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July 16, 2020

A Message from Lehman College President Daniel Lemons

Dear Lehman Colleagues:

I hope this message finds you well and enjoying summer, which feels both like it just began and like it is almost over.

This feels like an auspicious week to give you an update on the launch of the President's Campus Climate Task Force, a 12-person group that has agreed to help us expand our efforts at Lehman College to build a campus community that protects, values and respects every dimension of diversity.

By now you have likely seen the news that a proposed change to the rules governing international students with F-1 visas that was cruel and unfair has been rescinded this week. It is welcome news that our international students will not have their educations interrupted and their lives needlessly disrupted. This week's events are a reminder of how important it is to re-affirm how deeply we value every member of the Lehman campus community that help make it the vibrant and special college that it is. We signed on with many other institutions in the American Council on Education in a formal challenge to the rule, and we raised our voices with students and many others to oppose yet another unfair attack on young people, largely people of color, demonstrating the power of continuing to fight what is unjust.

As a campus or representatives of the campus we don't take political positions, or advocate for or against those who take them. However, we have a duty to challenge policies like the one negatively impacting international students, or others that threaten our students, staff and faculty, and go against the values we hold as a public educational institution.

The charge of the Campus Climate Task Force is to help us build on the rich diversity of Lehman College by assessing our current college racial climate and recommending actionable steps to address our frequently inadequate responses to racial difference in classrooms and across the campus. As uncomfortable and difficult as it may be at times to do this work, we have to continue earning our hope, building the world we want to live in. It requires honesty about the ubiquitous connections between power, privilege and racial differences – what the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Isabel Wilkerson describes as caste. Economics are where the rubber meets the road as we see with initiatives around our country and in New York state around the concept of budget justice.

One place where the rubber hits the road on matters of race and equity at Lehman College is the curriculum. Examining the curriculum through the lenses of diversity and equity has already begun in some departments, and they are creating models that will be helpful across the campus. They are listening and collaborating with their students, who, as is often the case, are at the forefront of the changes we need to consider.

The Campus Climate Task Force will work through the fall term to deliver a complete set of recommendations to me by December 15th, but given the urgency and significance of its work, I've also encouraged the Task Force to propose specific actionable steps we can take as soon as possible, beginning in the fall term.

I thank the members of the Campus Climate Task Force for agreeing to spearhead this important work and I look forward to receiving their recommendations.

The members of the President's Campus Climate Task Force are:

  • Joe Fera, Associate Professor of Mathematics, Co-Chair
  • Gladys Maldoon, Chief of Staff to the President, Co-Chair
  • Melissa Castillo Planas, Assistant Professor of English
  • Azeez Alimi, Undergraduate Student
  • Jermaine Monk, Assistant Professor of Social Work
  • Anne Rice, Professor of Africana Studies
  • Sherry Deckman, Associate Professor Middle and High School Education
  • Vanessa Arce, Head of Reference, Library
  • Suzette Ramsundar, Associate Director of Campus Life
  • Nick Boston, Associate Professor of Journalism and Media Studies
  • Fausto Ramirez, Director of Campus Safety
  • Stanley Bazile, Executive In Charge of Student Affairs and Dean of Students

I'll end this message with something that came across my email today from NY Times Op-Ed columnist, Nicholas Kristof.

Two-thirds of Americans, asked in a poll to describe their feelings about the condition of the United States, offered "fearful"; just 17 percent were "proud." An astonishing 87 percent said they were dissatisfied with the state of our country.

So let me interrupt the despair to introduce a new thought: Hope. Yes, our nation is a mess, but overlapping catastrophes have also created conditions that may finally let us extricate ourselves from the mire. The grim awareness of national failures — on the coronavirus, racism, health care and jobs — may be a necessary prelude to fixing our country.

The last time our economy was this troubled, Herbert Hoover's failures led to Franklin D. Roosevelt's election with a mandate to revitalize the nation. The result was the New Deal, Social Security and a 35-year burst of inclusive growth that arguably made the United States the richest and most powerful country in the history of the world.

Words of hope, based on something solid.

Have a great weekend,


Daniel Lemons

Previous messages from President Lemons can be found here.