President Donald Trump will keep his honorary degree from Lehigh University, despite the circulation of a petition with more than 30,000 signers calling on the institution to revoke it.
The Board of Trustees announced its decision Friday, Oct. 27, to take “no action” on the petition, saying the board “remains committed to the university’s values and to its ‘Principles of Our Equitable Community,’ which recognize each person’s right to think and speak as dictated by personal belief and to respectfully disagree with or counter another’s point of view.”
Recent graduate Kelly McCoy started the petition in August, right after Trump’s response to the deadly protest in Charlottesville, Va. She previously told The Morning Call that she felt Trump’s America First policy and comments about immigrants do not reflect Lehigh’s guiding principles.
“Whatever I say is associated with my identity as a Lehigh graduate,” McCoy said in August. “Trump is also essentially an ambassador for Lehigh University, but his values don’t represent Lehigh.”
Lehigh President John Simon received the petition on Thursday, Aug. 17, and forwarded it to the Board of Trustees, which has the power to revoke honorary degrees. The board’s decision came at the conclusion of its Oct. 25-27 meeting.
In making her case, McCoy’s petition mentions the principles Lehigh strives to uphold, which were written by students and faculty in 2015, then gives 10 reasons why Trump does not adhere to them.
One of the principles, for example, says, “We recognize and celebrate the richness contributed to our lives by our diverse community.”
The petition says Trump does not celebrate diversity.
“From promising to build a wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico, to attempting to institute a travel ban on Muslim-majority countries, to want transgender individuals removed from the military, Trump has not shown a track record of respect and admiration for the many identities that make America whole,” the petition states.
Lehigh awarded Trump, a graduate of the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, with an honorary degree in 1988. Trump’s brother Frederick C. Trump Jr., was a 1960 Lehigh graduate. He died in 1981.
In introducing Trump at the 1988 commencement ceremony, then–Lehigh President Peter Likens called him a “symbol of our age — all the daring and energy that the word tycoon conjures up. His boldness of vision and the splendor of his buildings … are like a designer label on the skyline of New York.”
Trump’s commencement speech echoed his “America First” policy that he ran with on the 2016 campaign trail.
“Country-wide, we have serious problems,” Trump said in his commencement speech. “So many countries are whipping America … making billions and stripping the United States of economic dignity. I respect the Japanese, but we have to fight back.”
Trump has been awarded five honorary degrees and stripped of one, according to a Washington Post story. The latest honorary degree came from Liberty University. Robert Gordon University in Scotland revoked Trump’s honorary degree in 2015.
In 2015, Lehigh rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree after the comedian faced sexual assault accusations. In a statement at the time, Lehigh said Cosby’s alleged behavior was “inconsistent with the character and high standards” expected of honorees.
A Lehigh professor first brought up the idea to rescind Trump’s honorary degree in early 2016, according to Inside Higher Ed. Seeing what Robert Gordon University did, Richard Weisman, professor of hydraulic, civil and environmental engineering, began encouraging student and faculty groups on campus to look into the possibility.
Then Lehigh’s Board of Trustees received a petition to revoke Trump’s honorary degree on Jan. 12, spokeswoman Lori Friedman said. The trustees considered the petition but decided not to take any action at that time, she said.
Of the nearly 800 Lehigh University community members surveyed last week by the student newspaper, The Brown and White, 75 percent supported rescission.