Donald Trump speaks at Lehigh University's 1988 commencement ceremony. The Board of Trustees announced that Trump's honorary degree has been rescinded. (Lehigh University Archives)

Petition circulating — for third time in four years — to revoke President Donald Trump’s honorary degree


With President Donald Trump’s time in office winding down, Lehigh’s Office of Multicultural Affairs is asking Lehigh community members to read and sign a petition that calls on the board of trustees to rescind Trump’s honorary degree.  

Trump’s honorary degree was awarded by Lehigh in 1988 after he spoke at a commencement ceremony. 

The latest effort to rescind Trump’s honorary degree is the third major initiative in the past four years to call on Lehigh’s board to strip away the honor from the 45th president on the basis that he has violated Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community. The petition currently circulating has about 3,000 signatures.

In 2017, the board of trustees chose to take no action in response to a student-led petition at that time, despite more than 30,000 signatures.  

In 2018, 83 percent of the 357 Lehigh faculty members who voted supported presenting a motion to the board of trustees to rescind Trump’s honorary degree. Again, the board took “no action.”

Now in 2020, students, faculty, staff and alumni are still asking Lehigh’s board of trustees to revoke the honor. Chad Williams, director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, created the latest petition. He said he is looking for the board of trustees to be transparent as to the reasons why they are or are not going to take up this vote or the reasons the board wants to keep the honorary degree bestowed upon Trump.

“OMA demands of the executive committee of the board of trustees at Lehigh University to rescind the honorary degree of Donald Trump,” the petition reads. “OMA believes that it is hypocritical and alarmingly tone deaf for Lehigh University to dedicate itself to becoming an anti-racist institution while also publicly showing its support for the rampant white supremacy and outright xenophobia displayed by the current U.S. President Donald Trump.”

Williams focused on the institutional goal of becoming anti-racist. He plans to present the petition to the board of trustees in December.

“We can disagree or not on the reason, but it is just a matter of respecting the efforts of folks, all of us in this community, so students, staff, faculty and alums, who all have to do this incredibly tough push day in and day out of turning this institution into an anti-racist institution with this symbolic hypocrisy and impediment to the goal,” Williams said. “At least give us a reason or rationale for why you think that this is OK.”

Student Senate sent an email to the Lehigh community on Nov. 9 supporting efforts to revoke Trump’s degree. 

Victor Cochrane, ‘22, vice president of communications for Student Senate, said  Senate wanted to issue a statement recognizing the petition as soon as possible. 

Cochrane said some may deem the Senate’s support as unusual, since in the past they have not taken this type of position. However, he said the statement is not meant to represent any opinions or political views. 

Many of the actions of Donald Trump do not align with the values of Lehigh, especially a Lehigh that is currently striving to become an anti-racist institution,” the email said. “His actions are in stark opposition to Lehigh University’s Principles of an Equitable Community, which calls for respect, honesty, integrity and unity from all of its members.”

The email said if Lehigh is committed to making our university “diverse, inclusive and equitable,” the removal of the honorary degree is a vital step. In part, Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community states that “every member of our community has a personal responsibility to acknowledge and practice” the rejection of “discrimination in all its forms” and a “commitment to the highest standards of respect, civility, courtesy and sensitivity toward every individual.” 

“From a non-political perspective, some of his statements and some of his comments were very against what Lehigh holds as honorable and against the principles of an equitable community,” Cochrane said.

Cochrane said Student Senate works to represent all students, and when one organization is being ignored, it is their responsibility to use their influence to amplify those voices. 

Eve Freed, ‘21, president of Student Senate, said the decision was voted on by the full Senate with the majority voting to release the statement. 

Freed said overall, no matter the decision, she hopes the board of trustees will be more transparent about their decision-making process. 

“I’m hoping that this time there’s a stronger pushback from the Lehigh community,” Freed said. “You know, we’re at a turning point in America, and I think that we need to think critically about who we want to represent Lehigh’s values.” 

In 2015, Lehigh rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree after he was accused by dozens of women of sexual assault. The degree was rescinded, however, before Cosby was found guilty of any wrongdoing in 2018. 

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    • Such a petty petty group of Lehigh students and Alumni.

      I guess we are entering the phase of fascist political discourse where NO OPPOSING viewpoints tolerated. If Lehigh bends to this newest mob rule demand then Lehigh will have lost any foundational claim to scholarly pursuits.

      Those who self-righteously declare “tolerance” to be their guiding virtue have just as loudly declared that disagreement will not be tolerated.

  1. Nick Noel ‘74 on

    Such a stain for Lehigh not to take a stand, especially, now, with his actions taken against our Constitution. Keep up the good fight.

    • Bruce Haines’67 on

      The Board was correct before & will be correct again as the charge of racism is pure political rhetoric. The guy did more for the black community during his 4 years in office than Obama did in eight.

      Pre pandemic his economic policy helped each and every American achieve higher incomes &the lowest unemployment rate in over 50 years. He undid the criminal justice reforms that Biden implemented that flooded our jails with blacks.

      The guy approved opportunity zones to promote investment in inner cities decimated by years of trade abuse by foreign nations against our manufacturing industries. These were the same industries that lifted minorities to middle class status including those at Bethlehem Steel.

      Trump garnered the highest percentage of Black & Latino voters versus every other Republican ever nominated just a few weeks ago. So that alone should be the basis for the Trustees to disregard this repeated misguided petition.

      This initiative is ill founded once again & the initiators of this effort should be terminated as they are diverting efforts from doing their job. Administrative staff creating unnecessary anxiety during an already difficult time for Lehigh to execute its primary mission is a basis for termination.

  2. Robert F. Davenport Jr on

    Even if President Trump seems not to respect the office of President, Lehigh should do so; wait until he leaves office.

    “OMA demands of the executive committee of the board of trustees at Lehigh University to rescind the honorary degree of Donald Trump,” Looks like we are back in the late 60’s when demands were made to University administrators. I note that free speech for the left has morphed into restricted speech for the right although violent protest remains.

    It will be enough for me if DJT crawls back in the luxurious hole he came from and keeps quiet. If you keep on poking the bear don’t be surprised if you get mauled. Ignore him and maybe he will dry up and blow away. and probably lower your stress level; he’s not worth the attention.

  3. I agree with Mr Haines and Mr Davenport. We can’t keep undoing history when we do not understand the context of why decisions were made. Should we remove the sculptures honoring Beth Steel because they paid dividends and did not reinvest in the company to stay relevant? Were they too greedy to care? Is that part of Lehigh’s values?
    If Lehigh wants to set itself apart, lets stop cancel culture and allow civil discussions of different opinions. Be leaders in how to allow ALL opinions to be heard, and demonstrate how to discern what are facts and not opinions and show students how to think, understand and analyze the news for themselves. Lehigh should prepare students for the future. Strong fundamentals made a Lehigh engineering education stand apart from other schools, made us ready to apply theory to real world problems. We did not know it all in college and I doubt the students today do either.

  4. Nick Noel ‘74 on

    Not about politics. About Lehigh’s standards. To paraphrase Wilde, cynics know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  5. Robert F. Davenport Jr on

    Nick Noel: “Not about politics. About Lehigh’s standards.” I suppose we should investigate the reason for giving the honorary degree which probably involves why he was invited as a commencement speaker. I suspect the reasoning for giving honorary degrees varies greatly and sometimes may have little to do with “Lehigh standards” unlike academic degrees which supposedly do reflect Lehigh standards.

    Politics: “the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy”. Board of trustees – government; Office of Multicultural Affairs, Student Senate, Faculty Senate, alumni – attempting to change a governmental action; Lehigh’s Principles of our Equitable Community – a tool used to justify change.

    When you were a student and I was a recent graduate, your statement might hold water; now, it won’t fly.

  6. Nick Noel. ‘74 on

    I agree the reason for the “award” would be good to know. If based upon a substantial gift to the school, then we know there were no standards and simply a quid pro quo…which probably makes the most sense given what what we have seen. I believe the BOT has an obligation to articulate the basis for awarding an honorary degree. It does make a statement as to what we value.

    • Robert F. Davenport Jr on

      Nick Noel: Think of the honorary degree as a reward for giving the university something, a speech, entertainment, money etc. This is what the degree was created for.

      Sometimes it’s best not to know the full truth such as: who your favorite child is. Finding the truth can be damaging while not knowing the truth may not be.

      Let The Brown and White report and evaluate the degree recipients and the commencement addresses; forget the worthless ones and treasure the valuable ones.

      For those who want a pound of Donald Trump’s flesh, please search elsewhere or consider a voodoo doll.

  7. Enough Already on

    This foolishness is getting really tiring. Lehigh should get rid of the entire Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity. This means getting rid of every entity in this empire shown on page 4 of Lehigh’s Organization chart.

    Those entities include: The Office of Multicultural Affairs, the Pride Center for Sexual Orientation & Gender Diversity, Center for Gender Equity,. . . etc. They are all useless organizations whose misguided missions are to convince people that they victims.

    As such, they are divisive and counter productive.

    Recently there was an article in the WSJ written by the essayist Joseph Epstein and titled: The Tyranny of the ‘Tolerant’

    It is often difficult to read an article like this online unless one is a WSJ subscriber.

    Regardless, here are the first paragraphs from the article:

    The tyranny of tolerance—a fetching phrase but a contradiction, perhaps, even an oxymoron? How can the tolerant be tyrannous, when tolerance, by its very nature, is supposed to be benign and above all understanding and forgiving? Yet in the current day, who is more intolerant, more close-minded and unforgiving, more malicious than those who officially pride themselves on their tolerance for sexual difference, minority mores, protest in all its forms—namely, those who march under the banners of the woke, the politically correct, the progressive?

    Herbert Marcuse, of the Frankfurt School of critical theory, published an essay in 1965 with the provocative title “Repressive Tolerance,” in which he argued that “liberating tolerance” would entail “the withdrawal of toleration of groups and assembly from groups and movements” on the right, while encouraging all aggressive movements on the left. His dream, it would seem, has come true.

    Use the wrong word, have a political flaw in your past, fail to line up for the next obviously good cause, and the tolerant will be the first to come after you. They may not be able to burn you at the stake, à la the Spanish Inquisition, but they will make sure you don’t get the job, promotion, prize or leg up. They will instead see you castigated, fired, consigned for life among the mean, ignorant and lumpen.

    People who hold these opinions are judged by those who pride themselves on their tolerance as beyond the pale, stupid, harmful if not dangerous, and utterly—thank you, Mrs. Clinton—deplorable. They are condemned as misogynist, racist, without empathy, unimaginative, ipso fac-to intolerant, hence not to be tolerated. They need to be put down, shamed, cast out; all that they represent needs to be squashed, crushed, canceled.

    Enough already of these silly virtucrats!!!

  8. If Trump is a racist, he’s the worst racist ever. It’s silly, divisive, resource-wasting activities like this that make us consider never supporting Lehigh financially or otherwise ever again.

  9. You are a bunch of idiots, knowingly or unknowingly contributing to the destruction of the greatest democracy in history and the greatest American president in its’ history. I feel sorry for you.

  10. Jeff Beck, ‘83 on

    I am deeply disappointed in my alma mater today. The disrespect of our President seems to know no bounds. Lehigh has now joined the ranks of CNN, NY Times, and others to be a propaganda instrument of the left to push their political agenda and silence the conservative majority. You are foolishly disenfranchising half of the Lehigh community and helping to push us ever closer to the end of our constitutional republic. Good riddance, Lehigh.

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