On the heels of Trump’s tacit refusal to forcefully condemn the white supremacists and neo-Nazis at last weekend’s “pro-white” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a Change.org petition demanding the rescission of an honorary degree from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh University is making national headlines.
The petition, which currently has nearly 24,000 signatures of the 25,000 goal, was started by Kelly McCoy, 22. It aims to revoke the honorary degree conferred to Trump at the esteemed university’s commencement in June of 1988. On Thursday, the petition was delivered to Lehigh University President John D. Simon, who sent it to the Board of Trustees, which has the power to revoke honorary degrees. The Board will discuss the petition at its next meeting, scheduled for October 25-27.
McCoy began the Change.org petition:
In 1988, Donald Trump was awarded an honorary degree by Lehigh University. In his commencement speech that year, it was clear he had already espoused some of the dangerous ideas he stands for today. Furthermore, Lehigh’s current criteria for considering or accepting a commencement speaker’s nomination states:
“This individual should reflect the goals and values of Lehigh University. Nominees should be someone whose work and achievements reflect our value system at Lehigh.”
However, our current values as a university stand against everything Donald Trump represents. In 2011, Lehigh faculty and students drafted the “Principles of our Equitable Community,” a document that contains guidelines for making Lehigh a more diverse and welcoming atmosphere for its students. These principles are antithetical to the behaviors and statements of Donald Trump during his presidency and on the campaign trail. Allowing Donald Trump to retain his honorary degree represents a hollow and superficial ideological commitment from Lehigh to these principles.”
There is precedent for the rescission of honorary degrees at Lehigh. In 2015, Lehigh’s Board of Trustees rescinded Bill Cosby’s honorary degree amid his sexual assault allegations. The university, for its part, claimed that Cosby’s alleged behavior was “inconsistent with the character and high standards” expected of honorees.
There is also precedent for the rescission of Trump’s own honorary degrees. The President, who has been awarded five honorary degrees, has already been stripped of one. Robert Gordon University in Scotland revoked the honor in 2015, citing his comments about a Muslim ban that were “wholly incompatible with the ethos and values of the university.”
While a symbolic gesture, Lehigh University’s decision to rescind this honorary degree would send a clear message that those who perpetuate hate and condone violence will not be rewarded.
Brian Tyler Cohen is a political writer, actor, and comedy sketch director. He graduated from Lehigh University with a dual degree in English and Business. He currently lives in Los Angeles.