Reed Community

Return to an Intellectual Eden

Harvard professor Ned Hall ’87 brings insider's perspective to his role as a trustee.

Randall S. Barton | February 5, 2018

History major Henry DeMarais ’18 was honored with the Kahan Summer Fellowship last year.

For his project, Henry traveled to Pulaski, New York, to study violin with Dr. David Fulmer, an internationally recognized composer and violinist, to explore ways to bring out the artistry and beauty in works written in modern idioms.

Back on campus, Henry thrilled the audience in the Eliot Chapel with vivid renditions of pieces by Matthias Pintscher, Elliott Carter, Witold Lutoslawski, Anton Webern, and Olivier Messiaen.

“The Kahan Fellowship gave me the opportunity to prepare the longest, most challenging, and most rewarding solo recital of my musical career,” Henry told us. “My studies with Dr. Fulmer brought my playing to a new level of ability, and the river, fields, and woods of Pulaski were the perfect surroundings in which to work.”

“Henry is a remarkable violinist and excellent musician,” says Denise VanLeuven, director of private music instruction. “This was a compelling performance of very difficult repertoire.”

Henry is currently working on a senior thesis titled Nationalism and Music Composition in Postrevolutionary Mexico.

The fellowship, made possible by a generous gift from Jim Kahan ’64 in honor of Prof. Virginia Hancock ’62 [music 1990–2016], gives students the opportunity to develop or make a major contribution to a music performance, culminating in a presentation to the Reed community that includes a talkback with the audience.

In addition to establishing the the fellowship, Jim has compiled a stellar record of service to Reed. He has been a commencement speaker; served as president of the Foster-Scholz Club steering committee; earned the Babson Award for outstanding effort as a volunteer; played a leading role in the oral history project; transformed the Alumni College program at Reunions; borne the boar’s head; and been a steadfast friend and mentor for generations of Reedies.

When he was a student at Reed, Ned Hall ’87 was caught up in a web of ideas. 

“At Reed, you don’t need to find a cadre of people with whom you can feel comfortable and then erect a different persona for the rest of the people,” he says. “It’s okay to be freely interested in exploring ideas for the sake of satisfying your curiosity. That’s palpable on the campus.”

In October, Ned was appointed one of two new trustees at Reed. He is the Norman E. Vuilleumier Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, where he serves as department chair and director of graduate admissions. Before joining the faculty at Harvard in 2005, he taught in the department of linguistics and philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As a professor, he’s aware of the pressures on today’s students.

Ned grew up in what is now Silicon Valley and went to Homestead High School, whose alumni include Steve Jobs ’76 and Steve Wozniak, and always considered himself as a math/science nerd destined for Caltech or MIT. But some influential high school teachers made him realize that ideas that are interesting and worth taking seriously are not confined to math and science. 

When it came time to pick a college he decided, “Reed is the kind of intellectual Eden that I want to go to.” He found a campus with inspirational professors who guided students in promising directions while letting them discover ideas for themselves.

“They set up the conditions for discovery,” he says, and singles out Prof. Robert Knapp [English 1974–]. “He was able to feed the discussion. It was like fire, and if necessary he would nudge a little bit of fuel closer to the fire. It’s the kind of professor I would like to be.”

Ned’s research interests focus on metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of science. He is the author of Philosophy of Science: Metaphysical and Epistemological Foundations and coeditor of Causation and Counterfactuals.

“I get very interested in philosophical questions about the most general and important concepts in scientific inquiry,” Ned explains, “about the nature of knowledge gathering in the big picture categories of science—space, time, causation, law of nature, chance, determinism and indeterminism, evidence, hypothesis, confirmation, disconfirmation, knowledge and opinion.”

As a trustee, Ned hopes to bring an insider’s perspective on the pressures on today’s students and the role of the liberal arts in civil society. 

Tags: Alumni, Institutional