Op-ed: Rescind Donald J. Trump’s honorary degree

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Richard Weisman is a professor emeritus of water resources engineering in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. He also serves as a faculty mentor in the Martindale Center for the Study of Private Enterprise. He can be reached at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone. 

Photo courtesy of Richard Weisman

In 1988, Lehigh’s board of trustees bestowed an honorary degree on Donald J. Trump when he spoke at Lehigh’s commencement. I want to make sure that all new students, staff and faculty at Lehigh are aware of this fact, and I want to remind returning students. I also want to articulate for new students what I consider to be our university’s cherished values and draw a contrast between our values and the ones demonstrated by President Trump both before and during his presidency.

A list of Lehigh’s values must start with the Principles of Our Equitable Community

In this document, which was formally adopted by the board of trustees, the faculty, the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Senates, and the Employee Relations Advisory Committee, we agree to affirm the dignity of people, to strive for an inclusive and equitable community, to create a respectful environment and to hold one another accountable. We say that we abhor prejudice based on personal characteristics like nationality, gender, ethnic origin, etc. And we do not tolerate bullying.

In addition to those stated principles, I would add some other values that are quite obvious for a university. Primarily among them is the idea of science, especially the use of the scientific method as a means to discover reality. Rational thought, written and spoken eloquence, development of cogent arguments are essential goals of a university education. 

We treasure open debate in the classroom and on the campus.  Lehigh also treasures three other enduring values: competence, leadership and teamwork. Much of the curriculum in all our colleges at Lehigh is geared toward these skills and processes.

The contrast with Trump is extraordinary. 

Has Trump been competent? Has he exhibited good leadership? Is he a team player or has he assembled a consistent leadership team around him? Is he rational? Does he exhibit written and spoken eloquence? Does he recognize good science as a foundation for policy? Has he said and done things that show prejudice based on personal characteristics? Does he affirm the basic dignity of all human beings? Does he exhibit a care for our people? Has he bullied, even weak and defenseless people? Has he strived for inclusiveness? Has he ever lied?

Please know that Lehigh’s board of trustees has been asked two times to rescind Trump’s honorary degree and twice they have come back with “no action” and no explanation for that decision. 

I ask you to consider whether Donald J. Trump has lived up to Lehigh’s values and principles. I submit that the answer is a resounding “no.” He has been a scoundrel, a liar and a bully for a very long time. I think he has not changed in his basic attitudes and actions toward minorities, women, and foreign nationals through his adult life.

Our board did rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. Why not Trump’s? Is it because Cosby was an easy (Black) target? Perhaps they won’t do this for Trump because he is a sitting (but highly dishonored) president?

To all students, staff, and faculty, let’s not allow this issue to fade away. Speak up, write a letter, or send an email to those powerful people who control this and other issues of fairness and equity. 

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28 Comments

  1. Susan Magaziner on

    Dear Professor Weisman,

    Thank you for your heartfelt contribution to Our Lehigh in the true spirit of Equitable Community. I stand in solidarity with you and all of those who abide by the Principles set forth by our Founders. Incoming students may not be aware that in January, 2014 the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, opened an investigation at Lehigh on the grounds of “racially hostile environment” which was at issue in Docket No 03142021. The Department monitored Lehigh until September, 2018. As race, inequality and differential treatment were at issue in the federal case, I submitted the Trump matter as a part of the case as a “new issue under current case” which was accepted and considered because the Trump matter represents what OCR works to remediate in educational institutions. Differential treatment of similarly situated persons represents inequality in education. Although we could label this inaction by our Board as a blatant act of hypocrisy against all of the Lehigh family, it terms of OCR one is able to stake a claim of a potential civil rights violation – an allegation of the violation of federal anti-discrimination law, which the Office for Civil Rights enforces.

    On March 9, 2018 The Trump matter was submitted to and accepted by U.S. Department of Education Attorney Meg Willoughby, Team Attorney at OCR Philadelphia who held Lehigh in federal jurisdictional authority. The communications of March 9, 2018 is below. Present community members are able to provide this history in support of filing an additional OCR complaint investigation request on the basis allegations of racial discrimination. Once an OCR case is opened for investigation the Department can accept and consider additional new issues under current case, however the Department is not able to actively investigate without the submission of a new case request. As this is an on-going matter, one to which the U.S.D.O.E. is aware and to which the Board is alleged to have permitted a “racially discriminatory” issue to perpetuate, any person or group of persons may submit this matter for OCR Case Investigation Request. In March of 2018 I suggested that the Lehigh Student Senate file a complaint with OCR. As Lehigh Board has taken no action this remains a viable option and can be done on-line:

    https://ocr.ed.gov

    Members of the Lehigh community may also contact Attorneys Meg Willoughby and Vicki Piel as per the emails that follow.

    Here is the previous, March 9, 2018, report of the Trump matter to OCR authorities:

    Dear Professor Weisman and Student Senate Board Members,

    Here you go. The Trump Honorary Degree issue is now included in the US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights Monitoring of Lehigh for Docket No 03142021 at which racial discrimination and hostile environment is at issue. The Boards action of inaction in the matter is now entered into the Evidence Case File for the present and open case and will be reviewed and considered. As I serve as sole federal Complainant v Lehigh I am permitted to address “New Issue Complaints” under the present case and OCR monitoring and jurisdictional authority when I observe racial discrimination. Treating Trump who is white differently than Cosby is clear discrimination. The Trump issue is now In the hands of OCR. Like Peterson just another indication of racial issues that remain, in this case differential standards. I can still file a separate case but my suggestion is that the Student Senate do so. This discriminatory action by the Board is a potential civil rights violation of federal anti discrimination laws that protect students in the educational environment. The Trump issue reflects overt discrimination and differential treatment of similarly situated persons. It qualifies not only under my present case against Lehigh but it stands alone.

    The Civil Rights case regarding race/color is now open 4.3 years as the Terms of Resolution (racial harassment/hostile environment which is at issue in this case, have not been remediate or the Terms satisfied. The Peterson sexual assault case and other incidents of sexual misconduct involving black females has also been included in the present case monitoring.

    I have copied President Simon herewith so he may begin active dialogue between the Student Senate Board, Professor Weisman and the Board of Trustees. I will provide additional information to OCR Team Attorneys under separate email.

    Let me know how you wish to proceed if I should file on your behalf, if you wish assistance filing or if the Board acts to rescind.

    The goal is to end racial discrimination at Lehigh. The goal is not to obtain Board comment. We do not care about Board comment or grounds of action of inaction. We care about what is lawful, and treating a white man differently than a black man – both of whom are similarly situated is unlawful by way of creating, perpetuating and sustaining a racially hostile environment to which the Recipient has Notice.

    The last act of discrimination is the date of the Boards second refusal to rescind. The first act of discrimination was on date in October that the Board took no action to rescind. We have 180 days from the last date of discrimination to file. But I am using the October date as timeline 180 day look-back and I suggest you do as well. That means filing needs to be timely.

    I will trust the Board will soon rescind the Honorary degree now that OCR will inform that this act of inaction violates the Terms Agreement signed by Kevin Clayton on September 26, 2014.

    I hope President Simon is listening and encourages the Board to rescind the Honorary Degree as is the way of the law to do so.

    Best,

    Susan

    Begin forwarded message:

    From: “Willoughby, Meg”
    Date: March 9, 2018 at 10:58:05 AM EST
    To: Comcast
    Cc: “Piel, Vicki”
    Subject: RE: 03142021 Lehigh University’s peculiar decisions about honorary degrees – The Morning Call

    Dear Ms. Magaziner,

    Thank you for your message. It will be included and considered in the monitoring of case 03142021.

    Sincerely,
    Meg Willoughby

    —–Original Message—–
    From: Comcast [mailto:[email protected]]
    Sent: Friday, March 09, 2018 1:14 AM
    To: Willoughby, Meg; Piel, Vicki
    Cc: [email protected]; [email protected]
    Subject: 03142021 Lehigh University’s peculiar decisions about honorary degrees – The Morning Call

    To File. To extent of Terms Monitoring. Racial Discrimination and Differential treatment. Of protected class race/ color v. White. Shall this suffice Meg, or shall I file another investigation request?

    Best,

    Susan

    http://www.mcall.com/opinion/letters/mc-wittchen-trump-cosby-lehigh-honorary-degrees-20180307-story.html

  2. Just what Lehigh University needs another round of political “get even” with “a scoundrel, a liar and a bully”. Please wait for this bozo to leave public office. Until then you and others have the opportunity to register your disgust by voting for an alternative; until then pray for this poor soul so that he may accomplish some good for your country as your President.

    • Congratulations, Bob. My comment was censored. I failed to agree with the Lehigh University Censors. Apparently you made enough disparaging remarks about Trump that agree with the views of the Censors. You probably got good grades in school, too. My thoughts will never be known because they do not conform. Again, congratulations.

      • Bruce Haines ‘67 on

        Trump has accomplished virtually all of his agenda that was the basis of his election bybthe people in 2016.

        Your political bias wants to punish someone for not executing your sgenda.

        Lehigh made a good decision in recognizing the capabilities of this man 20 years before the people endorsed his leadership.

        • Lehigh has reached a new low when its official newspaper publishes an op-ed suggesting that Trump’s degree has not been revoked because of his race. Such a comment is reprehensible but will never be condemned within the ranks of higher education due to the normalization of mob tactics and political correctness run amok. To say I am ashamed to attend this institution in this very moment is an understatement. I thought the B&W hit a low after publishing Rabbi Nathan’s ridiculous op-ed, but this definitely takes the cake. I encourage Prof. Weisman to watch clips of Joe Biden’s statements if he thinks President Trump has a poor attitude toward minorities. What a disgrace.

      • David S: I am intrigued with what comments don’t get past the censors. If it was for conservative ideas, it’s a real shame. Lehigh has become liberal and it’s natural for conservative ideas and ideals to be ignored or attacked. I will vote for Trump in 2020 unlike 2016 (one of the 3% for Johnson in protest). As you may note, I am not a Trump fan. We all have flaws and his are very visible, Biden’s not so much.

        As Mr Haines notes: “Trump has accomplished virtually all of his agenda that was the basis of his election bybthe (sic) people in 2016.” We are still waiting for a check from Mexico but our President has been almost single minded in pleasing his base. Asa’s Ghost is correct in writing: “we should be proud of what he has done for America and all Americans.” What A’s G is missing is what we should not be proud of; Professor Emeritus Weisman provides some, I could provide several others beyond my original name calling.

        DJT has shown himself to be a political genius in getting elected. He has pleased me by appointing conservative judges, who will have an enduring effect on the future as have all the liberal judges who currently tend to legislate from the bench and seem hardly ever to venture to the right. So called conservative judges sometimes move to the left. This is why I will vote Trump.

        My hope and prayer is that President Trump will stop pandering to his far right base and push initiatives that will help all those in our country who NEED help, to included many who dislike and distrust him.

        Joe Biden is a good person who has been corrupted by a profligate Democratic party that has lost it’s soul in attempting to be mostly everything to everybody and excising those who don’t agree. https://www.rollcall.com/2020/02/20/these-two-house-democrats-oppose-abortion-rights-it-could-cost-them-their-seats/

        “You probably got good grades in school, too.” Ha, ha; my writing in Freshman English was a source of depression. B&W comments are my loving revenge on Professor James.

  3. “Our board did rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. Why not Trump’s? Is it because Cosby was an easy (Black) target?”

    The University rescinded Cosby’s degree because he was convicted and sentenced in a court of law. It had nothing to do with his race but rather with the fact that he drugged and raped multiple women. While you may disagree with Trump’s policy decisions and abhor his behavior, he is not serving time in prison for a crime that he was proven guilty of (and one of the worst crimes imaginable on top of that). If the day comes that Trump is convicted of a serious crime then it would be fair to compare his degree to Cosby’s. Until then, you are continuing to hurt the victims of Cosby’s heinous crimes by saying that the only reason that he has been outcast by the University is because he is black.

    • Jordan Wolman on

      Thank you for commenting and engaging with our content. We just want to clarify one point that has been raised multiple times. Lehigh actually rescinded Bill Cosby’s degree years before his conviction. His degree was rescinded in 2015 and he was not convicted until 2018. The Brown and White wrote about this issue in 2015 when his degree was rescinded: https://thebrownandwhite.com/2015/10/14/lehigh-rescinds-bill-cosby-honorary-degree/#:~:text=Bill%20Cosby%20is%20announced%20as,honorary%20doctor%20of%20laws%20degree.

      • John G. Lewis '90 on

        That is a point, Mr. Wolman, granted. Many felt however, as did magazines around the nation (such as the New York magazine) that Mr. Cosby was really guilty of the general claims of the allegators, viz. that he did drug and rape women. As it is said, there was so much smoke that there must have been fire. Most of the accusations fell outside of the statute of limitations but some did not.

        However it is a good point, that in defense of Trump we are saying that he is not a convicted criminal unlike Mr. Cosby. Yet the truth was that Mr. Cosby was not a convicted criminal either. … Nevertheless, most felt that Bill Cosby actually did much of what was alleged.

  4. Sorry. I can’t comment here. The Censors delete my innocuous comments without explanation. Just like the censors deleted the comments of my ancestors in the Soviet Union.

  5. The question is has Lehigh lived up to The Donald’s standards and it hasn’t. It is a pitiful shell of it’s former greatness. If I were Donald I wouldn’t want their stupid degree

  6. President Donald J Trump is going to win re-election handily and we should be proud of what he has done for America and all Americans.

    Lehigh University should issue him a second honorary degree and benefit from supporting him.

    Pray for Joe Biden’s health and Kamala Harris’ soul.

    • Bruce Haines ‘67 on

      Mexico is effectively paying for the wall with the new trade agreement that replaced NAFTA. Brown & White colors depict that Lehigh is not racist but welcoming to all & way ahead of their time in choosing these colors.

      • Mr. Haines:

        Please consider these accomplishments
        1. Bring back coal
        2. Bring back manufacturing
        3. Balance the trade deficit ( new record deficit this past month!).
        4. Build a wall and make Mexico pay.

        I could go on. But these were some of his major campaign pledges. The data- pre and post pandemic- show how poorly our country has done under his leadership.

  7. John G. Lewis '90 on

    The issue has already gone before the Board and they have said “no action.”
    Concerning the Bill Cosby ‘parallel’: he is a convicted criminal, and while there are issues with Mr. Trump’s behavior, he has not been convicted or charged with anything. Mr. Trump even said at one point: “I will be a better man…” Additionally, Mr. Cosby did make some deleterious comments during his 1987 address. Race had nothing to do with the deletion of the latter’s honorary degree.
    Let me point out that Mr. Trump has done some good for the nation, some say much good. The fact that Dr. Weisman and others may well disagree with this assessment, and be more condemnatory on moral concerns, tends to illustrate that certain features of Mr. Trump’s performance as President and character as a man are open to interpretation.
    Further, we should remember that we have a supplemental reason to treat Mr. Trump graciously. He is Lehigh family as his elder brother Fred graduated from our school.
    I therefore feel it is time to move on.

  8. Roger D. Simon, professor emeritus on

    To follow up on some comments above: so, if Trump is convicted of income tax evasion (state or federal) and insurance fraud then it would be ok to rescind his degree?

    • John G. Lewis '90 on

      Dr. Simon:

      For me personally… I would say probably not. Yes, he would be a convicted criminal, however the crimes you mention concern technical financial issues. There would always be the question of his intent, if he plead not guilty (that is, did he intend to defraud or evade..?)

      When we give out a degree of any sort, even honorary, it should be seen as a sacred moment. A time when we are honoring someone for the work they have done. There is even a legitimate question of whether any degree (B.A/B.S., M.A., PhD., or honorary) can, or given certain circumstances should, be rescinded. Yet if we answer the latter question positively, I would think we should be very reluctant to rescind anything, and at most an honorary degree. The latter presupposes knowledge and work done for the community or nation, but it really also points to high ethical behavior, true. It is really on the latter point that any rescission should be based.

      For Mr. Cosby, if we are to believe the charges, he had an immoral pattern of behavior that went on for years and involved abusing women and then lying about it… It is sad and unfortunate how it all happened, and the numerous individuals it involved, but yes, if we are to have a ‘moral line’ or standard for our honorary recipients, I would say that Mr. Cosby probably crossed it. Yet given the question regarding Mr. Trump and tax evasion, fraud, & etc., even if convicted, I would probably say no. He may well be getting close, and it would depend on the details, yet considering the sanctity of a degree, and our name, I would likely conclude that it is insufficient.

    • John G. Lewis '90 on

      I would say no, not quite… It would have to involve more straightforward unethical behavior rather than something technical as tax evasion and the like.

      A related point here is that Lehigh’s name, and honour if you would, is involved here in different ways. If we give an honorary degree to someone who after all proves to be dishonourable, and secondarily, if we revoke a degree merely because we decide (much later) that we do not like him or her.

  9. I feel embarrassed to attend this university after reading this. To think that a professor at a university as prestigious as Lehigh would compare the President of the United States to Bill Cosby is disgraceful. However, nobody is really surprised by this. This is what academia has become in the past few years.

  10. Class of '86 Alum on

    All of this virtue signaling, self flagellation is becoming exhausting. Let’s just cut to the chase and rescind the racist school colors of Brown and White as well! C’mom let’s go, who’s with me?!!!!

  11. Susan class of 1986 on

    Trump’s behavior has not changed in the decades he had been a public figure, and yet we are somehow shocked and surprised now. Standards were different in the 1980’s and Lehigh was more conservative then. We can’t change or cancel history. Isn’t there something else to talk about?

  12. It is upsetting indeed that this reprehensible and evil human being, who has traumatized and destroyed so many lives, holds an honorary degree. But for Lehigh to strip him of that now would just put the university in his line of tweeting fire. And unfortunately, Lehigh’s reputation on a national scale will take a huge hit; after all, the school is currently under investigation by the Dept. of Education and has some “dirty laundry” which will be easily uncovered by a basic Google search. There may never come a time in Trump’s lifetime when it will be worth it for Lehigh to become a Trump target by rescinding his degree. But I do hope that the school does so the day after he leaves this earth, a day that cannot come soon enough.

    • Bruce Haines ‘67 on

      Someone else suggested Trump replacing Simon as 15 th President should Biden beat Trump.

      That would be Interesting since he would begin a major cost cutting program to get rid of liberal left wing propaganda spewing from what once was a bastion of conservative education in the East.

    • Anonymous: “reprehensible and evil human being”, I think the adjectives reveal your level of dislike of our President but at least you consider him a human being. To me reprehensible and evil should only apply to those arguably not human.

      Try praying for the man, he could use the help and should lower your stress level by putting things in God’s hands until you get a chance to cast your vote.

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