Lehigh made public the letter it received from the U.S. Department of Education. The letter announced the university is under review for potential violations to the Clery Act. (Samuel Henry/B&W Staff)

UPDATE: Open letter to Simon, Clayton now has over 1,000 signatures


June 2, 2020, 9:40 p.m.: Over 1,000 individuals affiliated with the Lehigh community have now signed the open letter, released earlier today, to President John Simon and Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Clayton.

That’s up from 200 signatories just six hours earlier. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have all signed the letter. Lori Friedman, Lehigh’s director of media relations, said the university has no response at this time.

The letter calls on Simon, Clayton and the university as a whole to do more to oppose racism, stand up for racial justice and take actionable steps to create a more tolerant community in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. The letter particularly calls out Simon’s May 31 email to the campus community.

The Brown and White will continue to follow this story and report on its developments. You can read the full letter here.

June 2, 2020, 2:55 p.m.: As of publication, almost 200 members of the Lehigh community have signed an open letter to President John Simon and Board of Trustees Chairman Kevin Clayton regarding their response to the death of George Floyd.

The letter, which you can read in full, demanded anti-racist actions and declared that Simon didn’t say enough about the situation in his May 31 email to the university. The letter to Simon said valuing black lives is more than a simple statement.

“We were dismayed that your May 31st email did not name either the murder of George Floyd or the concrete anti-racist actions that you, as the leader of our institution, are advocating,” the letter said. “’Peaceful dialogue,’ ‘respectful debate,’ and ‘shared values’ are terms that deny the material realities of the loss of black lives across the United States, by presenting black death as something we can respectfully disagree about.”

The open letter said systematic racism remains a part of Lehigh and that Simon’s email “perpetrated that inequality.” The letter went on to say Simon’s administration has continued long standing policies that disempower people of color. Faculty, staff, students and alumni have all signed the letter. 

“Outsourcing food services, housekeeping, and childcare services, for example, denies important benefits to these essential workers,” the letter said. “Our leadership is overwhelmingly white. Lehigh’s climate is still unwelcoming to students, staff, and faculty of color. Racist events, inside and outside the classroom, are framed as one-off, individual bad acts, rather than an opportunity for university leadership to take action against institutional racism.”

The demands in the letter included: true living wages and benefits for all Lehigh employees, fully funded ethnic studies and critical race studies, holding public listening sessions so the president and top administrators can listen to community concerns, divesting from any relationship with the Bethlehem Police, providing an educational requirement for students that focuses on histories of racial and ethical inequalities, diversify the workforce at all levels and provide meaningful support for black students, faculty, staff and other groups. 

The letter said this pandemic, which has hit Lehigh hard financially, is another reason that Lehigh must take immediate action. 

“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected communities of color and low paid, essential workers,” the letter said. “It has also demonstrated how vital the arts, humanities, and sciences are for our very survival as a society. It is time to dig deep into our endowment to make a truly just Lehigh. At this moment, Lehigh needs true leadership and innovation. Our true path to prominence requires us to invest in justice.”

Criticism of the school’s response to George Floyd’s tragic murder on May 25 has taken place on social media, too. The school has faced a blistering reaction on both Simon’s personal Instagram page and the university’s Instagram page in recent days. 

Hours before Simon’s May 31 email to the school in which he condemned hatred and bigotry, Simon posted several photos of him enjoying a walk around campus. The post was flooded by about 70 comments, mostly from students, expressing their disappointment about the lack of action the school has taken since Floyd’s death on May 25. 

“Systemic racism is the cause of these deaths; that cannot be a subject of ‘respectful debate’ without further denying the humanity of those who have died,” the letter reads. “Systematic racism is part of Lehigh, as an institution, and your email perpetuated that inequality.”

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  1. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    However laudable the goals of the open letter, I am not as comfortable with demands as the signers seem to be. Despite progress,which is not acknowledged, it is evidently not enough in degree nor timing. In times of belt tightening, more spending is advocated. No problem, “The responsibility for building a just Lehigh rests with its most privileged members–white, high paid workers–not on employees and students who belong to marginalized racial and ethnic groups.” The duty of changing the world falls to individuals not the University; it needs to provide the appropriate tools. I see areas at Lehigh where respect and responsibility are promoted and honored. These traits, which used to be taught in families, often seem to be lacking in our society. If these traits become a integral part of Lehigh graduates, the “demands” should become immaterial. Demands do not reflect respect; the letter is not reflective of what it demands.

    • Lehigh Student on

      “First, I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.”

      If you think ‘respect’ is more important than social justice you might be part of the problem Robert.

      • Robert F Davenport Jr on

        Depending on what social justice means, our opinions may differ on that large subject, I do think respect is more important than social justice. If you truly have respect for one another you will treat everyone as an equal. Equal to me means equal in the eyes of God which requires a just response (responsibility). Respect precedes justice. Social justice without respect is a sham. Consider the 13th and 14th Amendments which were passed with great hope but were invalidated by a lack of respect.

        “… the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice” sort of like Dad ignoring the kids; both are a lack of respect among other things; the KKK is like the boyfriend who sees kids as an impediment to his lifestyle, another level of lack of respect..

        I’ve never been one for direct action in the manner of protests and the like, which may be your thing, more power to you, I try in my own small and imperfect way to promote respect for all people, one way is a multi ethnic prayer group which is back in action again, with masks and distancing, after a Corona virus break. Our thoughts and prayers are with you which hopefully means as much to you as it does to us.

        Make sure your goals are worthwhile and your methods to obtain them lasts the least time, plan well.

  2. A. Glass of milk
    B. Slice of Wonder Bread
    C. Colgate toothpaste
    D. Pres Simon

    What is whitest? If the President and Board want to move forward with diversification then it needs to replace “D”, its privileged cis white President, immediately with an LGBTQIA+ educator of color.

    The Board should make a few seats available for the same type of leaders and include a student of diversity as well (to report back to the student body on Board meetings).

    We need radical and timely improvement from the President and Trustees and we are getting a 1940s slow dance, its time to renegade. We have watched a failure to bring actions to support and increase diversity on our campus.

    We deserve leadership to more forward. We need inclusiveness, diversity, and youth to move forward. LU has the opposite. President Simon should be grateful to relinquish his seat at the table to someone who will use it to improve the University and the educational life of diverse students. Please take a knee Pres Simon.

  3. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    If you believe Lehigh is an insane asylum and the inmates should run it, great, that plan would prove it. Progress isn’t enough, apparently we must have revolution; so give us your agenda for improvements as well as a continuing source of funds to run our once fine institution that has lost it’s way. Please come up with a new motto for the Lehigh University Seal, the real one on the diploma not the dumbed down version on almost everything else. At least you didn’t demand.

    You don’t have to go back to the 40’s, amazingly the mid 60’s will do when the number of black undergraduate students in the University could be counted on one hand with not all five fingers (this may be an exaggeration but I don’t think so). Undergrad female students were rarer. Progress has been made. Some might suggest that it has been accomplished to quickly. I think the diversity banner has promoted diversity but has not created respect.

    As I have written previously, Lehigh students should learn how to have a sincere respect for one another and not some thrown together program that seems to fulfill a requirement but is meaningless in reality. I don’t want someone’s idea of social justice/diversity I want real respect to take hold at Lehigh, respect for self and for each other. It’s in the best interest of all that the administration should head in that direction and I think it’s a great task for a University to undertake, one that will not be flashy and one that will not be easy.

  4. Mr Davenport is right on target with his comments and the open letter is just so indicative of the naivity of the faculty and student body as to the facts of life with regard to running a major private university. These are the same faculty that haven’t taken a pay cut like private industry workers have done, have not been put on furlough as private industry has done, and are greedy and clueless in regards to how to run a business. Lehigh University is a private business that was founded as an all male institution to create engineers and business leaders for the industrial age in America. It has been a conservative institution during its entire existence and has morphed into something that the the faculty and students think it should be which is a typical liberal arts school that tries to satisfy everyone.

    Lehigh is not a public University and has no obligation to do anything that the Faculty and students demand and the outsourcing of functions such as food service and housekeeping is extremely appropriate for any business. Divorcing Lehigh from the Bethlehem Police Department is one of the most absurd demands indicative of the blind clueless realities of safety given that nearly half of Lehigh upperclassmen live off campus in the community.

    Perhaps it is time for Lehigh to simply go back to its roots and get rid of all the liberal arts professors and focus on its core strength or Engineering and Business. Those that don’t like this approach have many other universities to choose from who have succumbed to this mantra of hatred and lack of dialogue that Simon is appropriately pursuing.

  5. Robert F Davenport Jr on

    “focus on its core strength or Engineering and Business” – Lehigh Engineering was hurt by the demise of the steel industry but Lehigh was smart in starting Lehigh’s College of Health, this is a growing field.

    “(Lehigh) has been a conservative institution during its entire existence”, (Lehigh )is a private business that was founded as an all male institution to create engineers and business leaders for the industrial age in America” The addition of Liberal Arts courses have enriched Lehigh as they always have but I think Lehigh should continue to focus on problem solving, innovation and results as distinct from identifying problems or liberal studies for their own sake. The world does not lack those who see problems but badly needs those who can provide workable solutions.

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