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Kroger Inaugurated—with Iliad

By Randall Barton on September 25, 2012 04:00 PM

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President John R. Kroger sports snazzy Reed medallion at inauguration. Photos by Leah Nash

Amid the call of bagpipes and the flourish of horns, roughly 1,500 people descended on campus on Friday to welcome John R. Kroger as Reed's 15th president. Under the big top on the great lawn, Roger Perlmutter '73, chair of the board of trustees, invested Kroger with the trappings of office—including a copy of the Iliad and a bottle of spring water drawn from the Reed Canyon—in a grand inauguration ceremony.

Student body president Brian Moore '13 hailed Kroger as "the ultimate prospie" for his infectious enthusiasm for all things Reed and for enrolling in Hum 110.

Professor Sonia Sabnis [classics 2006–] praised Kroger for the respect he has shown the faculty in his first months as well as his dedication to Reed's intellectual mission.

Delivering the keynote address, Bryn Mawr College President Jane McAuliffe called America's elite liberal arts colleges a national treasure. "It is a rare privilege to attend a liberal arts college and be immersed in a collaborative learning experience with faculty," McAuliffe said. "It is a sacred trust to sustain and enhance the qualities of such a place and in John Kroger Reed has found a president worthy of that trust."

In his inaugural address, Kroger took issue with the proposition that a liberal arts education isn't practical and doesn't prepare graduates for their first job. "At the end of the day the world needs more people who can think outside the box," Kroger said. "The most practical education you can have is one that doesn't prepare you for your first job. It prepares you for the next 60 years of your life."

Kroger said that liberal arts colleges are coming under siege both from technology and from equality. The expense of such an education puts it out of reach of most American families, but thanks to the generosity of friends and alumni, 50% of Reed students receive financial aid, with the average award being more than $36,000 a year. Roughly 19% of this year's freshman class qualify for Pell Grants, more than double the proportion at Harvard.

Technology has provided immense benefits to the classroom. In Hum 110, for example, students can now take virtual tours of the temples of Karnak. Nonetheless, some feel that distance-learning threatens the business model of higher education. "For me, education is interactive and happens in conference when students talk amongst themselves, or after class where they continue the discussion about the ideas that inspire them," Kroger said. "These are things the internet cannot deliver. In the coming years we have to more forcibly articulate our vision of education as a human and social endeavor, one that can't simply be reduced to a business model that labels efficiency as the highest goal."

Concluding that much of American higher education is on a misguided trajectory, Kroger said he was thrilled to be at a college where people cared more about the physics department than the football team (a remark that provoked lusty cheers from the physics department).

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Econ major Marie Perez '13 welcomes new prez with homemade double-decker bus, consisting of a VW van welded atop a Blue Bird schoolbus.

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Students, alumni, and distinguished guests boogie down to the grooves of Davis Rogan '90.

Other speakers at the inauguration included professor Lisa Steinman [English 1976–] who read aloud her poem Weather Conditions, alumni association president Chantal Sudbrack '97, Oregon State Treasurer Ted Wheeler, Portland businessman and philanthropist Jordan Schnitzer, and Reed Treasurer Ed McFarlane, who noted that during his forty years at Reed, one thing has not changed—Reed's mission.

Students and alumni welcomed Kroger in a dazzling display of Reed creativity. A gargantuan rolling griffin materialized in front of Old Dorm Block courtesy of master mechanic Rob Mack '93. Senior Marie Perez '13 drove a homemade double-decker bus—a Blue Bird schoolbus with a VW Van welded on top of it—with a massive poster proclaiming "WELCOME KROGER!" New Orleans bluesman Davis Rogan '90 played a smoking set in the quad as students, alumni, and distinguished visitors generally made merry. Later in the evening students massed in front of Eliot chanting "KRO-GER! KRO-GER!" before a dazzling display of fireworks.