Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Alice Gast Announced as New Lehigh President; Patriot Players in NFL Tryouts

Normally I wouldn't cover something like this in my blog, but the announcement of Alice P. Gast as the new president of Lehigh is, well, big news.

As some of you may know, current Lehigh president Greg Farrington is stepping down, presiding over a fantastic eight year period in Lehigh's history, especially in regards to Lehigh football. I'll spare the details on successful initiatives like the "Shine Forever" and 2020 initiatives and his work to get more of an international Lehigh presence, but I will mention that I feel that under his term in office Lehigh's football team and athletics department have been a great success.

In 2004, Farrington and benevolent Lehigh donor Murray Goodman -- yes, Murray Goodman is not just a name on our football stadium -- endowed the "Murray Goodman Dean of Athletics" position. ( Joe Sterrett ('76) - a famous football alumnus - was given the position then, and he still holds the position today.) Clearly, with initiatives like this, president Farrington presided over not only upgrading athletic facitities (like weight training facilities that benefit all our athletes and also allow Lehigh to sponsor the Philadelphia Eagles' preseason camps), but also actively supported the role of athletics - and specifically football - in Lehigh's campus life and in the hearts of alumni.

Reading the tea leaves about Gast's position on the role of athletics is hard to do. As a vice president for research and associate provost at MIT and renowned scholar, you could definitely read into her history and try to divine where she may devote time and energy in the academics and research programs at Lehigh. To be fair, athletics are only a small part of her job. But her leadership will determine the ultimate direction about what we care about in Lehigh athletics.

In her comments on her acceptance the presidency, athletics are brought up, but only offer small clues as to any possible changes in policy, attention or direction.

I resonate with Lehigh’s founding principles set forward more than 140 years ago:

• to combine classical and scientific education

• to keep the size of the student body proportionate to the abilities of the faculty to teach them well

• to be nondenominational and have an admission policy based on merit


Lehigh has demonstrated this important commitment to a balanced education for its students and to an intellectual agenda that integrates research and education.

It is heartening to see Lehigh’s careful attention to balancing:

• fundamentals and applications

• experiential learning with classroom learning

• basic and applied research

• core curriculum with specialization

• student life and study

• attention toward the community and the global village

• learning opportunities that challenge the left and right sides of the brain

• athletic activities for athletes and for fans, athletics for learning as well as for fitness

There's no evidence that she would actively try to change anything that president Farrington had already put in place. But it's hard to see her as an activist in regards to, say, pushing the Patriot League to start accepting full athletic scholarships instead of the current "need-based" aid that has the same effect as scholarships.

The addition of her admiration of Asa Packer's founding principle of "admission policy based on merit" to me could be particularly telling. That could mean that she is firmly in the camp of "grant-in-aids". To me it could also be telling that "athletic activities" was way down her list of listof current "Lehigh priorities" for education.

Of course, these observations could mean nothing, too, but it will be interesting to see President Gast's treatment of athletics in her presidency. Obviously anyone reading this blog has a passion for Lehigh football, and Lehigh football (and probably all Lehigh Athletics) are near and dear to all our hearts. It would be my hope that she would allow Dean Sterrett to pursue good football programs that consistently challenge for Patriot League titles. We know President Farrington did. Let's hope President Gast does the same.

Patriot League NFL Hopefuls
Here's hoping that some of the Patriot League players invited to camps this year will be able to stick and make it on an NFL team. (Leopard Alert: yes, this includes Lafayette players, too.)

Sean Conover, DE, Tennessee Titans (Bucknell)
Michael Ononibaku, LB, Washington Resdkins (Georgetown)
Steve Silva, RB, Tampa bay Buccaneers (Holy Cross)
Blake Costanzo, LB, New York Jets (Lafayette)
Maurice Bennett, LB, Chicago Bears (Lafayette)
Gerran "G" Walker, WR, Indianapolis Colts (Lehigh)

I'm not sure if six signees is some sort of record, but I wouldn't be surprised. A very impressive six players too, from five Patriot League schools. I was very glad to see the hard-working Michael Ononibaku get a shot - the first Georgetown player signed that I've seen.

Best of luck to all of them!
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