John D. Simon installed as Lehigh's 14th president

At an historic 2015 Founder’s Day celebration—one that came on the occasion of the Lehigh’s Sesquicentennial—John D. Simon was formally installed as Lehigh’s 14th president by Brad E. Scheler ’74 ’05P ’08P ’09PG, chair of the Lehigh Board of Trustees.

Scheler said his fellow trustees had “wisely chosen” Simon to lead the university forward.

Speaking to Simon directly, Scheler told the new president that he would have “the honorable privilege of leading the university to the fulfillment of its great promise for years to come.”

In his installment speech, Simon said Lehigh had experienced a number “pivot points” in its 150-year history, and that now was such a time.  To advance an ambitious agenda, Simon announced the Board of Trustees at their meeting this week had committed to an investment of $250 million in institutional resources in the areas of teaching, learning, research and student life.  This investment will support a comprehensive plan that will strengthen Lehigh, allow the university to leverage core strengths and build a university that will serve the needs of students and society of the future.

Simon said the funds will be used to: 

  • assure that Lehigh’s financial and merit aid packages attract the best students to the university, regardless of their financial situation;
  • re-imagine the University Center, and address the university’s aging physical plant, especially its laboratory and technical infrastructure;
  • deepen the university’s commitment to the hallmarks of a Lehigh education, one that stresses innovation, integration, and entrepreneurship at all levels; and
  • globalize Lehigh’s campus, to assure the university’s graduates are educated about the world, acquiring the knowledge, skills and experiences to prepare them to lead in tackling the complex global issues of their generation.

“We need to be bold, take risks, push and define frontiers of knowledge, create and embrace new forms of pedagogy for engaging our students in learning and research,” Simon said. “We must modernize our infrastructure and research facilities so they do not hold back the creativity and innovation of our faculty and students. We need to reinvigorate our fields of study by integrating experiential and technology-enabled methods into the student experience.”

Simon said the university is making this institutional commitment in tandem with private commitments that will be sought through an upcoming capital campaign to “assure that we begin our next 150 years with the strength to recruit and retain the people we need to take Lehigh ever higher.”

A bold vision

In a 22-minute address to a packed crowd in Packer Memorial Church and an overflow crowd of 350 in Grace Hall, Simon officially accepted the mantle of his new office, and spoke eloquently of the power of higher education to shape the future. Simon drew upon several critical points in university history to illustrate the significance of adapting to the challenges of the moment, and continuing to evolve to meet the needs of society.

By founding Lehigh, 19th century industrialist Asa Packer changed the notion of what a university could be, fusing together a unique blend of academic options to provide an “education that was purposeful in its intent and wide-ranging in its application.”

Generations later, in the wake of World War II, Lehigh once again reinvented itself, and drew upon resources to evolve into a research university of international distinction.

And now, he said, there are new realities to contend with. Today’s student is likely to have a career characterized by multiple jobs and shifting roles. In order to lead and innovate, they must have the ability to think in integrative, cross-disciplinary ways, he said. Skills and knowledge must be transferable, and there is mounting pressure for multiple degrees.

The Lehigh experience, he said, “must embrace this new way of thinking and developing the human mind for the challenges faced by current generations of students.”

Packer, he said, recognized that our students—and the nation—not only needed superior applied skills, but all creativity, civic learning, communication skills and the critical thinking provided by the arts, humanities and social sciences.

“Today, Lehigh students – whether undergraduate or graduate students, whether engineers or English majors – need the same things: an education that prepares them for success in professional and civic life, an education that prepares them for a changing world, and an education that teaches them to lead a rich, full life,” he said.

Simon told the assembled crowd that he is “thoroughly convinced of the power of higher education to shape how the future world will look. While we face uncertainties in our world today, Lehigh’s purposeful approach to education will create leaders with the capacity to take on the challenges and seize the opportunities of our time. Let us all come together—as heirs to Asa Packer—and embrace our responsibilities to this next generation (and the next) and prepare them to lead their world. It is great work and I cannot think of anything more rewarding.”

Earlier in his talk, Simon welcomed many former colleagues to Lehigh and acknowledged the role they played in his career as an educator and administrator. He also thanked many family members in attendance for their support—“You are my rock and help me keep balance when life gets crazy” – and thanked the entire Lehigh community for what he called “an incredibly warm welcome” and a wonderful transition experience.

“We have been touched by the kindness you have shown us,” he said. “I have found that there are two categories of Lehigh people – passionate, and fiercely passionate.”

Simon was introduced by Robert D. Sweeny, senior vice president of advancement at the University of Virginia, and a man Simon credited with being a role model and a mentor early in Simon’s tenure as Provost at UVA.

"John Simon is an outstanding talent," said Sweeny, describing him as a good father to his two sons and a "man of good character" who lives life to the fullest. "John is a man of vision," he said. And while Simon sees the big picture, he said, he also listens to smaller concerns.

In a departure from the traditional formality of earlier Founder’s Day ceremonies, this year’s event included a live feed from the viewing party in Grace Hall, where Assistant Dean of Student Lori McClaind introduced four individuals, who each virtually presented a gift to the new president that symbolized a component of the university seal: the stars, the book, the sun and the heart. Among the gifts was a Lehigh umbrella, a fitting gift to match the weather, and a Lehigh jersey with the No. 14. 

Presenters included alumnus Thomas Healy Jr., ’85, staff member Mary Jo McNulty, Professor Scott Gordon and undergraduate student Michael Garzillo, ’16.

As at Packer Memorial Church, there was a celebratory atmosphere at Grace Hall, where students cheered and pounded their feet at Simon's installation. The audience also responded with sustained, enthusiastic applause for Kevin Clayton ’84, ’13P, who was welcomed back to the Board of Trustees after serving as Lehigh’s interim president during the past academic year.

Founder’s Day Notes:

The invocation was offered by Reverend Lloyd H. Steffen, University Chaplain… Recognition of Endowed Fellowships, Professors and Chairs was offered by Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Patrick V. Farrell…. the Lehigh University Choir, under the direction of Ronald J. Ulrich Professor of Music and Director of Lehigh University Choral Arts Steven Sametz, performed “Darest Thou Now, O Soul”….the composition was created by Sametz and commissioned by Lehigh University to commemorate its Sesquicentennial year and the installation of John D. Simon…the benediction was offered by Rabbi Danielle A. Stillman, the Endowed Director for Jewish Student Life.

Recipients of Fellowships, Professorships, and Endowed Chairs

Marina Puzakova
Alison & Norman H. Axelrod ’74 Endowed Summer Research Fellowship
Assistant Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing

Danielle Stillman
Endowed Director for Jewish Student Life
Associate Chaplain, Chaplain’s Office

Jodi Eichler-Levine
Philip and Muriel Berman Chair in Jewish Civilization
Associate Professor of Religion Studies, Department of Religion Studies

Hartley Lachter
Philip and Muriel Berman Chair of Jewish Studies
Director, Berman Center for Jewish Studies
Chair, Department of Religion Studies

Kathleen Weiss Hanley
Bolton-Perella Chair Director of the Center for Financial
Services, Perella Department of Finance

Charles Stevens
Thomas J. Campbell ’80 Professorship
Assistant Professor of Management, Department of Management

Steven McIntosh
Class of ’61 Professorship
Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

M. Virginia McSwain
Class of ’61 Professorship
Associate Professor of Physics, Department of Physics

Alex (Oleksandr) Nikolsko-Rzhevskyy
Class of ’61 Professorship
Assistant Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

Kelly Austin
Frank Hook Assistant Professorship
Director of Health, Medicine and Society Program
Assistant Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology

Jeremy Littau
Frank Hook Assistant Professorship
Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communication, Department of Journalism and Communication

David A. Griffith
Iacocca Chair
Chair of the Department of Marketing, Professor of Marketing, Department of Marketing

Michael B. Imerman
Theodore A. Lauer Distinguished Professorship of Investments
Assistant Professor of Finance, Perella Department of Finance

Ke Yang
Sue and Eugene Mercy, Jr. Professorship
Assistant Professor of Finance, Perella Department of Finance

Heibatollah Sami
John B. O’Hara Professorship
Professor of Accounting, Department of Accounting

C. Bryan Cloyd
Joseph R. Perella & Amy M. Perella Chair
Professor of Accounting, Department of

Angela Brown
P.C. Rossin Assistant Professorship
Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Martin Takac
P.C. Rossin Assistant Professorship
Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

Chao Zhou
P.C. Rossin Assistant Professorship
Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Bioengineering Program

Shin-Yi Chou
Arthur F. Searing Chair
Professor of Economics, Department of Economics

Chad Meyerhoefer
Arthur F. Searing Chair
Associate Professor of Economics, Department of Economics


Mary Ellen Alu and Kelly Hochbein contributed to this article.