I have highlighted a few of my favorite articles below, which include my time with The Brown and White, Lehigh’s student paper, The Jersey Journal in Hudson County, New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondent’s Association. To view all of my work with The Brown and White, click here.
B&W Exclusive: New information emerges in James Peterson scandal
Over two years ago, James Peterson, a former professor of English and the former director of Lehigh’s Africana studies program, resigned amidst an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct.
Yet on the heels of the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Monica Miller, an associate professor of religion studies, some faculty members are speaking out about the situation on campus during Peterson’s tenure at Lehigh. Some sources argue the university still has not fully healed from the ordeal, blaming the administration for a lack of transparency on the matter.
The Brown and White has reached out to more than 45 sources over the past month and has spoken to more than 20 of them, both on and off the record, to learn more about their roles and perspectives on the Peterson investigation and the university’s handling of the situation. Sources also shared documents with The Brown and White relevant to certain aspects of the story, of which some names and personal information have been redacted for confidentiality purposes to protect victims and mandatory reporters.
Through the reporting process, The Brown and White has become aware of a timeline of the investigation into Peterson that does not match what the university has publicly shared with members of the campus community. Sources and documents also confirm that the nature of the complaints filed against Peterson involved “sexual assault.” Those same sources and documents raised questions regarding the details of certain job responsibilities that were distributed after Peterson was placed on paid leave. Faculty members also discussed the tenuous circumstances surrounding Peterson’s promotion to full professor, and many feel they are still grappling with a perceived lack of transparency.
The university includes sexual violence, sexual assault and rape under the official umbrella term “sexual harassment/sexual misconduct” on its harassment and non-discrimination policy. The university did not use the term “sexual assault” in public communications with campus regarding Peterson.
‘Death by a thousand cuts’: Controversy in Lebanon County school district highlights Pa.’s education challenges
By Jordan Wolman for The Pennsylvania Capital-Star
For Palmyra, it’s become an annual debate.
The issue of whether the school board should raise property taxes on this Lebanon County community’s approximately 3,700 homeowners has become a yearly ritual.
The board has voted to raise taxes on those same residents seven times in the last eight years, according to PA Schools Work, a coalition advocating for public schools in Pennsylvania.
And with jobless claims and unemployment benefits surging during the pandemic, residents are tiring of the district coming back and asking for more.
This year, the decision on whether to raise property taxes felt different.
The state flat funded education while trying to fill a $5 billion hole in a stopgap budget plan approved last month. And a recent report found Pennsylvania school districts could face $1 billion in lost revenue — meaning $2 million in lost revenue for Palmyra schools.
Everyone’s pockets feel squeezed.
One resident, Casey Long, decided to take matters into his own hands.
Lehigh grows footprint in region, expands into fourth campus
By Jordan Wolman for The Brown and White
Traveling down Center Valley Parkway in Upper Saucon Township, sprawling sections of empty land stretch far into the distance, interrupted only by spotty plots of development.
The Penn State Lehigh Valley campus appears. Then, signs emerge for the Stabler Corporate Center. In the distance is a SpringHill Suites by Marriott hotel.
It’s easy to forget, however, that much of that empty land is owned by Lehigh University. In fact, that empty land is Lehigh’s fourth campus.
Meet Stabler Campus
With land secured by donation in 2012, Stabler Campus comprised 755 acres — now 507 after the university sold some 248 acres since the original donation — in Upper Saucon Township, according to Lori Friedman, the university’s media relations director.
The land was officially transferred from the Stabler Land Company to Lehigh University as a gift from the Harrisburg-based Donald B. and Dorothy Stabler Foundation. Donald Stabler, ‘30, graduated from Lehigh with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and earned a master’s in civil engineering from Lehigh in 1932.
Stabler built his fortune after he founded Stabler Construction Company in Harrisburg in 1940, which ended up expanding into 13 subsidiaries involved in highway construction, concrete manufacturing and more. He donated a record $34.2 million to the university in 2008.
The land is broken up into 23 discontinuous parcels, meaning the plots are not all adjacent to each other. When Lehigh accepted the 755-acre land donation, it formed LU Properties, LLC, to manage the land. Individual parcels range from as small as less than an acre to the largest at 150 acres.
Though Friedman would not disclose the value of the land, Lehigh County records show that the original 755 acre donation was worth about $20 million in fair market value at the time.
Coronavirus-related school safety grant provides boost for struggling districts, but school officials question its effectiveness
By Jordan Wolman for The Caucus/Lancaster Online
A Pennsylvania school safety fund created in the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, has now been refocused for costs related to COVID-19.
School districts statewide, including in Lancaster County, are reaping the benefits despite grave uncertainty around what the year might hold. The funds can go toward anything from hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies to bolstering technology programming and functionality, especially for districts that plan on online-only instruction or a hybrid of in-person and remote learning.
The school safety grant has allocated $150 million to 779 eligible Pennsylvania school districts and charter, cyber charter and technical schools. But as schools continue to plan for a number of scenarios this year — including the hybrid plan recently endorsed by Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration — the grant funding could be redirected if the health crisis forces schools in another direction.
The grant’s tight timeline, however, forced districts to make seemingly impossible decisions about how to spend the funds months before the school year begins, some school officials said — compounding an already difficult decision in the balance between health and the desire to get students back in the classroom.
Unlike the general CARES Act funds, the safety grant dollars must be spent by the end of October. Michele Orner, superintendent of Octorara Area School District, said it was this tight timeline of the grant that was most frustrating for her — especially since a draft grant proposal was due in June and Octorara won’t announce a plan for the school year until Aug. 3.
Orner added that opening up her schools involves one set of costs while moving virtual could mean an entirely different set of costs.
“Our needs since June have changed, and a lot of that is due to the guidance and directives from the state Department of Health and Department of Education and so many public health agencies that don’t necessarily agree,” Orner said. “You keep asking yourself who’s in charge, and when who’s in charge continues to be a moving target, it does really make it hard to plan for the grant.”
Red tape, lack of funding limit public’s oversight of Pa. police through body cameras
By Jordan Wolman for Spotlight PA/Philadelphia Inquirer
HARRISBURG — In 2017, Pennsylvania lawmakers approved a bill aimed at clearing the way for widespread use of body cameras.
Law enforcement agencies said they wanted to adopt the tool, but feared state law on recording without consent made them vulnerable to being sued. Act 22, passed by wide margins with bipartisan support and signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, fixed that problem.
But what should have been a watershed moment to bolster public oversight of police officers across the state has been hampered by a lack of funding and an abundance of red tape that makes it virtually impossible to obtain recordings.
The law also gives police departments broad discretion to deny requests, and the ability to withhold footage indefinitely, even after a case has concluded.
“What’s really dangerous about this is you could have those records denied forever, there’s no time limit,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. “What you’ve effectively done is: Here’s this incredible piece of technology that could surveil, and none of it is publicly accessible.”
Body cameras are widely seen as an important oversight tool to protect the public from overly aggressive or violent officers — and to be able to prove those claims in court — while at the same time protecting officers from false claims of excessive force or other misconduct.
According to the state’s Office of Open Records, an individual requesting police footage under Act 22 must submit the date, time, and location of the recorded event, explain their relationship to the recorded event, and identify every person present at the time of the recording if the incident occurred inside a residence. The request must come within 60 days of when the footage was recorded, and be submitted through certified mail or by hand.
If a request for footage is denied, a petitioner has to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas, which comes with an initial $125 price tag.
Just how often that happens is difficult to say. There’s no centralized database showing how many requests have been approved or denied by different departments to view such recordings. A 2018 Morning Call investigation found State Police at the time had granted just two of 16 requests.
Track and field head coach issues apology to team over alleged insensitive comments
By Jordan Wolman and the Investigative Team for The Brown and White
A Lehigh University track coach has apologized to his team for complaints lodged by multiple athletes regarding inappropriate and unprofessional language and actions.
In a July 1 email to the 120-member team, shared with The Brown and White by a former Lehigh track athlete, track and field coach Matt Utesch said that he is remorseful and that the result of this past year’s coaching evaluation “hurts.”
“Some of the themes that have emerged from last season involve perceptions that I am insensitive to a number of issues from mental health/stress, religion, race and sexual orientation,” he said in the email. “…I am saddened and disappointed that I may have caused undue stress or anxiety for some of our team. … I ask that you would have the courage to discuss with me those times when I may make you feel awkward or uncomfortable.”
The Brown and White was tipped to the allegations by a former athlete, who has since transferred, and investigated numerous allegations against the coach, reviewing reports and emails shared by sources and reaching out to dozens of individuals close to the team in order to obtain confirmation of certain claims.
In particular, five female track athletes, one assistant coach and the father of a prospective student-athlete shared with The Brown and White their experiences of inappropriate, often sexually-charged comments, on record. All of the alleged incidents occurred within the past two years.
Several of those who shared allegations reported their experiences through the proper equal opportunity and compliance reporting channels with varying degrees of resolution. Among the mandated reporters who have fielded complaints include Athletic Director Joe Sterrett, President John Simon and Title IX Coordinator Karen Salvemini.
Swimming upstream: issues related to trout stocking hit local Lehigh Valley waters
It’s quiet outside.
The late afternoon sun provides a blanket of warmth on a comfortable September day. Bethlehem’s Saucon Creek is shining, and the sound of the rush of its shallow yet commanding waters acts as a backdrop to the scenery.
Mark, a Bucks County resident, is pacing around the creek. He’s fished these waters for 20 years.
But as he stands on a bridge overlooking the Saucon Creek carving its way downstream, he’s concerned. The Saucon Creek is artificially stocked with trout by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.
“I know stocking fish can have a negative effect on wild trout,” Mark said, who requested only his first name be used in this report. “You want fish to reproduce.”
Trout stocking has been around in the United States for well over 100 years and has its origins in the 1880s. In Pennsylvania, opening day for trout season is somewhat of a statewide holiday: Anglers purchase their licenses, prepare their gear and oftentimes ready their entire families for a prime fishing experience in the early spring with trout galore swimming in cool waters.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked 832 streams and lakes this year with over 4.4 million trout — three million of which come from state-owned hatcheries while the remainder are stocked through private cooperative nurseries. Trout typically spend anywhere from 18 months to three years in a hatchery before being released.
The multi-million dollar state-regulated program which aims to provide recreational opportunities for Pennsylvanians is also the subject of scrutiny from ecologists and some anglers who worry the program ultimately harms the state’s waters and biodiversity.
An update on marijuana in Bethlehem: Questions surround implementation of decriminalization
By Jordan Wolman for The Brown and White
When Bethlehem unanimously passed an ordinance last June to decriminalize marijuana, city officials knew implementation of the legislation wasn’t going to be easy.
However, after Bethlehem Police Chief Mark DiLuzio released numbers regarding his department’s enforcement of the ordinance, the situation became more tense.
The ordinance allows city officers to use discretion when determining how to charge an individual who is found in possession of 30 grams of marijuana or less: either charge under the state misdemeanor law, which could mean prison time, or issue a summary ticket citation under the new city law.
A summary offense does not go on one’s criminal record, unlike a misdemeanor offense.
An individual caught with a small amount of marijuana will be fined $25 for the first offense and up to $150 for a fourth offense in one year under the ordinance’s guidelines, if the officer chooses to apply the city law.
But Bethlehem is split between two counties, Northampton and Lehigh. Three-quarters of the city’s 75,000 residents, including Lehigh University, are in Northampton County under the jurisdiction of District Attorney John Morganelli, who has determined that he will not interfere in the decriminalization ordinance.
Jim Martin, though, the district attorney of Lehigh County, has decided that Bethlehem’s decriminalization ordinance is not valid in Lehigh County.
Bethlehem’s state representative of 21 years gets challenge from fellow lifelong city resident
By Jordan Wolman for The Brown and White
For the first time since 2012, Bethlehem voters are going to have a choice over whom they want to represent them in Harrisburg.
This November, Democratic incumbent Rep. Steve Samuelson, ‘86 — a graduate of Liberty High School and a Lehigh University alum — is facing Scott Hough, his first Republican challenger in eight years. The winner will serve a two-year term to represent State House District 135, which includes the Northampton County portion of Bethlehem and Bethlehem Township, in the state Legislature. Lehigh University and the South Side fall within the district.
Before the 2012 race, Samuelson hadn’t had a challenger since 2004. The National Institute on Money in Politics is reporting that Hough has raised about $1,300 more than Samuelson so far.
The district has about 2.5 times more registered Democratic voters than Republican voters, according to the Pennsylvania State Department.
But in Hough, who will be attempting to oust Samuelson after 21 years in office, voters find a candidate who is well-rooted in and well-connected to the Bethlehem community.
Hough grew up on East 5th Street on the South Side before moving to the North Side with his single mother later on in childhood. Hough attended Bethlehem Catholic High School and went on to study criminal justice at DeSales University. His mom worked at Lehigh, and he even drove the late-night TRACS van picking up and dropping off Mountain Hawk students at locations around campus for extra income on nights and weekends.
He is married and still lives on the North Side with his family. Hough is a former security director at the ArtsQuest facilities on the South Side and the PPL Center in Allentown before he accepted a job as a venue security director for an entertainment company in New York City, where he is currently on furlough. Hough’s grandfather is also a former employee at Bethlehem Steel, working in Martin Tower.
Hough said he never envisioned running for public office.
“I decided last year that Bethlehem needed a fresh perspective on things in Harrisburg,” he said. “I felt it was important to give the people of Bethlehem an opportunity to have some diversity in government.”