Lehigh Grad Students speak up (13)

(13th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

As Gadfly has reported earlier here, the tuition-paying undergraduate students raised a stink about an early phase of Lehigh’s Path to Prominence planning that brought an immediately placating response from the Lehigh Administration.

Gadfly was not at all concerned with undergraduate students, virtually all of whom live on campus and who have tremendous leverage to apply to get fairness.

Gadfly has been concerned about a large segment of graduate students and about such low-wage staff as maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers.

Gadfly has asked for transparency on the impact of the new parking plan on such people.

Lehigh Grad Student Senate letter

Now, however, see the linked Nov. 7 letter from the Lehigh Graduate Student Senate to the Lehigh Administration about graduate student concerns about parking inequity under the new plan.

(Gadfly especially encourages you to read the direct quotes from grad students in Appendix B of the letter. Gadfly loves the raw voices.)

The graduate students have political power to bring to bear against the Lehigh Administration, they are using it, and it is to be hoped that Lehigh will recognize that these voices, previously overlooked like the undergraduates, will be heard.

So maybe Gadfly need not be very concerned about the graduate students. We’ll see.

But what about maintenance, grounds, cafeteria workers, and so forth, many of whom may be Bethlehem residents/taxpayers?

The undergrads (dollars) and grads (teaching classes, running labs) have chips to play within the system.

Gadfly doesn’t think these others do.

They are low pay. Without representation. Replaceable.

We won’t see letters to the Administration from them.

(Many, if not all of them, may not even technically be employees of Lehigh – which makes matters worse.)

There may be no problem. But the undergrad and grad brouhaha’s indicate flaws in Lehigh’s planning.

So Gadfly is asking for more information, for more transparency, before the City grants any further approvals.

And he has now spoken twice at City Council meetings, hoping to raise consciousness about his concerns.

One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.

“Lehigh-Affiliated” not “Lehigh” (12)

(12th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Lehigh Breaks Ground for SouthSide Commons

SouthSide Commons changes living conditions as construction begins

Gadfly doesn’t know how he missed it.

The new SouthSide Commons – the stunning complex of buildings on the west edge of the Lehigh campus that snakes down Brodhead from Packer toward 4th St and will house 400+ students – is not a Lehigh dorm but a “Lehigh-affiliated” apartment complex.

SouthSide Commons

Gadfly assumed that SouthSide Commons was a “Lehigh” dorm. In the first press release Gadfly saw about it at ground-breaking time, it was termed “an apartment-style residence hall.” Residence hall.

However, the University architect “said Lehigh leased the land for SouthSide Commons to collegiate housing developer EdR, which will own and operate the building for 50 years.”

That land is leased to a developer.

Gadfly is not sure if there is anything to make out of this. But his antennae have been up since a follower several posts back in this sequence raised concern about “Lehigh sprawl.”

And Gadfly knows there has been a concern about developer impact on the community for a long time.

Gadfly – who has no business sense – wonders why Lehigh is building another dorm, solely its own, within sight of SouthSide Commons, which is being run by a developer, at exactly the same time.  Just asking.

SouthSide Commons has a rental office on Adams St. and a fancy web site. Take a look!

The key question:
Is there a difference for the community between Lehigh as landlord and a developer as landlord?

And is there a difference for a community between Lehigh as a neighbor and a developer as a neighbor?

The developer said such projects tend to be good for the community: “When a university grows . . . the local neighborhood and the city in which it resides also feel a positive impact.”

“Let’s face it,” the Lehigh president said, “parking lots make lousy borders. Neighbors shouldn’t be separated by large stretches of asphalt, and universities should not be separated from the community in which they reside by a large stretch of asphalt. SouthSide Commons will help change all that.” He said the new residence hall will create new possibilities for how students interact with the surrounding community.

Gadfly thinks what the president is thinking of is economic impact. For that is what was on the Mayor’s mind: “The partnership between the city and Lehigh University is strong and is instrumental to the future prosperity of South Bethlehem. This facility will bring more foot traffic and attention to South Bethlehem’s businesses as the revitalization of the South Side continues to move forward.”

Good for the business community.

Is there another community affected?

What are those neighbors thinking about?

Just asking. May be all good.

Gadfly just wondering because of his belated realization of this significant change in Lehigh’s housing system.

Lehigh students: University action “blindsided the Lehigh and Bethlehem community” (11)

(11th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Remember that what Lehigh does on its own campus is its own business. That is not Gadfly’s concern. But this thread began with Lehigh’s need to secure (way) off campus parking as a result of its major expansion plans.

Gadfly has been asking for transparency about how that off-campus parking affects lower-paid employees, some of whom will be Bethlehem residents and tax payers. There may be no issue, but, then again, at this time there is not enough information to tell.

This on-campus brouhaha about housing shows Lehigh suffering from bumpy planning.

And intensifies the need to hear further from them before more City decisions are made affecting the surrounding and wider Bethlehem community.

Gadfly would expect that the pious sentiments about listening, and sharing, and including, and “transparencying” expressed in the “Dear Lehigh Student” letter linked below would also apply to the class of people perhaps affected by the parking decision.

——————

Use these articles for a recap of the Lehigh housing flap:

Jessica Hicks and Musa Jamshed, “Trembley demolition eliminates on-campus housing for upperclassmen next academic year.” Brown and White, October 29, 2018.
Housing Services says “no on-campus living options for juniors and seniors during the 2019-2020 academic year.” “The email presents SouthSide Commons, a private apartment complex partnered with Lehigh, as an alternative to on-campus living.” Students would pay more at Southside Commons. “It is unclear at this time if Lehigh will offer students forced to live off-campus additional financial assistance.”

Madison Hoff, “Student Senate demands response from President’s Office regarding housing issue.” Brown and White, October 30, 2018.
Student Senate sends resolution to Administration demanding more information: “The resolution said the email sent out ‘blindsided the Lehigh and Bethlehem community’ It also expressed concerns for lower income and international students, pricing of off-campus residences and overcapacity of Greek houses, among other issues.” The Senate sent surveys to students and parents. “This resolution encompasses the voice of the entire student body.”

“Dear Lehigh Students,” memo from John Simon, President, and Patrick Farrell, Provost, October 31, 2018.
Apologizes for the Housing Services memo. Indicates Administration has heard the “thoughtful and legitimate concerns, ”heard the “individual and collective voices,” pledges “an open dialogue and transparent process which engages students,” incorporation of “student input.” “All voices are important and have been greatly appreciated.”

Sarah Epstein, Alexis McGowan, Jordan Wolman and Jessica Hicks, “Trembley Park remains open for upperclassmen through 2020.” Brown and White, October 31, 2018.
President’s office sends email to students reversing the Housing Services email. No change in process for student housing in Trembley. Not clear on whether there will be changes for other residences. Other offices unaware of President’s email, causing confusion on campus. Residence Hall monitors told not to talk with the press, “or their positions may be affected.” Greystar, the real estate company that runs Southside Commons (the new complex on Brodhead Ave.) was not aware of the original Housing Services email, pleads ignorance. Housing in Southside Commons would be $2400/yr. more.

A Lost Neighborhood (11)

(11th in a series of posts about Lehigh University)

(See also our thread on Neighborhoods)

 Nicole Radzievich, “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood rebuilt.” Morning Call, May 14, 2015.
Lehigh University, Still Looking for You: A Bethlehem Place + Memory Project
PICTURES: Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood

Good things happen to Gadfly.

He had been researching Mary Pongracz. Reputed to be worthy of charter membership in the Bethlehem Gadfly Hall of Fame.

Gadfly has a department here on the blog called “Gadfly History,” where we will memorialize and immortalize local gadflies. Currently in the department are posts on Stephen Antalics and Bill Scheirer.

Gadfly is looking to do a piece on Mary.

While researching Mary, Gadfly found Nicole’s above-linked article on “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood.”  It whacked him ‘tween the eyes.

Neighborhoods have been on Gadfly’s mind (we have a thread so-titled and threads on Northside 2027, and the Rose Garden, etc.), and the ominous phrase “Lehigh sprawl” (conjuring up some hydra-headed monster) from the anonymous poster #4 in this series has been pinging just below his consciousness.

Enter “Bethlehem’s lost neighborhood.”

The web site — “Still Looking for You” — is fascinating. Go there!

The “lost neighborhood” is “the solid, working-class neighborhood community that once existed within the borders of Vine and Webster streets and Morton Street and Packer Avenue.” Now Lehigh University campus.

With trembling hand, Gadfly quotes at length from the “Lost Neighborhood” section:

During the 1950s, Bethlehem’s the neighborhood between Packer Ave, Martel, Morton and Webster Streets was a bustling community that was home to local families, small businesses, two schools, and communities of faith, and it surrounded a growing Lehigh University that was contemplating expansion. In the early fifties, Lehigh began its expansion by purchasing land in the neighborhood using “straw buyers”—for example, the secretary at the university’s law firm—to obscure the university’s interest in acquiring land for expansion and keep property-owners from raising prices. Throughout this time period, the federal government’s urban renewal plan encouraged cities to promote development through the acquisition of blighted properties and their subsequent demolition and redevelopment. Urban renewal provided a potential mechanism for university expansion at Lehigh. By the late fifties Lehigh had acquired a critical mass of local properties and the City of Bethlehem agreed to request federal urban renewal funds to acquire the other homes in the neighborhood. Vague federal guidelines required cities to identify targeted areas as “blighted” before they could receive federal money for “slum clearance.” Taking advantage of this vague designation, the city condemned entire blocks by identifying just a few properties on each one as evidence of urban blight. Residents recall that many of the rundown properties had been acquired by the university early on in its expansion planning, and had been neglected, with peeling paint, overgrown weeds and bushes, and broken sidewalks. Homeowners, led by businesswoman and Vine Street resident Anna Pongracz spoke out at City Council meetings and accused the university administration and trustees of deliberately seeking the “blighted designation” for the city blocks needed for campus expansion. As the project unfolded into the early 1960s, some residents fought to save their homes and the neighborhood from acquisition through urban renewal while other property owners were happy to sell their homes. Once houses were condemned and families had moved, demolition workers tore down both run down properties and well-maintained homes, gardens, and yards at a rate of five houses per day.

Is there any wonder that Lehigh’s latest off-campus “moves” are causing community palpitations? Memory glands are twitching.

Let’s keep asking (forcing!) Lehigh to be up-front about what they are doing.

If this memory nugget has anything to do with the parking issue with which this thread started, it is that Lehigh has not always been mindful of lower-class City residents and taxpayers.

A shout-out for this wonderful web site to my former Lehigh colleagues Julia Maserjian, Rob Weidman, Kimberly Carrell-Smith, Scott Gordon, and Vincent Munley.

Lehigh University recognizes the need to hear “all voices” (10)

(10th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

 “What have we learned today, Squidward?”

SpongeBob SquarePants

Just reading the headlines will tell you the story:

Jessica Hicks and Musa Jamshed, “Trembley demolition eliminates on-campus housing for upperclassmen next academic year.” Brown and White [Lehigh University], October, 29, 2018.

“There will be no on-campus living options for juniors and seniors during the 2019-2020 academic year, according to an email sent from Housing Services on Monday. . . . According to the email sent to rising juniors and seniors, the first phase of the Bridge West residence hall project was approved this past week, which will include the demolition of the Trembley Park apartment complex. The time between Trembley’s demolition and the completion of Bridge West will present a shortage in supply for on-campus housing in the next academic year.”

Sara K. Satullo, “Lehigh to upperclassmen: We’re out of cheap dorms so you’ll need to live off campus.” lehighvalleylive, October 31, 2018.

“Lehigh University sophomore Rebekah Nicholas is considering dropping out of school after the university dropped a bombshell in her email inbox Monday. . . . Lehigh is tearing down the Trembley Park apartment complex, located at 68 University Drive, to build its Bridge West residence hall project, which was approved by the Bethlehem Planning Commission earlier this month. The demolition and construction is leaving a shortage of on-campus housing for the upcoming academic year.”

Sara K. Satullo, “Oops! Lehigh University doesn’t have a dorm shortage.” lehighvalleylive, October 31, 2018.

“The news of the on-campus housing shortage was met with swift action by Lehigh students, who organized a Path to Poverty Campaign, a coalition of more than 10 student clubs and organizations, protesting the housing switch. The name is a nod to Lehigh’s Path to Prominence, which aims to increase Lehigh enrollment by 1,000 undergraduate and 500 to 800 full-time graduate students over seven years.” 

Daniel Patrick Sheehan, “Addressing housing uproar, Lehigh University says residence hall won’t be demolished this summer.” Morning Call, October 31, 2018.

“All voices are important and have been greatly appreciated. We are committed to an open dialogue and transparent process which engages students and helps us make decisions that best serve our campus community,” said Lehigh President John Simom and Lehigh Provost Patrick Farrell.

—————–

A few years ago Gadfly was babysitting some of the grandkids, watching SpongeBob we were, when we heard “what have we learned today, Squidward?” and laughed and laughed.

Because it wasn’t far distant from what Gadfly had been saying and they had been hearing throughout their penitential session of my care.

Immediately “what have we learned today, Squidward?” was incorporated into family teaching-moment vocabulary, especially when something dumb was done that shouldn’t be repeated.

And don’t think the kids haven’t turned it around and used it on the adults. Gadfly has faced that humbling question more than once.

Well, what did we learn today about Lehigh University?

We learned that top minds in the country with eyes skyward raising a billion dollars on the Path to Prominence were blind to some important components – human components — right under their feet. The students.

What did Lehigh University learn today?

That they must commit or re-commit to an open dialogue and transparency that includes students:

“In the past 24 hours, you have raised thoughtful and legitimate concerns ranging from timing of the message, to availability of comparably priced housing options, to a need for greater transparency in Lehigh’s master planning efforts,” the email [from Simon and Farrell] states. “Your individual and collective voices have shared personal stories and sets of circumstances that guide, and even dictate, student housing decisions. You have also shared your thoughts on how this week’s announcement might affect our broader residential community. All voices are important and have been greatly appreciated.”

Wow!

You gotta love it! The witty and resourceful students – some of the brightest and some of the most affluent in the country – immediately organized a Path to Poverty to sarcastically mirror the Path to Prominence.

Just beautiful! They had power, knew it, and used it.

Now as Gadfly has said in this sequence of posts several times, what Lehigh does on its own campus is its own business.

But this flaw, this blindspot in the Path to Prominence serves to highlight the possibility – and Gadfly reiterates, it may only be a possibility – of another flaw or blindspot in reference to the (pretty far) off-campus parking that will probably be the fate of lower-wage’d workers, some of whom will be City residents and tax payers (some of whom may not be technically Lehigh employees).

All Gadfly has been asking is “transparency” in regard to these people before the City makes any more decisions. We hear the City wasn’t aware of Lehigh bumping these students off-campus. Is there anything else the City hasn’t heard about?

If there are flaws in a BigPlan, they will probably be at the bottom of the plan. BigPlanners are magnificently farsighted. They will leave to others lower, often far lower in the chain of command to figure out how to make things work on the ground.

Like where everybody is going to park.

The people Gadfly is talking about don’t have power (tuition dollars), don’t have a voice, aren’t organized, may be easily replaceable, and are therefore especially vulnerable.

Lehigh has recognized “a need for greater transparency in Lehigh’s master planning efforts.”

Lehigh has listened to “individual and collective voices [that] have shared personal stories and sets of circumstances.”

Lehigh has firmly stated that “All voices are important and have been greatly appreciated.”

But have they heard from everybody? That’s all Gadfly is asking.

“What have we learned today, Squidward?”

One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.

Why does Lehigh outsource? (9)

(9th in a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Peter Crownfield is officially retired, but spends most of his time working with students in his role as internship coordinator for the Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

Gadfly:

When speaking about effects on low-paid employees, I think it also is important to discuss why a significant number of people who work at Lehigh (and many other colleges & universities) are paid less than living wages. Most are in jobs such as building, landscape, & dining services that are outsourced to private companies. Why?

Do the institutions lack the management competence to manage these operations themselves? Does outsourcing allow the university to distance itself from substandard wages & benefits? Are jobs outsourced to avoid having to provide free tuition to those employees or their children?

(Incidentally, when people from SEIU were in the Lehigh Valley about 10 years ago to organize Sodexo workers, Lehigh tried unsuccessfully to ban them from the campus, giving tacit support to the underpayment of workers by Sodexo.)

Peter Crownfield

How many zeroes is that? (8)

(8th is a series of posts on Lehigh University)

Daryl Nerl, “Lehigh University launches $1 billion campaign plus $20 million gift from trustee chair, wife.” Morning Call, October 25, 2018.

“Lehigh Launches Public Phase of $1 Billion+ Campaign with $20 Million Gift Announcement.”

“Lehigh University launched what it is calling its most ambitious public fundraising campaign ever Thursday with a goal of bringing in more than $1 billion to support hundreds of initiatives including construction, increasing the student population and diversity through financial aid, and the establishment of a new college.”

At the beginning of this thread 7 posts ago, Gadfly described the Lehigh “Path to Prominence” plan as breathtaking.

It is two breathtakings. Or twenty.

Look at this! Lehigh plans to raise a billion dollars.

$1,000,000,000

And former gadfly student Kevin Clayton (from a whole family of Lehigh benefactors) is dropping $20mill in the bucket to get things started.

Not to be a wet blanket,

but Gadfly looks at the “GO Campaign,” which “has already raised $550 million toward its goal,” from ground-level.

And hopes that the kleig lights on the Lehigh tote board don’t cast low and minimum wage workers into shadow.

There is/will be plenty of money, yes?

Let’s just make sure that City residents and taxpayers, low and minimum wage workers from wherever, are treated fairly on the “Path to Prominence.”

Let’s ask Lehigh to publicly discuss in much more detail how their parking and traffic plans affect workers at the low end of the pay scale before any other further approvals are given.

On the face of it, a university with all of that money and all of that space would seem able to do right by everybody. Yes?

There may be no problem. Gadfly just thinks we all need more info from Lehigh.

One of the ways you measure a just society is the way it treats its most vulnerable people.