Editorial: Out with the old, in with the new

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On April 26, Kevin L. Clayton announced that Lehigh’s Board of Trustees has selected alumnus Joseph Helble, ’82, to succeed President John Simon as the 15th president of Lehigh University. 

Helble graduated from Lehigh with a degree in chemical engineering then received his PhD in Chemical Engineering, with a minor in Spanish from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Helble is currently the Provost of Dartmouth College and previously served 13 years as the dean of the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth. Before his arrival at Dartmouth in 2018, he served as professor and chair of chemical engineering at the University of Connecticut, spent a year in Washington D.C. working on environmental and technology policy as the American Association for the Advancement of Science Revelle Fellow and spent eight years in the private sector as a research scientist at Physical Sciences, Inc. 

Helble is evidently a qualified candidate to assume the presidential position at Lehigh and we are excited to see what changes he hopes to implement within the Lehigh community come fall semester. 

However, Helble on paper is quite similar to President Simon. Both men excelled in the STEM field, had many accomplishments in research and rose to high administrative positions at competitive universities. 

We were told by the Lehigh Search Committee that the search for a new president was “global” and “comprehensive,” but we question the validity of these statements as the new president selected does not present any striking differences from the one prior. 

Were there candidates of color that were considered? Women? Candidates outside of the STEM field? 

The candidate selection process was conducted behind closed doors and it raises valid concern that a global search for a new president led us to another white, male engineer coming from another predominantly white, privileged institution with high barriers to entry.

Helble in a Q&A proceeding his presidential announcement highlighted the importance of students capitalizing on a full liberal arts education. He said that taking classes in the arts, humanities and social sciences helps build a deeper understanding of the context in the material that students may learn in their STEM classes and helps them be better communicators and problem solvers. 

We hope that Helble, despite his background in engineering and work improving the engineering program at Dartmouth, puts his time and focus into helping other programs that he claims to be integral to a well-rounded education here at Lehigh. 

We hope that as much as he will focus on the future, we hope he prioritizes the present. 

The deterioration of Lehigh, that we as current students have experienced during our time here, is a product of Simon’s strict growth mindset. 

We hope that Helble can balance both creating goals for the future of the university while also providing a high-quality undergraduate experience for the current student body. 

As we near the end of this pandemic and a difficult school year, it does not go unacknowledged that Helble is taking on Lehigh at an enormously challenging time. Lehigh students and faculty have had to balance their academics, social circles, family stressors and overall mental health at a time of global crisis. 

Entering as a new face to an already challenged institution during truly unprecedented times is no easy feat.  

However, this should rather be viewed as a good opportunity for Helble to truly make change on this campus and make the Lehigh experience the one we all had hoped for. 

We are excited to welcome you back to Lehigh’s campus, President Helble, and we are excited to see what you can do for this school. 

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