Nearly 250 members of the Lehigh community attended a town hall meeting April 2 in Grace Hall to discuss academic freedom and learn about campus initiatives and programs.
The 30-minute academic freedom discussion was led by Rick Matthews, the NEH Distinguished Professor and Chair of Political Science, and Frank Roth, the university’s general counsel. Both crafted the university’s official policy.
Matthews said anyone looking for precise measurements or rigid policies on the topic might be disappointed. The lack of precision, however, does not diminish the significance of academic freedom.
“I would argue that it is the crown jewel of this university, and that it’s important to society as a whole as it is premised on the fundamental belief that the pursuit of knowledge and truth should be conducted without fear of reprisal,” he said.
But academic freedom is not for the weak of heart, Matthews added
“The concept can be fairly contentious. As professors, we know that almost anything we say in the classroom can be used against us in an evaluation or on (websites like) Rate My Professor.”
Both speakers said the topic has often caused passionate debate, dating back centuries to Copernicus and Galileo. Roth said academic freedom is a legal concept as well as a guiding principle within a community of scholars. He cited cases that found the freedom does not necessarily extend to every member of that community and is largely reserved for faculty who have terminal degrees and have been granted tenure.
Updates on campus initiatives
Provost Pat Farrell reviewed progress on Lehigh’s Strategic Plan, focusing on hiring in two key areas through the Cluster Initiative—Africana Studies and Integrated Networks for Electricity—as well as in areas of future focus.
Farrell said success for these programs will not rely on “a few people taking on a few good ideas,” but will require engagement and collaboration of the entire campus community. “The best ideas will come from you all,” he said.
President Alice P. Gast reviewed highlights from the past “momentous year” that included an earthquake, five-day power outage and meningitis outbreak. She thanked those who came together in an “extraordinary show of Lehigh support” in effectively handling each crisis.
Gast also provided updates on the following:
• The Campus Master Plan that serves as the physical manifestation of the university’s strategic plan through further integration between buildings and functions, and increased partnerships with the local community
• The Lehigh endowment, which has fully recovered from the economic downturn of 2008
• Admissions results for the incoming class, which saw applications rise to 11,534
• Staff employment trends at Lehigh, including years of service, turnover rate and participation in development programs
• The celebration of 40 years of undergraduate women at Lehigh, with an emphasis on Lehigh’s leading role in educating women in science, engineering and math
• Recent campus speakers
• The Iacocca International Internships
• Upcoming Earth Day (April 20) activities
The event concluded with a highlight video of the men’s basketball team’s recent victory over Duke, marking Lehigh’s first-ever win in the NCAA tournament and resulting in extraordinary media exposure for the university.