March 01, 2018
In 1988, as is customary for commencement speakers each year at Lehigh University, President Donald Trump, then known best for acquiring the Plaza Hotel and opening a third Atlantic City casino, received an honorary degree from the school.
Thirty years, a reality show, and a plummeting presidential approval rating later, the vast majority of Lehigh faculty regret awarding Trump with the honor. Wednesday it was announced that 80 percent of eligible Lehigh faculty voted in favor of the motion asking Lehigh’s Board of Trustees to reverse the honor. Fourteen percent voted against the motion, reported CNN.
The vote will now move on to the board. The vote is a culmination of a long-running attempt by Lehigh faculty and community members to remove the degree, beginning with an online petition from last year. That initial petition currently has more than 31,000 signatures, though no action was made when presented to the board.
Faculty continued to push the issue, however, outlining their cause for action in the hope to highlight causes that defy political lines.
“In his own words, statements made by President Trump do not meet Lehigh’s standards for respectful discourse where differences of opinion exist,” reads the full motion.
“If a member of Lehigh’s on-campus community made one of these statements, he/she would be subject to disciplinary action; taken in their entirety, he/she would be at risk of dismissal."
The motion goes on to cite specific instances of Trump’s language that they feel conflicts with Lehigh’s code of conduct. Some examples include Trump’s referral to Haiti and other nations as “sh*thole countries,” his comments after the Charlottesville white nationalist protest, and his “grab them by the p*ssy” remark about assaulting women, among many other comments listed across three pages in the document.
In October 2015, as news of sexual assault allegations heightened around Bill Cosby, Lehigh University revoked the honorary degree it awarded the fallen comedian in 1987. The university’s motion refers to that decision in the motion against Trump.
“In revoking Bill Cosby’s honorary degree, the Board cited behavior ‘inconsistent with the character and high standards expected of honorees.’ If we only adhere to our principles when convenient and if we enforce our standards inconsistently, they are meaningless, disingenuous, and worse.”
Dr. Michael Raposa, who helped draft the motion, further insisted to CNN, “We did not want this to be about politics,” but rather, as expressed in the motion, about moral code.
“By staying silent, we are bystanders; we normalize hate speech, condone discrimination and bullying; we enable people in positions of power to corrode the foundations of a civil society; and we abdicate our commitment and responsibility to uphold and sustain our core values,” the motion reads.
“Perhaps most important, what message do we send to students and staff and faculty about racist and sexist and disrespectful speech?”