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Master plans and grand challenges discussed at Town Hall

The many meanings of “environment” and “climate” were on full display March 21 as hundreds of Lehigh staff and faculty members 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, on advances in teaching and research related to global environmental issues, and on sustainability efforts on campus.

During the presentations, a group of students filed into Taylor Gym and stood in silent protest holding signs highlighting their concerns about diversity on campus.

Pat Farrell, university provost, said the issue deserved attention and opened the floor for questions.

Encouraging a constructive dialogue

Some in the meeting, including Judith Lasker, department chair and N.E.H. Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, said the university had not addressed the issue fully.

“How are we responding to students of color feeling not heard and marginalized?” said Lasker. “We talk a lot about diversity, but we have a long way to go.”

Tina Richardson, associate professor of counseling psychology, said 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 said, “so we are left with a reactionary approach that exposes our warts.”

Farrell said Lehigh’s leaders were hoping to better coordinate the variety of efforts being made to improve campus diversity and climate. This work, which Farrell admitted is often not highly visible, is taking place in admissions, academic affairs, student affairs and elsewhere.

Sharon Basso, dean of students, said staff and faculty should reflect on what they can do individually to improve the campus climate. 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.

Lehigh President Alice Gast said members of the campus community “should engage in constructive dialogue at all times, and not just at crisis moments.”

Reflecting on a successful decade

Tony Corallo, associate vice president of facilities services and campus planning, reflected on Lehigh’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.

There were also several significant restorations, Corallo said, including walkways that contribute to a more pedestrian-friendly environment. Finally, the Alumni Hall Arrival Court and Parking facility provide a welcoming first impression.

Work on a new ten-year master plan is underway. Lehigh has selected the 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.

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.

In a tour of university’s facilities, said Snyder, Lehigh’s trustees heard from faculty, staff and students about these and other projects:

   • Ways to improve the stability and privacy of the future electrical “smart grid.” 
   • The new Environmental Policy Design program in which students 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.

During the question-and-answer period, Lucy Gans, professor of art, asked how Chandler-Ullmann Hall might be impacted by the new master plan. 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 said he had charged the enrollment planning team to consider a “What if?” scenario about expanding Lehigh’s enrollment, but that there were no current plans to do so.

Gast gave an update on the university trustees, sharing insights about the board’s work and news about incoming members of the university’s governing body. Gast said trustee engagement was 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.”

Story by Hillary Kwiatek

Posted on Monday, March 21, 2011

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