Joseph J. Helble will assume the role of Lehigh's 15th president on Aug. 16, 2021. The Lehigh community is looking forward to welcoming him. (Courtesy of Lehigh University)

Lehigh community reacts to the selection of Joseph J. Helble as the new president

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After a search lasting eight months, the Lehigh community is looking forward to welcoming Joseph J. Helble, ‘82, as the 15th president in the school’s history prior to the 2021-2022 academic year. 

Kevin Clayton, chair of the Board of Trustees, announced in an email on April 26 that Helble will take over as president on Aug. 16 following President John Simon’s six year tenure. 

Helble has been the provost at Dartmouth College since 2018 and was previously the dean of Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering. 

“I am honored to be taking on this leadership position at a university that has been such an important part of my life,” Helble said in the Lehigh news release earlier this week. “Lehigh is an outstanding institution, and I’m humbled by the confidence the Board of Trustees has placed in me. I’m inspired by the university’s commitment to excellence in teaching, research and service, and its focus on thoughtful innovation, international engagement and interdisciplinary experiences. I look forward to engaging with faculty, staff and the entire Lehigh community to advance this work and ensure an exceptional Lehigh education for generations to come.” 

Andrew Bonan, ‘22, a civil engineering major, said he’s glad the Board of Trustees chose a candidate with an engineering background and said Helble’s achievements at Dartmouth are undeniable. 

He said he feels the university made a smart decision picking someone who has personal experience with Lehigh to be the next president. 

“I think they chose someone who they thought would be the best president moving forward,” Bonan said. “I don’t know if he’s the right choice, but I don’t think he’s the wrong one either.”

Alex Melathe, ‘98, said he believes Helble is going to make whatever changes are needed to benefit the student population and is a well-rounded person. 

Melathe said it’s important for him to openly communicate with the university and believes he could do a bit more getting the students engaged than the previous administration. 

He said Helble should focus on adding more smaller lectures since it’s difficult for professors to recognize their students by name, especially when most classes have been virtual this past year. 

“I think maybe a smaller class size and a little bit more focused on professor to student interaction,” Melathe said. “I think it would be beneficial to the students overall.”

Melathe said it’s essential that Helble is focused on student needs and making sure the faculty is dynamic enough so students are getting a well-rounded education. 

Bonan said Helble needs to reconsider the architecture and design of the new buildings on campus since the current designs “don’t inspire much of a college campus.” 

Sirry Alang, associate professor of Sociology and Health, Medicine and Society, said she hopes Helble is the most anti-racist and white supremacy-dismantling president Lehigh has ever had. 

Despite these hopes, she said this is the 15th time Lehigh has chosen a white scientist as president. 

“This is not to say he’s not going to make a fantastic president,” Alang said. “In fact we need white people that really care about racial justice on our college campuses. It is my hope that President Helble is one of those people and I look forward to working with him.”

Bonan said he hopes Helble has been devoted to Lehigh for a long time and feels there isn’t a better candidate for the role than an alumnus. He hopes Helble interacts with the student body frequently and leaves a unique mark on the university. 

Melathe said Lehigh is going to benefit from Helble’s experience as a Provost, professor and alumnus of Lehigh. 

“I think he understands the full round experience of Lehigh and I think the students and professors will be able to benefit a lot from his personal experience of being a student as well as now coming back as president,” he said. 

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3 Comments

  1. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Wonderful decision to bring back an alum with the Engineering credentials. Let’s face it that Lehigh’s strength & reputation was built around its Engineering & Business leadership until the 21st century when they decided to become a liberal arts school.

    This builds on its foundation & hopefully restores the damage done over the past 20 years where Lehigh fell 20 places in US News Rankings.

    • Robert Davenport on

      It is vastly more important that students are fulfilled while they are at Lehigh than how the University ranks. The transition to Liberal Arts must proceed much further and much faster; ranking be damned. Excuse me while I extract my tongue from the hole in my cheek.

  2. “Despite these hopes, she said this is the 15th time Lehigh has chosen a white scientist as president.” said Sirry Alang.

    Maybe stop worrying about a persons color and more the wisdom, attributes and skills they bring.

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