Letter to the Editor: What does Lehigh value?

18

I love Lehigh.

The education, experiences and opportunities I received here helped shape my life and character. So earlier this year I struggled when the Board of Trustees reaffirmed its decision not to rescind the honorary degree given to Donald Trump despite the similarity to the Bill Cosby situation, the overwhelming recommendation of the faculty, and the petition from more than 30,000 Lehigh community members.

The university revoked Cosby’s honorary degree for behavior “antithetical to the values of Lehigh University and inconsistent with the character and high standards that honorary degree recipients are expected to exemplify.”

Trump’s behavior was also egregious.  Both men had admitted to harmful, misogynistic behavior, though neither had been charged with any crimes at the time.  What was the difference? Race? Power? Cosby was a black comedian. Trump was the white President of the United States.

The Board of Trustees took no action, claiming to be “committed to doing what is in the best interests of the University as a whole” without defining what those best interests were.  It deliberated behind closed doors and stayed silent as to its reasoning. I was disappointed.

On Thursday, October 25, 2018, Lehigh announced its billion-dollar GO campaign, and I came to my own conclusion. I believe that the Board of Trustees didn’t rescind Trump’s honorary degree because it feared a donor backlash heading into its fundraising campaign. It took no action in order to avoid upsetting any of the president’s supporters, who might close their wallets to a Lehigh appeal otherwise.

Rather than insist that its honorary degree recipients represent the values of Lehigh University, the Board opted to look the other way, trading off the University’s moral authority for financial gain. I was dismayed.

And then on Saturday, October 27, 2018, a terrorist walked into Tree of Life synagogue in my city of Pittsburgh and opened fire on peaceful worshippers.  He did it because they were Jewish. Because one of the congregations supports an organization that helps refugees rebuild their lives. He killed eleven people and wounded four others because of hate and bigotry.

I’ve been in Tree of Life for family bar and bat mitzvahs, maybe even in the exact rows where victims were gunned down. On Sunday I stood in the rain, grieving with my city as we searched for answers. I am devastated.

Donald Trump did not murder these people. But he weaponizes hate. He encourages bigotry and stokes fear of immigrants. He dehumanizes minorities. He insults people who do not agree with him. He lies. He bullies. In so doing, he sets the tone for our nation.

Does our Board of Trustees, who “sets the tone and projects the image of Lehigh University”, really think that Donald Trump represents Lehigh’s values?  According to the 2018-19 Lehigh Catalog, the following are “The Principles of our Equitable Community”:

  • We affirm the inherent dignity in all of us, and we maintain an inclusive and equitable community.

  • We recognize and celebrate the richness contributed to our lives by our diverse community.

  • We promote mutual understanding among the members of our community.

  • We confront and reject discrimination in all its forms, including that based on age, color, disability, gender identity, genetic information, marital status, national or ethnic origin, political beliefs, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, socio-economics, veteran status, or any differences that have been excuses for misunderstanding, dissension, or hatred.

  • We affirm academic freedom within our community and uphold our commitment to the highest standards of respect, civility, courtesy, and sensitivity toward every individual.

  • We recognize each person’s right to think and speak as dictated by personal belief and to respectfully disagree with or counter another’s point of view.

  • We promote open expression of our individuality and our differences within the bounds of University policies.

  • We acknowledge each person’s obligation to the community of which we have chosen to be a part.

  • We take pride in building and maintaining a culture that is founded on these principles of unity and respect.

Donald Trump does not uphold these principles.  Even after seeing the horrific actions encouraged by his inflammatory rhetoric, he has not changed his behavior.  And many, including our Board of Trustees, look the other way. This is not about politics. It is about human decency.  It is about respect for others. It is about standing up for what is right, even when it is not to your advantage to do so.  The Board of Trustees failed to do that. And I am heartbroken.

– Dorothy Falk, ’86

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18 Comments

      • Corners of my Mind on

        Do Snee is concerned about moral authority? I guess people change and grow-up [get bossy and activist over time].

        Anyone remember the nicknames she earned at Theta and what she did sophomore year (1983 -1984) – just a few years before Trump was awarded his honorary degree?

        Not everything plays the same 30 years later Dorothy. People in glass houses…

        It sure is fun to reminiscence about the 80’s.

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          Oh, please, let’s have it out — along with your real name, since you’re so anxious to insinuate things and threaten people. I have a feeling that whatever you say’s going to say a lot more about you than it does about Dottie.

          That’s the thing with so many of these Kavanaughs: I don’t think they understand that the rules have changed in some pretty profound ways, over the last fifteen or twenty years, and that nobody’s being quiet and just going along anymore — that they don’t have, any longer, some privileges that they’ve always thought they had. I wonder sometimes whether they’ll notice before the clock runs out on them, or whether they’re just going to freak out every time they go to walk around on their usual privileges and it turns out the boards are all rotted away.

          tl;dr — you’re not scary. Sorry.

        • Amy Charles '89 on

          My comment seems not to have gone through. Corners: go for it. I really don’t think anybody’s scared of you. Just have the fortitude to post under your real name if you’re going to go around insinuating things about people and threatening them.

          It really is…a timesink, with these older guys who really think people are still scared of them, and don’t seem to have noticed that over the last 15-20 years a lot’s changed in how people deal with each other. And it’s difficult, because we know you were trained to reach for this kind of thing as a dominance tactic, but it freaking doesn’t work anymore, man. Look around once in a while.

  1. current student on

    What was the difference? Cosby was proven to have drugged and fully raped multiple women. Trump said women like him to be sexually aggressive (maybe too aggressive) because he is rich and powerful. I think most people who care about critical thinking more than being an NPC can see the difference.

    • Congrats Current Student!

      Yours is one of the best written responses I have read over the past few years Clear and concise argument without copping out utilizing a fact-less emotional tirade. We do not see enough of such thoughtfulness and prose any more. I had given up hope LU still produced such students. Not sure many of the professors or any of the administration can think and write as well either.

      Bravo!

        • current student on

          Do you mean the difference is between fully raped and non-verbal consent? Trust me, if there was anything legit on Trump, it would have come to a conclusion by now. But this can run its course and the left can keep throwing their money at people like creepy porn lawyer, who above all is an anti-Trump feminist, just like Wienstein, Tyson, and Spacey.

          Gee, I winder who the real creeps side with?

  2. Just curious if they are also going after the 20 institutions that granted Bill Clinton honorary degrees? Afterall he’s a well known sexual predator also accused of much worse things than Trump, for example straight up rape and certainly putting undo sexual pressure on those who worked for him that not putting out would affect their careers.
    If the answer is no, then this is not about you caring about women, it’s about your personal political bias, which renders your opinion here basically worthless.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      Yes, alumni from those institutions have gone after them. We didn’t go there, so we focus on what the name we’re associated with did and can’t unstick from ourselves. (I’ve tried. They won’t take the degree back.) Do I think Trump’s worse? Yes. Do I think anyone ought to be giving Clinton anything? No.

      It’s a weird thing about Fox people — they seem to hold on tight to the idea that feminists give Bill Clinton some kind of pass, and it doesn’t really matter how often they hear that no, they don’t want to hear from Bill, they don’t want Bill showing up, they see what he did as revolting and predatory, and apart from a slice of Boomer women who don’t seem to have noticed that feminism’s progressed. They’ve got their Fox-delivered talking point, by gum, and they’re sticking to it, reality be damned.

      I guess it’s like back when they used to say “but we have to go to war!” or “but we have to go to jobs and have bosses!” like these were giant trump cards, and then they’d go all deer-in-headlights when it turned out that women have actually been fighting to get into the military in combat roles, and that women are more than fine with going to work — and then they’d blink and decide that none of that happened, and go on repeating their nonsense like it meant something. It’s too bad.

  3. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Hat’s off to the Board of Trustees attempting to overcome being bullied by people like Dorothy & the left wing overpaid faculty

  4. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    Thank you for repeating the “The Principles of our Equitable Community” These are principals which are ideals to work toward but not necessarily attainable in the real world. “We affirm academic freedom within our community and uphold our commitment to the highest standards of respect, civility, courtesy, and sensitivity toward every individual.” Certainly this is a legitimate goal. I wonder if this principle falls by the wayside when discussing President Trump. One might say I am only telling the truth about Trump but is the goal to help someone or to irritate him; truth can be presented in a way that is not respectful, civil courteous or sensitive. I have both given and received such truths.

    You write: Donald Trump … weaponizes hate. He encourages bigotry and stokes fear of immigrants. He dehumanizes minorities. He insults people who do not agree with him. He lies. He bullies. In so doing, he sets the tone for our nation.” Mr. Trump is not unique in the characteristics you list. Several previous Presidents share some of these characteristics. Lying seems to be a political necessity. His critics seem to be even more incensed when he doesn’t lie because they dislike the policies that he promised and adamantly continues to pursue. We need a leader as President but rarely have one. Mr. Trump is a manipulator not a leader, as such he does not set the tone for me or the nation. I’ m thinking that the only thing Mr. Trump believes in is himself. I find it hard to believe anything that Mr. Trump says; I don’t think he even believes what he says. It’s all show. He is pitiful, not worth the effort to remove his honorary, which was probably due to his $$$ and business reputation. You are probably correct about the reason to not rescind his honorary. You should be able to see some difference between the convicted Mr. Cosby and our President Trump.

    ” We take pride in building and maintaining a culture that is founded on these principles of unity and respect.”: Do we respect the office of President even if we do not agree with the office holder’s politics or lifestyle; even if the office holder seems not to respect the same.

    I hope that rational Republicans are able to reclaim their party and that Democrats are able to retreat from the edge. I pray our presidential choices improve in two years. I hope at that time that we will be able to see a former President Trump.

    You might say 63 million people, in the right places, were wrong in the 2016 Presidential Election; I might sa y 30,000 people including 80%+ Lehigh faculty were wrong.

  5. Amy Charles '89 on

    Are you the Dottie I remember? I think maybe you are.

    You know how, after good people leave a bad relationship, they’ll talk sometimes about how much they owe to the other person, how much they learned, how much love there was, all that, and all the while it’s dead apparent that in fact the other person brought nothing to the relationship, and that the reason this person had such a good experience was that she was a really good and energetic person who brought the whole picnic herself? If you’re the Dottie I remember — you had about three people’s worth of togetherness going on, even when you were an undergrad. You were formidable, and cheerful, too. (And you were better than the actual guy you were with at the time.)

    If you think back to how Lehigh and most of Lehigh’s students behaved while we were there, I think you’ll find that the comments above mine are pretty representative. Lehigh is a pretty place, but not a good place. There are good reasons why Trump still has that degree and Cosby doesn’t, even though Lehigh degrees are basically trivia in this conversation. I’m sure you remember how Lehigh responded to Jeannie’s rape and murder (lying to her parents and then trying to shut them down when they tried to stop that kind of lying in future), to the outspokenness of gay students (refusing to allow Ethan to be a Gryphon till he threatened credibly to sue, then warning parents that “a homosexual” would be Gryphon on that hall and offering parents a chance to move their sons; doing little or nothing about student threats of violence), to apartheid (not seeing what the big deal was), to any other chance there was to do right. Why did it behave that way? Well, because we were getting tuition bills from a crap dude, hon. (I mean most universities will behave appallingly when their interests are at stake, but Lehigh isn’t a place that comes to mind when I think “right side of history”. )

    Lehigh is still that guy. The student body might be a little more liberal in general — it’s tough to sell the spots otherwise, unless you’re a Christian college — but you’re still looking at essentially the same crowd at a place organized and run by a very similar core group. Trump got invited to give the speech because they were all panting after the money and actually thought the gold tower and Sikorskis were impressive. They still do.

    Some years ago, thinking fondly on Lehigh years, I went looking through the…Meat Book. You remember the Meat Book. We didn’t really think much about that name at the time, did we. Well, I went looking through my Meat Book, and was surprised by how crazy homogenous the place was, because I didn’t remember it that way. I was surprised, too, by how few people had really played a big part in my life there. It took that distance to recognize that I’d actually been hanging around in what little diversity, and with the few really generative and creative people, Lehigh had managed to collect. And that in fact a lot of my Lehigh experience had gone on off-campus: Lehigh isn’t a top school, so you don’t have to work very hard there, and I’d taken advantage of that, spending a lot of my time in New York, learning to fly, working, doing study abroad, arranging my own internships, using the dean’s-list status to off-road and make my own program of study, becoming friends with professors. Other friends from that unrepresentative group of mine did similar things. Our Lehigh was not Lehigh, in other words. Lehigh is the dude who thought it would be exciting to invite Trump in the first place.

    Give your love to the people who deserve it.

  6. John G. Lewis '90 on

    The cases of Donald Trump and Bill Cosby are not identical. Though both involved sundry accusations and various sexual abuse, it was only Cosby who was accused of a crime on this front and then convicted of it. Further, he has been consistently defiant, even to a degree perhaps arrogant. Trump, on the other hand, although involving himself in areas other than sexual abuse, did admit to some of the latter charges, and promised “I will be a better man.”

    Where were you all in the 1990s, when Democrat Bill Clinton had an affair while in the White House, and then lied under oath…? Also, Clinton was accused of sexual abuse by many others, one of whom (Broderick) charged rape.

    We should not let our political/philosophical views affect who we want to criticize and publicly condemn.

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