic.
On Saturday, the board decided once again to take “no action” in response to calls to rescind Trump’s honorary degree from Lehigh.
There is no such thing as taking “no action” — every choice is an action. Despite numerous calls for an explanation, however, the board has failed to adequately justify its decision.
If Trump were not president, would Lehigh still defend him?
And while there is no definitive answer to this question, his position of power should not pardon him from being compared to Bill Cosby, whose honorary degree was revoked without debate. It seems the board rescinded Cosby’s honorary degree to save face and distance the university from his reputation.
Is Lehigh’s board of trustees not revoking Trump’s honorary degree to also save face?
As an editorial board, we hope to hold our university’s decision-makers accountable.
It is important to try to understand the polarized context in which such decisions are made. To do this, it is crucial to acknowledge Lehigh itself is a brand.
The powers and responsibilities that fall on the Board of Trustees are as follows:
“The Board shall have all powers provided to directors by law and shall have and exercise full power and authority to do all things deemed necessary and expedient in the governance, management, and control of the business and affairs of the University, including, without limitation, the establishment of the University’s general, educational, and financial policies.”
Every decision the Board of Trustees makes is said to be for the betterment of Lehigh’s management and control of the business. Maintaining order is part of the job description.
However, the importance of fostering an environment that encourages open and productive conversation is just as important to implement from the top-down.
While educational and financial responsibilities seem to hold equal weight in this statement, it seems as though the board is putting a heavier emphasis on financial risk aversion.
Who is Lehigh’s board of trustees trying to please?
Ingrained in its decisions are the board of trustees’ true motives. The board seems to be looking to maintain a brand loyalty with its repeat customers.
According to the 80/20 rule, around 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of repeated customers. Since Lehigh is a brand, appeasing the top 20 percent of donors would be in Lehigh’s best interest. After all, the board of trustees is responsible for Lehigh’s financial stability.
At the same time, however, the board has a responsibility to its current students and recent graduates. Though we are today’s students, we will be tomorrow’s donors.
Valuing the current generation’s opinions will instill positive brand equity. Making students feel like their voices are being heard shows a commitment to the university beyond the fiscal.
The board appears to be listening carefully for any notion of negativity among highly valued alumni donors, but they are hardly listening to the unrest among the current faculty and student body.