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.
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.