Dear Members of the Lehigh Community,
As we begin the spring semester, I would like to welcome back our students, and offer some thoughts and comments on our plans for the months ahead.
While there is much to celebrate across campus, we also continue to navigate challenging moments together that are important to acknowledge as we begin the term. The reverberations of the ongoing Israel-Hamas war continue to be felt in deeply personal ways and impact broader discussions not just at Lehigh but at universities and colleges across the country. Our campus approached these discussions in a purposeful and thoughtful manner last semester. I have great confidence that Lehigh community members of all faiths and backgrounds will approach the spring semester in a similarly open and supportive way.
Let me be clear about my commitment to actively fostering an inclusive and welcoming campus. As a community, we must stand united against all forms of hate. Acts of antisemitism have no place at Lehigh. And we unequivocally reject Islamophobic threats and incidents.
Feedback from the Lehigh community is essential to maintaining and strengthening a healthy campus climate. As a member of the Hillel International Campus Climate Initiative (CCI), Lehigh engaged with CCI in early 2023 to conduct a campus climate review, focusing on our Jewish student community. We are now in the process of working with CCI to identify next steps for implementing relevant recommendations during the spring semester.
Several members of the Lehigh senior leadership team, and I personally, meet regularly with the advisors and leaders of our Jewish student communities to hear their concerns and learn from their experiences. We also regularly meet with the advisors and leaders of our Middle Eastern and Muslim student communities to hear their perspectives and experiences.
As I have said often, and as clearly stated in our 2023 university strategic plan, our aspiration is to be a community where every individual feels welcomed, supported, and fully engaged – where every individual knows that they belong. To help us assess our progress, we must always be asking what is working well, and what we can collectively do better. This spring, we will conduct a Diversity and Equity Campus Climate survey to assess the overall university campus climate, a survey we first implemented in 2020 and have administered every other spring. This survey is a crucial tool for measuring and refining our strategic actions based on feedback. I ask that everyone take a few moments to complete the survey when you receive the invitation to do so later this semester. The inclusion of student, faculty and staff perspectives and experiences is vital to supporting a university-wide culture of belonging.
Additionally, during the fall semester, community feedback underscored the need for more simplified and clear policies and guidelines regarding postings on campus that are building- or area-specific. I recently tasked a small working group with reviewing and updating our posting policy to provide clarification. Additional information can be found on the website. The revised and unified campus-wide policy clarifies where postings can be displayed in buildings across campus. It also streamlines and simplifies processes. Content must adhere to existing code of conduct policies, and postings are only permitted by Lehigh students, faculty and staff.
As an academic community, the open exchange, discussion, and debate of ideas are core elements of our educational mission. On Jan. 30, we welcome the second speaker in our inaugural Compelling Perspectives program. Secretary Leon Panetta follows the fall discussion with Theresa May, the former prime minister of the United Kingdom, to continue our conversation on the topic of national security. I encourage you to join us for the discussion. I am also pleased to share that Lehigh will convene a committee that will consider our existing policies concerning free expression. Its charge is to seek campus input on the question of whether existing policies work well or if other options would provide greater clarity. I have been posing this question generally in conversations on campus the past 18 months and have reflected on the topic broadly in a few video messages to campus, and now is the time to move this conversation forward. The committee will be chaired by Professor Ziad Munson, and more information will be shared as the committee begins this important work early this spring.
A healthy community can and should advance dialogue that encourages respectful discourse and promotes the open exchange of ideas, including the expression of different viewpoints. This exchange must take place in an environment where all members of our community experience a sense of belonging and are respected, fully engaged and supported.
Rather than conflicting, these perspectives work together to foster an educational environment that encourages openness and debate as well as curiosity about different points of view – this is the very purpose of a university. Your engagement is what makes our community thrive. I look forward to a memorable and positive spring semester together as a Lehigh community.
Joseph J. Helble ’82