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