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COE to celebrate agents of social change

Percy Hughes joined the Lehigh faculty in 1907.

For most of his 35-year tenure on South Mountain, Percy Hughes played the role of the unabashed progressive, an outspoken advocate for social change.

“Critical inquiry should take the place of indoctrination. Such was [my] dream,” said Hughes, who was appointed in 1907 to direct the department of philosophy, education and psychology.

In 1918, more than 50 years before women joined the undergraduate ranks, he became one of the first to propose coeducation at Lehigh. He fought to eliminate compulsory chapel attendance as early as 1925, and often criticized Lehigh’s engineering curriculum because he believed it neglected to teach students how to think critically, express and defend their own opinions, and face new problems with the use of their own resources.

Despite his reputation for taking on controversial causes long before they became popular, Hughes was a highly regarded and well-liked faculty member who launched a series of general education courses that would later evolve into Lehigh’s College of Education . A student of John Dewey and E.L. Thorndike and one of the first graduates of Columbia University’s Teachers College, Hughes was the first faculty member at Lehigh who studied education as an academic discipline.

On Friday, Oct. 9, the Lehigh community will pay tribute to the scholar in an event starting at 7 p.m. in the Asa Packer Dining Hall. Gary Sasso, dean of the College of Education, will officially announce the launch of the “Percy Hughes Award for Scholarship, Humanity, and Social Change,” a new annual award dedicated to the life of the long-serving faculty member.

A pioneer who transformed Lehigh’s culture

The Hughes Award will be given to a Lehigh community member who “uses the responsibility of scholarship to pursue social change through interdisciplinary work and the free exchange of ideas,” according to a new Percy Hughes Award Web site that details the award program. This will be the first honor awarded by Lehigh for which any current member of the entire Lehigh community is eligible.

“Percy Hughes was instrumental in helping to transform the culture of Lehigh,” says Iveta Silova, the Frank Hook Assistant Professor of Comparative and International Education. “He was really a pioneer who wasn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and tackle real-world issues, long before they were the popular things to do.”

Silova and Will Brehm, a graduate student in the comparative and international education program, have spent the past year conducting research into the role that Hughes played in shaping the debate over the essence, value and meaning of American higher education.

“He was an environmentalist long before we learned what it meant to ‘be green,’” Brehm says. “He was the first professor to offer office hours for his students. And he was known to spark contentious debates at university-wide faculty meetings. He simply cared deeply about Lehigh and its people, and wasn’t afraid to show it.”

The Oct. 9 ceremony is open to the entire Lehigh community. Members of the Hughes family will also be in attendance for the inaugural event. More information concerning the ceremony, as well as an online nomination form, is posted to the Percy Hughes Award Web site. Nominations will be accepted through Nov. 10, 2009.

--Tom Yencho

Posted on Tuesday, September 01, 2009

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