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.
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.