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Reed Takes to the Road in Seattle

By Randall S. Barton on February 26, 2013 11:09 AM

Lively debate marked the Seattle kickoff event of Reed on the Road 2013 on Wednesday, February 20. More than 60 alumni, parents, and friends gathered at the Women’s University Club to toast the success of the recently completed Centennial Campaign and discuss the future of the college.

Lisa Mennet ’83 introduced a video highlighting campaign’s achievements, including the more than $74 million raised for financial aid. The 12,732 donors are changing the life trajectory of current and future Reed students, she said. And while the audience might not recognize the faces of current students captured in the video, “you will recognize their spirits.”

At a time when other colleges are considering layoffs and shutting down programs, Reed has never been in better financial shape, Reed College president John Kroger said in his opening remarks.

Taking issue with the notion that a college education should prepare students for their first jobs, he said today’s graduates face 50 years of radical change and uncertainty, and that preparing them for their first jobs will not be enough.

“They’re going to change careers over and over, constantly reinventing themselves and what they do,” he said. “We should be preparing them with a set of intellectual habits and dispositions that will serve them well in a variety of jobs.”

The shared values of critical inquiry, intellectual rigor, and creativity shape the experience Reed offers to students, he said, “But what does that look like today?”

Inviting questions from the audience, Kroger was engaged in a spirited discussion about his recent decision to cancel several Paideia classes. Several alumni questioned where an action like this draws the line concerning academic freedom. A parent of a current Reed student said he supported the decision that was made. Kroger allowed there were strong opinions for and against his decision, and that dissent and debate are healthy. For more background and discussion regarding the Paideia issue, read Paideia Pandemonium.

Setting the stage for discussion about the future of the Reed curriculum, alumnae Julia Staverosky ’02 and Martina Morris ’80 participated in a panel discussion led by Kroger. Morris, who is the Blumstein-Jordan Professor of Sociology and Statistics at the University of Washington, told about a collaboration with a recent Reed graduate who wanted to design an animated dance sequence based on her research on the spread of infectious diseases. Within 30 seconds of meeting him, she said, they were in a different world.

“The conversation progressed in a way I long for every day of my life,” she said. “This is what Reed is and I recognize it from my bones when I see it. It’s an absolute joy in thinking about things and a refusal to recognize boundaries.”

Kroger said the faculty is currently discussing the question of cross-disciplinary focus versus the breadth of a liberal arts education. “Would you say your education hit the sweet spot?” he asked. “Was it the right balance?”

Both panelists agreed that it was. But in the following table discussions, some suggested that Reed should shoulder a greater responsibility in providing insight about the transition from college to career that isn’t restricted to “what grad school you might get into” or how to further a career in academia.

Kroger said the college is actively addressing those issues through such programs as Working Weekend, which drew 82 alumni back to campus to help current students get a leg up on their future careers. The Reed Switchboard organization also is involved helping Reedies make the transition and career services is sponsoring programs like the recent Winter Externship program, which enabled Reed students to job shadow alumni.

Several alumni suggested that computer science is a discipline that has brought about a paradigm change and that it has a place in a liberal arts education.

“From first principles it’s challenging me to think about things differently in everything I do,” Martina said.

Jonathan Grudin ’72, a senior researcher at Microsoft who taught in the computer science department at University of California, Irvine, said in the exploding world of information, Reed might want to emphasize information science as a curricular offering.

Participants at the table discussions were asked to post comments on three boards in the room labeled Lasting Insight, Life Beyond Reed, and Curriculum. A few of the comments posted were:

“One of Reed’s unique qualities is the discipline.”

“Interdiscipline studies weaken Reed’s core strength.”

“Both old and new grads talked about how difficult it is to prepare for/find job or fit into the ‘real’ world.”

To see more comments, visit the Riffin Griffin blog.

The next Reed on the Road event is February 27 in San Francisco. A complete schedule of future events is online