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Lehigh Board of Trustees forms subcommittee on diversity

Ralph Albert Thomas '76

Lehigh University’s Board of Trustees has created a new Board subcommittee that will focus on issues of equity and community. Lehigh Trustee Ralph Albert Thomas ’76 will chair the seven-member subcommittee that will be charged with recommending specific actions to improve diversity among constituencies at the university. The new group is a subcommittee of the Board’s Academic Affairs and the Student Affairs Committees.

The subcommittee will identify ways to support and sustain a community of diversity and equity at Lehigh, and will provide guidance to the university’s newly formed Council for Equity and Community (CEC), according to Thomas, executive director of the New Jersey Society of Certified Public Accountants.

“This is a very significant strategic initiative for the university, and as such, it needs to have connectivity to the Board of Trustees,” says Thomas. “It is expected that this group will function in an oversight capacity to look at the goals and progress of the CEC, and begin to move forward in a substantive and meaningful way.”

“Our Board provides guidance and support in many important areas and we believe that this new subcommittee can help us achieve our goal of creating an environment where all members of the Lehigh community can work together, transcending racial, cultural, and other boundaries. Lehigh’s success in these efforts will lead it to a stronger community and a richer educational experience for all,” says Alice P. Gast, university president.

“In June of 2006, the Lehigh University Board of Trustees adopted a statement and mission to achieve a diverse Lehigh community. Our next step in this goal was to launch the Council for Equity and Community, which is built on the foundation of the university’s diversity initiative and the University Diversity Leadership Committee. This new subcommittee of the Board will provide additional guidance and support of this important goal.”

There have been, Thomas says, many initiatives introduced over the years to address issues of inclusiveness that haven’t really “gotten off the deck.”

“They just didn’t remain viable, for any number of reasons,” he says. “Our goal with this group is to put together a plan that will be embraced by all our constituencies and will remain viable for years to come. This is essential as we truly want to attract the best and the brightest people to Lehigh in terms of students, faculty and staff.”

Thomas hopes that the initiatives identified and implemented by this committee will touch all aspects of the student experience, and will be measured by clearly identifiable benchmarks.

“Ultimately,” he says, “the goal is to, say 10 or 15 years down the road, look back on significant progress that we’ve made, while still recognizing that there is still work to do.”

Board member James Duane ’73, a partner in Taylor, Duane, Barton & Gilman, LLP, underscored Thomas’ comments, noting that the subcommittee will be charged with enhancing diversity at Lehigh and improving the campus climate to welcome people of all backgrounds. Duane said the formation of this subcommittee will ensure that our university continues to be a “university of choice as we meet the challenges and take advantage of opportunities over the next five to 20 years.”

This initiative places this issue in the forefront of Lehigh’s strategic planning, says Duane, who chairs the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees.

“I commend President Gast for her commitment. She’s tackling this head-on, and that is definitely the right approach,” he adds.

Diverse group with varied backgrounds

In addition to Thomas and Duane, members of the Board of Trustees subcommittee will be Maria Chrin, ’87, CEO/managing partner of Circle Financial Group, LLC; Andrew C. Fiala ’92, vice president-director of human resources for DMJM H&N; William F. Hecht ’64, retired chairman, president and CEO of Pennsylvania Power & Light; John E. McGlade ’76, CEO and chairman of the board of Air Products & Chemicals, Inc.; and Hayward L. Bell, chief diversity officer for Raytheon Company.

In forming the committee, Thomas says, “President Gast and I wanted to have a diverse group of individuals with varied business backgrounds and experiences, as well as varied committee responsibilities on the Board.”

Five of the seven members are members of the Lehigh Board of Trustees. Bell and one additional member yet to be named will bring an external perspective, he says.

Dennis Singleton, partner in Spieker Properties, Inc., and chair of the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board, says that he expects the work of the committee will be “extremely important as it will address the significant charge of increasing diversity throughout the Lehigh community and campus.

“It's our expectation,” he adds, “that the impact of its work will soon be felt in the areas of student recruitment, the student experience at Lehigh, faculty and staff retention, and in the already strong working relationships the university has with the broader Bethlehem and Lehigh Valley community."

The formation of the 14-member CEC was announced by Gast in November. The Council, which includes members of the campus community who have demonstrated commitment to diversity through their research, teaching, work or service, will report directly to the president.

The Board subcommittee will provide guidance to the CEC in the pursuit of the following goals:

• Increasing the recruitment and retention of underrepresented/underserved populations among faculty, staff and administrators.

• Examine and ensure the means that shape, govern and define institutional culture and actively incorporate and promote equal access, opportunity and success for all students, faculty, staff and administrators.

• Strengthen and expand working relationships with external constituencies to build on collective strengths to promote equitable communities.

--Linda Harbrecht

Posted on Wednesday, April 30, 2008

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