Letter to the Editor: The brutal reality facing Lehigh’s Path to Prominence

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The prominence of a university, both nationally and internationally, is largely a function of the quality and quantity of the research that it generates. If Lehigh is to become prominent, its Path to Prominence plan needs to take into account the fact that its faculty are not competing on a level playing field with faculty at virtually all other research universities in terms of research costs and the research support provided by the university.

If Lehigh’s faculty are not competitive with research costs and university support, then they’re also not competitive in generating scholarship. If they’re not competitive in generating scholarship, they’re not competitive in renewing research grants. If they’re not competitive in renewing research grants, then projects and, eventually, entire graduate programs are likely to be lost. If graduate programs are lost, Lehigh will be unable to provide cutting edge research opportunities for its undergraduates.

Based on my own 47 years of experience as a teacher/scholar, I believe the five most urgent needs of Lehigh’s faculty (including the 100 new faculty that will be added in the future) are:

1) A dramatic increase in the TA/student ratio
2) A dramatic increase in the graduate fellowship/student ratio
3) Signing bonuses to aid in graduate student recruitment
4) Dramatically reduced graduate tuition charges after candidacy has been reached
5) Dramatically reduced fringe benefits charges on postdocs
Unless Lehigh intends to take over for Uncle Sam for the long-term support of research on campus, national competition for the limited funds that are available through the federal granting agencies must be taken into account. Right now, I don’t think we’re competitive.

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6 Comments

  1. Lehigh is too busy staying woke than worrying about being competitive. All the administration wants to do is rob people blind by hiking tuition so they can have fat paychecks at the expense of their student’s future. College is no longer an institution of higher learning but a business that is greatly subsidized by the federal student loan program.

  2. Amy Charles ‘89 on

    Steven, you’re at a small R2. Of course you’re not competitive, not in the sense of hauling in the big money. You can’t compete with giant institutions with deep collaborative benches, centers, massive infrastructure, large graduate programs that have priority, layers of grants and research support staff, and enormous well-heeled donor bases. It’s just not in the cards.

    On the other hand, you know who gets funding? Faculty at PUIs. (Undergraduate schools that focus on teaching, not research.) Bright, hardworking, innovative faculty at PUIs. Know who else gets funding? Me, and I don’t even have a PhD. Or a tenure-track position. You have to stop complaining about all the things you don’t have and start looking at what “prominent” means for a middling-small university that really serves undergrads but also has some decent research going on.

    Lehigh’s strength, over and over, is in networking. You don’t see it because you live in it, but it’s a significant thing. You’re close enough to much larger institutions to build serious collaborations. No, you won’t be the major partner. However, you also don’t have to abuse your grad students the way some of those institutions do. So check your ego and build a rep as the legendary backing vocals, and you’ll have a rep as a place where grad students can get top training while being treated reasonably humanely and not paying $3K/mo in rent. And while getting the biz skills on the side. And then use those collaborations and the rep and body of work you gain there to go selectively for money for small and highly innovative projects. Lehigh-scale projects. Make it possible for the grad students to be in on this in a meaningful way.

    The ego, man. Check the ego. Look at how ridiculously much you have, and work with it. And keep in mind that every assemblage of faculty everywhere howls that admin is killing its research by starving it of support. You have enormous guaranteed salaries and access to libraries, journals, labs, collaborations funding sources. You’re not starved of support. You’re just dreaming of a time when money fell out of the sky.

    ps. if you want the grad students to have signing bonuses…you make how much, now? And the secretaries and support staff in your dept, without whom a whole lot grinds to a halt, manage to live on what now?

    • Supporter of Dr. Regen on

      Dr. Steven Regen is an outstanding scientist who matches endowed professors in mainstream R1 schools in terms of academic achievement. If Lehigh cannot retain several renowned professors like Dr. Regen, even the current R2 status will be in question.

      You mention that Lehigh faculty should cultivate relationships with bigger schools through collaboration, and remain as sidekicks, hoping perhaps to receive funding for “small and highly innovative projects.” I wonder would this scenario be probable. It takes significant creativity to think of a highly innovative project. Those who are capable of doing so probably have already migrated to an R1 school.

      If Lehigh became a PUI, it would be one of the best PUIs in the country. A silver lining in the cloud.

  3. William Ephs on

    Here here! More needs to be done to improve academic excellence as outlined by the OP.

    Who will pay $65K for a $25K education?

    There are many fewer dumb rich out there than admissions believes. LU’s rankings have been plummeting and its not because of parties, it has to do with funding to support research and for more and better compensated instruction. Curiously the administration leadership takes a Pollyanna-ish position and declares that rankings do not matter. But rankings do matter(look at Northeastern), they matter to recruiters, parents, students, high school counselors, and prospective students.

    Path to Prominence should start with reducing administrative staff to afford more and better instruction, including more and better comped T/A’s and advance degree candidates. Ending merit based is a symptom on the disease LU’s leadership faces. Fewer assist deans for student hand-holding and fewer SJW, Title IX, and Greek Life Coordinators and more focus on instructor pay and ratios would demonstrate a uni that is education mission focus.

    Sadly LU’s President seems not to understand what made Williams, Duke and UVA great. To be fair, about 5 years each at Duke and UVA as an administrative bureaucrat does not make one an educational leader. Maybe he is a good chemist but his results at Lehigh have been poor as its leader.

    • Embarrassed to Be Associated on

      Even the “dumb rich” are hardly going to be attracted to a school that used to draw a more elite demographic. Let’s be fair here. They will end up at a school based on “location, location, location” as academics probably aren’t a priority and they may want to be somewhere with more to offer than a trashy, flailing Greek system, Southside Bethlehem, and middle to maybe upper-middle class kids with little intellectual curiosity. Lehigh’s loss will be the gain of colleges/universities in desirable towns and cities to live in, places with good weather, or at least some sense of pride and integrity. Think about it.

      I don’t care if I sound like a complete snob but I graduated in the aughts and found, as someone from a high socioeconomic class (and generations of such in my family), that I had very little in common with most of the people I met. I really should have transferred out, but at least in those days, Lehigh fared well in the rankings. I could have gone to any of the colleges within a short radius of my parents’ primary residence and have been guaranteed at least the same experience, rather than feeling like I was in some pretty prison.

      So it’s not my imagination–things have really declined for LU.

  4. Every student and professor has the right to seek the most knowledge that a research university has to offer. According to one of our world renowned scholars, Professor Regen, Lehigh’s path to prominence may be a worthy venture. But much more attention needs to be paid to key graduate programs that are now in jeopardy. Lehigh’s path to prominence will remain just a slogan unless the level and productivity of the scholarship that it produces increases in a significant way. I would be inclined to say that in order for Lehigh to improve in the area of teaching, where students can stay abreast of the latest developments in one’s field, It is necessary that new knowledge be produced at the university; and that both this knowledge and academic approach used to obtain this become integral part of our culture.

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