The multiple meanings of “environment” and “climate” were on full display today as hundreds of Lehigh’s staff and faculty assembled for a spring Town Hall.
Demonstrating the university’s commitment to an integrated mission of research, teaching and service, the gathering featured presentations on the campus’s built environment, advances in teaching and research related to global environmental issues, and discussion of sustainability efforts on campus. A discussion on diversity at Lehigh was a major part of the question-and-answer session.
President Alice P. Gast began the Town Hall with an update on the University’s Board of Trustees. She shared insights about the board’s work and news about incoming members of the university’s governing body.
Gast noted that Trustee engagement is crucial. “We’ve spent the last four years making sure the Board is connected to Lehigh,” she said, “because the more they know about Lehigh, the better they can help us.” She noted that the agenda for the town hall had been the subject of the February Board meeting.
Tony Corallo, associate vice president of facilities services and campus planning, told town hall attendees that work on the new ten-year master plan was underway. Lehigh selected the highly experienced international firm of Beyer Blinder Belle Architects and Planners LLP. With guidance from the Master Planning Steering Committee and dialogue with campus groups, the firm will produce a plan within the context of university priorities such as community engagement and sustainability.
Corallo pointed to the progress made as a result of the university’s recently concluded 10-year campus master plan. That plan was book-ended by two major building projects—the Campus Square complex and the new Science Technology Environment Policy and Society (STEPS) building—and also included several significant restorations. Walkways contribute to a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Finally, the Alumni Hall Arrival Court and Parking facility provide a welcoming first impression.
Connecting with trustees at all levels
Alan Snyder, vice president and associate provost for research and graduate studies, presented his team’s work with the trustees in the area of one of Lehigh’s Grand Challenges—Energy, Environment and Infrastructure.
“We took our trustees ‘on the road,’ touring the university’s facilities,” said Snyder. “They heard from faculty, staff and students about initiatives that are addressing the grand challenge.” Among the projects they learned about were:
• Ways to improve the stability and privacy of the future electrical “smart grid.”
• The university’s new Environmental Policy Design program in which graduates learn to analyze and formulate policy at all levels of government and society.
• The Eco-Reps program. Freshmen in two dormitories are serving as peer leaders, leading waste audits and educating students about improving sustainability on campus.
Constructive dialogue encouraged
During the presentations, the audience’s attention was drawn to a group of students who filed into Grace Hall and stood in silent protest. The students held signs highlighting their concerns about diversity on campus. University Provost Patrick Farrell agreed that this is an issue deserving attention and opened the floor for questions.
Some in the meeting, including Judith Lasker, department chair and N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, suggested the university hadn’t addressed the issue fully. “How are we responding to students of color feeling not heard and marginalized?” Lasker asked, “We talk a lot about diversity, but we have a long way to go.”
Tina Richardson, associate professor of counseling psychology shared her belief that the campus needed to strive for inclusive excellence grounded in a framework of connected leadership. “There doesn’t seem to be a progressive and proactive approach,” Richardson added, “so we are left with a reactionary approach that exposes our warts.”
Farrell noted that leadership is looking at how to better coordinate efforts that are being made in a variety of areas affecting campus diversity and climate. This work, which Farrell admitted was often dispersed and not highly visible, is taking place in admissions, academic affairs, student affairs and elsewhere.
Sharon Basso, dean of students, also suggested that staff and faculty reflect on what they can be doing individually to improve the climate for the entire campus community. Farrell agreed that the entire campus community has a role to play and that sustained, proactive attention to this issue is vital to the university’s success.
Gast said the campus community should “should engage in constructive dialogue at all times, and not just at crisis moments.”
Lucy Gans, professor of art, asked how Chandler-Ullmann Hall might be impacted by the new master plan. Tony Corallo replied that a number of the older buildings on campus would be looked at carefully.
Christine Smith, associate vice president of advancement, asked if there were plans for the university to increase its size. Farrell replied that he had charged the enrollment planning team to consider a “What if?” question about expanding the University’s enrollment, but that there were no current plans to do so.