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BREAKING: Simon, Clayton issue statement in response to open letter

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Lehigh Board of Trustees Chair Kevin Clayton and President John Simon released a statement in an email addressed to the Lehigh community on June 3. The response comes just a day after an open letter, signed by members of the Lehigh community, called on the university to do more to oppose racism in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. 

The letter, written by a group of faculty members, is no longer available for signing, but at last count had received roughly 1,600 signatures as of earlier this morning. The open letter was in response to Simon’s May 31 original email condemning bigotry and hatred, which the authors of the letter feel didn’t go far enough. 

In the statement, Simon and Clayton pledged their support to members of the community who are outraged about the murder of Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota. 

“We know the authors and signers of the letter delivered their message with the measurable purpose to make Lehigh better,” the email said, which was signed by Clayton and Simon. “We share that goal and thank them for the commitment to our university. We need to make Lehigh University an actively anti-racist institution. By this, we mean actively speaking out and addressing acts of racism, racist comments, racist practices, policies and procedures.”

As a first step, the university will begin an independent review of LUPD’s policies, procedures, and practices, the email said. They will assess how interactions with local law enforcement impacts students, faculty and staff. 

“We fully recognize and accept our responsibility, as leaders and stewards of this institution, to create the change that is needed,” the email said. “We cannot do so alone.  We will require the involvement of all members of our community, and engagement in the difficult conversations and challenging decisions that can lead to sustainable, lasting change.”

Members of Lehigh’s administration will initiate a comprehensive review to ensure that university policies are anti-racist. This includes tenure and promotion, hiring practices, student conduct and student recruitment, the email said. 

Clayton and Simon said, in the days and weeks ahead, a series of forums, meetings and virtual town halls will be held to gather community input and take further actions “to ensure a stronger, actively anti-racist” Lehigh University.

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15 Comments

  1. As a Lehigh alum, I find these comments from Simon and Clayton equally deficient to the first comments they made. The first step, the VERY first step Lehigh could take to indicate any kind of significant commitment to anti-racism would be to revoke the honorary degree they gave to the racist president. As long as he is in any way linked to the Lehigh name, “We fully recognize and accept our responsibility, as leaders and stewards of this institution, to create the change that is needed” is just so much PR crap. Find a moral compass, Lehigh. You’re embarrassing.

  2. Black Lives Matter on Campus on

    Lehigh needs to de militarize their police, take away lethal weapons, and focus on public safety initiatives like walking with students after the library at night when they are likely to get mugged. Have policies that let students be students on campus and monitor to make sure they get home ok, not arrested and cited for no reason. Stop breaking up parties, stop the un necessary arrests. While I was at Lehigh, black students were always disproportionately stopped and arrested and now have records for doing what any other white student did too. Stop policing black students on campus.

    Its unfortunate that George Floyd’s murder had to be the catalyst for this discussion but rather than just a “stronger statement” from the President and Board on George Floyd, I rather see Practical policy changes On campus that help our black students immediately.

  3. Neil Savage on

    Why do universities need police forces. Many years ago campuses just had campus security…pretty much just Paul Blart mall cops – even unis much larger than LU. That is all that is needed on campus. We don’t need bomb dogs and drones and the expense and scrutiny of a police force.

    All students matter…yellow, red, black, and white we are precious in His sight.

  4. Amy Charles '89 on

    Sure.

    Kevin, I’d like some transparency about your various capital funds and how they’ve made their money. I’d like for Lehigh students and scholars to have a chance to sift through and see how much of it was made on the backs of people of color who lost their jobs when you bought and parted out the companies they worked for. I’d like to know what people of color in your company make relative to whites, and what proportion of upper-level management are POC. I’d like to know what the ratio of POC in hourly/no-benefit positions is vs. ratio of POC in salary/benefits positions is in your company, and how often your company leaned on management of other companies to “lean” the workforce by cutting wages and benefits, resisting wage increase, and taking other measures that hit POC disproportionately. I’d like to know how many discrimination cases were filed, too.

    Let’s look also at how you’ve lived. What’s the diversity like in your neighborhood and at the schools you sent your children to?

    I mean if we’re going to make statements about how we must speak out, let’s be a little real about those statements. I think Energy Capital Partners is a great place to start looking at how you’re walking that walk. Let’s have a look at all the diversity among the partners: https://www.ecpartners.com/team .

    Look at all those people of color and women! My god, looking like America right there! No black people in the big-money categories, but I do see you’ve hired a black man to do marketing for you, just last year, and that there’s another black man who’s an accountant. I see that all the secretaries are ladies, too. And one of them’s even black! Gold star, Kevin. I see there’s even an aging Dabney Coleman type to manage them. What a way to make a living. What’s the ratio of an executive assistant’s salary to yours? This is a “retirement” job for you, is it not? No doubt you’re just making something token here.

    And you’re going to do what about all that? How, please, are you going to “create the change that is needed”?

    • Amy Charles ‘89 on

      It’s actually a pretty amazing employee-photos page. It goes, of course, from all men at the top to almost all women at the bottom, and the smiles get bigger as you go down the page, because I guess it makes really rich guys look weak if they smile broadly. But if you scroll down each row so that you’re looking a noses, mouths and chins — no eyes — you see some rows with more or less identical people, and now and then one that’s suddenly diverse.

      The most diverse one’s the salespeople — the ones really keeping that money there, dealing with and concierging the investors. They’re kind of far from the top.

      As for those top ranks, parents, if you want your sons up there (don’t bother about daughters), then (1) be white, and (2) go for something tried-and-true for the first names. Tom. Andrew. Matthew. Chris. And get them a nice blue silk tie with a tiny geometric pattern. Don’t get fancy, and I have to say, Trent’s looking a little shaky there, especially with that coral tie.

      If you want your daughter to be able to work for these fine men, I recommend a name like Ashley or Jennifer and a copy of 1987’s Dress for Success for Women, swapping out the pith helmet for something vaguely reminiscent of those Republican finger-curl things.

      Sorry. What was this about creating change?

  5. NON-BELIEVER on

    As long as Kevin Clayton is the de facto President of Lehigh University, there will be the following lows:: lower number of applicants; lower matriculation rates; lower enrollment; lower rankings; lower emphasis on student safety and well-being, including mental health; lower levels of communication within the community; a lower level of transparency; and lower morale among students, faculty and administrators. And there will be the following highs: higher misguided expenditures; higher number of legal cases brought against the university; higher levels of indifference and negligence on the part of the LUPD; higher levels of dissatisfaction in the community; and higher levels of egregious decision-making across the board/Board. When Clayton, who is not an educator, was made interim President of LU, a red flag should have gone up. As part of the search committee for a new President, Clayton likely had a lot of input in choosing President Simon. And he has kept his President on a very short leash since then, resulting in the demise of so much, including LU”s overall reputation. When the spokesperson of a school is not allowed to speak, like ever, we know we have a problem. The out-of-touch Clayton, with his office in the Trump State of Bedminster, is indeed transforming the school into an “embarrassing” institution. And those employed by LU are afraid to speak up – understandably so. Remember the Health Center nurse who was fired? Yes, Lehigh, Liberty University, and I believe one other school have upheld Trump’s honor. And that is unlikely to change. What a disgrace.

  6. I look forward to the town halls and discussing plans on making the campus more unified. I agree that change needs to happen. I look to the progress we can make together. I have faith in our leadership to make this happen. Thank you for your statement.

  7. It is a sad day at Lehigh U. when personal attacks are used to try to make a point. It is astonishing to me that someone from my class of ’89 would resort to criticizing people based on where they live or how many different races are represented in their company. Amy Charles, imagine if someone judged you because you grew up in Upper Black Eddy with only 0.8% black population (17.5 times less than the national average) or the fact that you moved to Iowa City where the demographic has half as many people of color than the national average? Did you intentionally choose those towns because of their low black population? Should we judge you because of it? I doubt it. But you demanding “transparency” and asking the question of Lehigh board members sure implies that you think living in a town without the proper ratio of people of color somehow makes you not qualified to be impartial or lead an organization. Did the University of Iowa judge you before they hired you as an instructor because you grew up in an all white town?

    I’ve seen your comments for years on this Brown and White page, and I always shake my head and wonder why you are always so angry at Lehigh (or now at people that live in towns like where you grow up.) Maybe your argument style works at the University of Iowa, but I like to think around here, we treat people with more respect and don’t imply that they have racial bias because of where they live. Being nice goes a long way, and you’d be amazed at how many more people listen to you when you aren’t immediately accusatory.

    On a slightly related note, when I go to a restaurant and read a bad review, I always look at the person’s other reviews. When everything they spew is negative, I know that most people don’t take them seriously and I’ll ignore the review. A quick search of your name shows that you really never have anything nice to say. And even if your don’t agree with policies, you don’t need to stoop to the level that you do. But at least your animosity is consistent, as your posts directed as students were just as insulting.

    For someone that consistently shows their dislike of Lehigh, you sure spend a lot of time here.

    • The difference, Peter, is that Amy was not a decision-maker in the town in which she grew up. On the other hand, Clayton is a PARTNER at Energy Capital, and yet the team list looks like something out of the 80s: men in positions of power, 100% white, and women relegated to secretarial roles.

      How can Clayton make any meaningful statements about BLM when the organization he runs looks the way it does?

      • Clara, I don’t know if Amy was a decision maker in her town, nor do I know if she is a decision maker where she lives in Iowa now (in the town that has a low people of color population). So I can’t comment on that. I stand by my statement that the demographic profile of the town you live in not only isn’t relevant, it sinks the argument to a personal level and discredits any valid points she may have. When 100% of someone’s posts are rants about negative things at Lehigh combined with personal attacks, it completely blocks the actual message. No need to argue with you on this.

    • Amy Charles '89 on

      Whew! A lot went on here in the last few weeks. All right then:

      This is why you shouldn’t rely on lookup engines, Peter, they’ll give you a bum steer. Need better homework. I shall assist.

      I did not grow up in Upper Black Eddy, lovely hamlet though it is. I grew up in Allentown, PA, mostly. Allentown is more diverse now than it was back then, but thanks to the mills and migration from NYC it was already fairly diverse and polyglot, enough so that it took Lehigh to teach me a sense of default whiteness and privilege. I still remember going through junior-high pictures in my Lehigh apartment and being shocked to find that my friends were black — of course I’d known they were black in jr hi, but because of Lehigh, “black” had come to mean something else. It meant “other people”. And it meant more than that, which I won’t go on about, but none of it was nice. I cannot tell you how angry I was when I discovered that I’d internalized that, and I had no idea how long it would take to unlearn it again. But I also didn’t know at the time that Lehigh was that way because so many of the students came from places like the one Kevin lives in, many went to private schools there, and they carried that sense of default whiteness with them. It wasn’t until I went to Lehigh that I knew that places like Basking Ridge existed. I sure got taught by Basking Ridge, though. All those little enclaves.

      Where one chooses to live does speak to those values when one has the means to choose. Peter is right about that. I chose Iowa City because not only was I already here for school, but it was a terrific place to be if you liked to read and write and had no money. In the Rust Belt it was already dangerous not to have lots of money. But Iowa City was full of public everything and many books, many writers. I’ve been here a long time now. Having no money doesn’t work here anymore, but you don’t need much. On the same money elsewhere, same kind of work, my kid would’ve grown up in poverty and a lot of instability. 

      When I got here 30 years ago, this place was like the inside of a blizzard. A deeply eerie experience. But the change has been fast, mostly over the last 20 years, and I’m glad to have been part of the pushing and conversations, especially when it comes to talking out loud about racism and incarceration; the midwest is a champ at silence. Others have done more, but yes, if you live here and you care about these things, it’s part of your conversation. And yes, Clara, it’s a small town, so anyone who sticks around and speaks up has some degree of influence. People know who I am. Occasionally I’m part of institutional government but mostly I’m on the outside wrestling people into doing the things they ought to be doing. Like making a Congressman say out loud, on social media, that it’s wrong to have concentration camps at the border and treat people, especially children, so horrifically, when he’d have preferred to stay silent. Or forcing school district teachers and officials to engage on issues of racial discrimination and inequality in ways that have accountability built in. Or forcing university officials to use the training that’s available for student staff when it comes to being welcoming to international students, regardless of the excuses officials might give about the small towns the students came from. That’s a good thing about sticking around: you learn the dodges and you say nope, nope, nope, are you telling me out loud, in words I’m writing down here, that you will not use any of these measures of accountability or any others at this time. It’s a small state, too, so you can get in touch with newspaper editors and point out when a headline dodges the issue, or with legislators when bill language will cause mischief, and surprisingly often they’ll make the changes. Sometimes it’s about tossing something you’ve seen to an influential blogger or reporter. It’s not just racial discrimination: there’s discrimination to deal with regarding religion, disability, income, language, most of the things you’d imagine. You also see how it happens: people are not superhuman, but there are also things they don’t think they should have to deal with, maybe just because they never have before, and then your job is to show them that they do. I will stress again that I am not a major mover. There are other people who are, some of whom are paid to do it, some who aren’t. But they can use a hand, so I try to give one. There’s a memoir in there somewhere: Hocking a Chainik: a Life.

      Now the school district is closing in on majority-minority and notices go home in ten languages. The schools are far more diverse than anything I grew up with. Because of immigration (we have a lot of refugee communities, in recent years heavily Congolese, so we’re chronically short on French translators lately) and the university, race != SES as much as it might, though there are still serious problems along those lines: our schools have one of the worst performance gaps in the country.

      Incidentally, let me take a minute to point out that even when a community is moving in the right direction, it’s a fight. Take for instance the influence of the Quaker community, which has done a lot of work in making this place a landing spot for refugees, and the influence of the realtors in this. Steering people to the “right neighborhoods” with the “best schools.” It’s just redlining under the radar. And I am sure this isn’t the only place where it happens. 

      Anyway. The university is another world again. Around 20% minority among the students now. Most of the students I work with regularly are international or are first-generation Americans. The majority of the first-gen Americans are white, but it isn’t an overwhelming majority. Looking at a class list a couple of semesters ago, I realized there’s no reason anymore to assume that a young instructor knows how to pronounce “Gallagher”. No more than there is to assume they’ll know how to pronounce an equally unfamiliar Turkish or Nigerian name.

      More to the point, my work involves trying to slingshot those kids at good lives and careers, not making top-rank Matt Matt Andrew rows. That work happens not just through strategic programs like the Ford Foundation’s minority fellowship programs (they’re very smart programs that date back to the first black leader of the Foundation, hired partly because of his work in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process), or through pushing slower faculty to take the federal-agency diversity initiatives seriously (the agencies, finally, do), but in talking with people, especially students — sometimes I’m the first department or university employee they have a serious conversation with about racism in Iowa, in science, in our department, in their old departments. We talk a lot. I don’t really know why they’re open with me, though it is an honor to be trusted with those conversations. But I’m a Jewish white woman in her 50s, and what comes out of my mouth sometimes — often — is 1985, so their trust sometimes surprises me.

      It’s not just about race, of course. It’s about gender, disability, the ability to come out, be who they are, change what science is, to change their families’ lives. To deal with all the diseases of culture this country has. To fight, but not to let themselves get buried by the work of fighting. I can’t tell you how many students I’ve worked with who were told that science was too hard for them and that they’d never be able to get through college. So many! (Who are all these terrible teachers? Why do they say such things?) Or who went through elementary school with no idea what was happening, feeling shut out because they didn’t speak English, and school was in English. One’s working with a Nobelist now. (One of my favorite Nobelists, in fact, also a Holocaust survivor, a man who was told as a child thatt he didn’t deserve to exist.) Another’s on the other side of a planet in a new lab where he doesn’t know the language, only this time it’s exciting. Another’s directing research at a major multinational, another’s — the list is long at this point. It’s just a terrific privilege, doing this work. I had no idea any of this would happen. But this is still the beauty of college when those first generations can afford to get in and stay there. That is still an important part of what America is for. That, by the way, is why I fight Lehigh and its culture of abject selfishness and secret societies for rich kids. 

      But then my work is not about making obscenely rich people even richer. I walked away from that on purpose: I saw it coming at me in 1990, and turned around and walked the other way. If I’d let that come and get me, which is of course what Lehigh sets you up to do, I’d have been in there several rows down from the blue-silk-tie Chrises and Matts, all freaked out and smiling but not too much at the camera with my helmet hair and lipstick and very tasteful earrings on, frightened every day that I looked too old for whoever’s in that top row of men. That’s another nice thing about the kind of work I do. You’re allowed to be old. Nobody gives a damn so long as you keep trying to throw those kids at the future. They see it more clearly than you do, but you know better than they do that the acceleration’s important. 

      I am happy to be personal about all these things. Every important decision you make is personal. When people say “it’s nothing personal”, they’re kidding someone, whether it’s you or themselves. They put themselves there in front of that trapdoor lever they’re about to pull; nobody else’s feet walked them over there.

      If you want to see positive remarks of mine, look for Jordan Wolman’s stories. That guy’s doing more than the B&W director is to teach journalism at Lehigh. (I know I pick on Matt a lot, but for God’s sake, Matt.) Really impressive work for someone who’s still an undergrad.

      Susan, thanks for the reminder of Ted. I hadn’t thought of him in a long time. More to your points in a little bit, I’m a mess from a run.

  8. Susan Magaziner ‘77 on

    https://www.racialequitytools.org/resourcefiles/mcintosh.pdf

    This is a time for Unity and Peace. Please be kind and respectful and try not to be judgmental or intolerant. Kevin and Lisa Clayton have been successful, gracious and generous servants to our University. John Simon is a brilliant scientist with profound contribution to society. I truly and personally feel they are all doing their best. The criticism is warranted from the perspective of those who judge harshly, for just as the perspective of Clayton, Simon et.al. disallows true understanding and empathy, anyone who is critical of them or Amy Charles is expressing this same intolerance. It’s important for everyone to take a breath here and change the lens of perspective. There is invisible white privilege as there is invisible male privilege. This must be recognized and acknowledged. Until we walk in another’s shoes, we cannot begin to know or understand. We all have the profound power to change and it starts with meaningful dialogue and celebration of our Unique, individual and united differences.

    As a civil rights advocate I will only say that we must all realize that it takes hard and dedicated work to strive for culturally competency, and the microaggressions we carry in the baggage of our Journey or privilege can only disappear through culturally proficiency and enlightenment.

    Everyone is struggling and doing their best during these unprecedented times. Lehigh’s insular environment has prohibited clear vision and equality for generations, so those a product of LEHIGH, especially from the generations of those of us from the ‘70s shape our perspectives. This goes for Amy as well, as being a female in the 1980’s at Lehigh appears to have been more difficult and sexist than for me in the ‘70’s. The first classes of women were celebrated and unique, but as competition and enrollment of women started to rise authentic “equality” was sought in a white male universe. Imagine how difficult that must have been, and how strong those women of the 1980’s had to be. In fact, those women celebrated as CEOs today are from those classes of women alum. Amy’s experience was probably much different than mine. As a ‘70s “coed” we were just happy to be at Lehigh for an amazing education. We were only starting to recognize the actual inequality that existed under the veil of equal. In fact, we felt more privileged than unequal. Most female students probably felt equal and were treated equally, even if an illusion of such. If we weren’t, we probably were not even aware until educated and introduced to Gloria Steinham and the first course taught in 1975, “The Politics of Women”. So please give Amy a break, her success is a tribute to the women of Lehigh. Give Simon and Clayton a pass. They are trying and it shows. Professor Ted Morgan teaches us that change is slow and the activism that achieves comes in its own unique way and time. Let’s hope that this is that activism that is effective and brings change, hope and strength to LEHIGH.

    Be kind, Stay Strong.

    In Solidarity,

    Susan Magaziner, ‘77

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