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Lehigh University Professor Criticized for Remarks on Race and Poverty

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A Lehigh University (LU) professor’s video on race and poverty has sparked outrage among students and faculty at the university, who accuse the professor of selectively employing and manipulating data to frame his findings in an indirectly racist way.

Economics professor Frank Guntner posted a video titled “3 Myths About Poverty” at the College of Business’ Kitchen Table Talks — a series of short lecture videos by faculty members on a wide variety of topics. The video was based on a short op-ed submission by Guntner that was expected to run in the Washington Examiner.

Guntner’s talk, based on the Biden administration’s first 100 days, set out to break down what he believes are the three myths surrounding poverty: first, that it is tied up with a person’s race; second, that it is a generational curse; and finally, that low-income groups have no agency.

He argues that teenagers can make significant choices in order to climb the social ladder, significantly reducing their chances of falling below the poverty line. “Whether you’re poor is in part a matter of bad choices,” he said.

The video faced considerable backlash from students and faculty alike. The outrage finally prompted the university to take down the video and circulate a letter clarifying the incident.

Criticism and Guntner’s Reaction

Guntner’s video has received a volley of criticism on student Instagram accounts.

Kate Luther criticized his perspective on poverty as one which believes it is a choice and, therefore, escapable. She believes such a stance does not take into account the hardships faced by common people. Others have found the use of his language insensitive.

However, others have been more supportive. Professor of postcolonial literature at LU, Amardeep Singh, gives Guntner the benefit of the doubt, believing the real problem lies with how he “frames his arguments and the language he uses, not necessarily the data itself.”

Media relations director at LU, Lori Friedman, said the video was taken down to encourage the LU community to come forward and participate in an open conversation about the video. “We affirm the right of the faculty, as well as other members of the community, to express their viewpoints and engage in a respectful and open exchange of ideas,” she said.

Clarifying his remarks at the LU “table talks”, Gruntner said, “What I was hoping the average reader would read and say is ‘that can’t be right,’ look into it, then discover that the facts are true and the analysis I provided is plausible. Maybe it would change their thinking about these important issues.”

Claiming his video is meant to be motivational, Guntner has been also taken aback by people calling him out for racism. “Attack my data, attack my analysis, but attack me? You don’t know me,” he said in response to the critics.


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