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From Fred Matthies ’49
The article "Uncivil Discourse" in the May issue of Reed had me a bit
on edge with overtones of Political Correctness. One needs only to read the article immediately
following to see why give-and-take arguments fail in the conference sections. There is no
atmosphere for it when the head of the conservatives in this country is anti-science, anti-intellectual
and promotes policies based on ideology, the economic interests of corporations, and religious
premises. Conservatives are losing the intellectual base; where is William Buckley when we
need him? Students with conservative leanings, which I certainly was, are challenged at Reed
to question the values they arrive with (and everything else, for that matter). Surely today's
conservative students should know that when they apply for admission to a liberal arts college
they had better be prepared to question all arguments and learn to apply intellectual rigor
to bolster their own positions.
From Jonathan Grudin ’72
As I recall, my first Reed event (as a visiting high school student) was a speech by arch-segregationist
Orval Faubus, recently retired by Arkansas voters. The college had more minority students
in 1966, and although the ex-governor was not without charm, I was more impressed by the
Reedies at a SNCC recruiting table outside. I’m bemused by the article that asks whether
Reed students suffer from insufficient exposure to conservative opinion. Who growing up today
avoids ample exposure to conservative arguments? As a liberal freshman entering Reed in 1968,
I was well acquainted with conservative views, but my mind was indeed opened and changed
by unfamiliar ideas—from the radical left. Although I’ve slipped most of the
way back to a boring, intellectually conservative liberalism, I hope (and suspect) Reed students
still find a challenging spectrum of views.
From Jim Bondelid ’76
The May issue of Reed is the best ever. I loved the article by Gay Monteverde.
Because of moralistic, ad hominem attacks from orthodox "liberals,” I did not
feel free to express conservative ideas 30 years ago at Reed. The second article provides
a benign example, when Donie Bret-Harte states that people who disagree with her on global
warming "mostly work for the oil and gas industry,” instead of addressing their
arguments. And they wonder why many people are skeptical. (The statistics on length of growing
season and size of the caribou herd were more convincing.)
I have a theory that the basic difference between liberals and conservatives comes down
to a question that economists have labeled, pejoratively, the "fallacy of composition.” As
I recall, this is the idea that rules we apply to individual behavior, with good results,
can have bad results when those rules are applied to society as a whole. If I give free food
to a starving woman in Africa, I have performed a moral act and followed the teachings of
Jesus and other religious leaders. If my government sends massive food shipments to a region
of Africa on a regular basis, then the farmers there cannot sell their crops at the price
they need, so they do not plant new crops, and the famine is perpetuated. But at least then
the NGO's have something to do to justify staying at four-star hotels. (Sorry, even I am
tempted to an ad hominem.)
It seems to me that liberals too often apply standards appropriate for individual behavior
to collective challenges. Conservatives too often apply standards appropriate for an economy
to their own personal behavior. Liberals need to read Milton Friedman. Conservatives need
to serve food to homeless people.
I also loved Tim Appelo's essay. I remember sitting in a Hum lecture in about 1973 when
a very self-important history prof made a joke ridiculing Christianity. I laughed along with
the rest of the assembly until I looked to my right, and saw that the very bright and articulate
young woman next to me was in tears. Suddenly the joke was not so funny.
My grandfather was a Baptist minister in Iowa. As an infant, I was baptized in a Presbyterian
church in Spokane, WA. In Seattle, I was raised and confirmed at sixteen as a Lutheran. At
seventeen, I became an atheist when I was exposed to Moby Dick and Greek mythology. That
softened in college to agnosticism, due, I think, to my intuitive and emotional nature. In
Chicago, an eight-year struggle with infertility gave me my "Job moment" of cursing
at God. But with the miraculous birth of a healthy daughter fourteen years ago, I was put
back on the path to belief in God. This fall I will be received into an Episcopal church
in Philadelphia. It reminds me of the joke that the great thing about the Episcopal
Church is that it doesn't interfere with your beliefs.
But it is not the miracle that sustains my faith. I have learned that the value of a belief
lies not in whether we can prove that it is true. Instead, the value of a belief lies in
what that belief allows us to accomplish. This pragmatism makes it much easier to be curious
rather than outraged when one is confronted with a disagreement. And a state of curiosity
is much more productive than a state of outrage. I find that my faith takes me to much better
places than where I have been.
From Lee Ann Rush ’77
If a student finds themselves among a voiceless conservative minority and is shocked by
that, I dare say that they must not have done their homework in selecting a college and /or
are probably not doing it now.
Engaging others and honing your own arguments is a large part of Reed. I did not speak much
in my classes and I regret it. Fortunately, I was able to put my ideas across in papers.
Shame on any professor who will not listen to differing views, they should be challenged
and it is not unheard of for liberal Reedies to challenge a leftist professor. If a professor
is shutting a student down as claimed, it might be helpful for the student to confront the
professor outside class and ask them to articulate why they will not engage in an exchange
of ideas. The student must be aware that their argument cannot involve "sloppy thinking" as
mentioned by President Diver and they cannot simply be "political assertions" as
described by Professor Dirks. She mentions that students will not learn the distinction from
Rush Limbaugh or George W. Bush. I must add, they will also not learn it from Al Franken
or Bill Maher.
Several years ago, I took a business class at a local college where I found both sloppy
thinking and a lot of unsubstantiated political assertions as many in the class set out to
attack labor unions. The most vocal were the anti-union folks who tended to be older, themselves
victims of corporate downsizing. The instructor attempted to shut the union proponents down
saying that we were off topic. Satisfied that the issue was settled, she called upon a group
of three early twenty-ish students in the class who had started a very successful business
together two years earlier. To the instructor's shock and dismay, they began to defend unionization
and outlined in great detail how they had implemented it in their own business, what it was
costing them, etc. The room was silent for the next twenty minutes. Nothing succeeds like
factual or historical examples.
For a professor or instructor, it is no doubt a balancing act between gracefully skipping
over unsupported assertions or rehashing facts already known by the class so that the material
can be properly covered and that of engaging good arguments from any part of the political
spectrum. If an argument is well put together, all students will be engaged and encouraged
to stretch their own arguments and their own thinking. The application of any political litmus
tests for students or faculty would be a mistake.
From Meg Wilson Riley ’78
Tim Appelo writes about religion for progressives as if he is an early anthropologist,
reporting on a distant band of people who in no way resemble life as we know it. I
wish that he had taken the extra step to find out all the ways in which Reedies have 'got'
religion, instead of speaking to us as if 'getting' it is some future possibility none of
us has considered before.
In fact, I know that I am not the only person to use my Reed education as grounding for
a life as clergy—I know at least two other Reed graduates who are my ministerial
colleagues in the (relatively small) Unitarian Universalist Association. Virtually all
of the Reed friends with whom I am still in touch, now that we are middle aged,
go to church or synagogue as a central part of life. And I speak regularly with Reed
students who are still active in young adult church programs.
For my part, I have spent the past thirteen years educating people about the dangers
of the religious right, and working in progressive religious coalitions to knit together
some representation of God, which is based on love and inclusiveness rather than fear and
judgment. I have worked in coalitions with Jim Wallis, whom Appelo quotes at length,
as well as many other people of faith from every tradition who are committed to a progressive
What I learned at Reed education has helped me greatly in this work: Go to primary
sources rather than passing on second hand information (I read many religious right websites
and publications regularly); use critical thinking to look within arguments for inconsistency
or ambiguity rather than simply imposing my own opinions about why they are wrong; don't
be afraid to engage in conversation with someone who believes differently—trust that
the truth will hold.
From Tad Brennan ’87
In giving my estimate of the problem, let me first say that faculty should indeed encourage
all students to speak out freely, regardless of their viewpoints, and that course materials
should include the best thoughts on the topic at hand, even or especially when those come
from opposing viewpoints.
That said, I think there is no problem with Reed continuing to be an ideological hothouse
for lefties—it is not inconsistent with our commitment to diversity, and it does not
impair the critical thinking of the students.
While it is important to value diversity, it is important to remember a general point about
diversity: you cannot consistently maximize diversity at every level of compositional analysis.
My whole dinner is diverse because the courses differ from each other--but some of those
courses exhibit no internal diversity whatsoever (e.g. the meat course is just meat). Some
of the courses are also internally diverse, but there too diversity at one level depends
on non-diversity at another: my salad is diverse because some regions of it are exclusively
tomato and some are exclusively cucumber. If I tried to maximize diversity down to the millionth
of a milliliter, I wouldn't have salad, I'd have consommé. If I tried to make every
volume of my meal diverse, I would wind up with meaty-veggy-bready-soggy pabulum, every fraction
of a teaspoonful of it nauseatingly the same. (Cooking with Anaxagoras).
If Reed were to become more internally diverse, this would actually *reduce* diversity at
the level of the American educational system: Reed would have become that much more like
all the other places. Our country as a whole profits from having Reeds as well as Brigham
Youngs, and would be impoverished—made less diverse—if every school tried to
make its internal structure a microcosm of the external diversity in the world.
So there is no general argument from the abstract value of diversity, to the conclusion
that one particular level of analysis (say, a given college) should be made more diverse,
and in fact the argument runs the other way: if you want to preserve ideological diversity
in the country, you'd better encourage pockets of ideological homogeneity. (A similar conclusion
can be reached from considerations of the adaptive advantages of genetic variability in a
population, but I'll let a geneticist make it).
Finally, I don't think there is much to the claim that without right-wing views in the faculty
or on the campus the students will not learn the skills of critical thinking. Consider the
flourishing of those very skills in medieval scholastic Christianity, or in the tradition
of Talmudic scholarship. Working from what must strike outsiders as a very narrow basis of
agreement, these traditions still found all kinds of things to argue about, and developed
writers and thinkers of the highest critical acumen. You can get a rousing argument, with
distinctions, counterarguments, evidence and rebuttals flying through the air, among a group
of people who agree on Trinitarian metaphysics within a monotheistic religious outlook. You
can also have stultifying avoidance of argument among a group with widely different fundamental
beliefs—especially if they have been browbeaten into inoffensive silence by lectures
about the importance of "tolerance". What is essential for teaching the crucial
skills is not a particular degree of diversity in fundamental premises, but a willingness
to explore and learn and change your own mind, and even take some lumps in the process.
I think Reed has that, and would be wise not to tamper with it. Sure, teachers need to be
reminded to give everyone time and support. But the kids are all right.
From Darrel Plant ’90
Regarding the "Uncivil Discourse" article in the May 2005 issue I'm a bit perplexed.
When I was a student during the Reagan and G.H.W. Bush presidencies there seemed to be no
end of students arguing over virtually everything. Indeed, Anne Bothner-By ’86 is quoted
in the article as saying "Reed students are very combative." Are the conservatives
less combative (something that seems hardly likely if you turn on the TV or radio)? Or do
they just have a harder time making the kind of fact-based argument that tends to gain support
from the type of people who choose to study at Reed?
As I read the article this April weekend, a conclave of Christian conservatives, addressed
by the Republican majority leader of the U.S. Senate, was meeting to discuss how a largely
Republican-appointed federal judiciary is biased against Christians, and how judges who disagree
with them might be removed from office, which might give some pause to those students considering
careers in law. The Kansas Board of Education is about to decide whether thinly-disguised
creationism should be included in the science curriculum, which would presumably affect whether
high school students see the connections between chemistry, physics, and biology as mysteries
of nature or acts of God. You tell me whether that will affect their future careers on the
edge of science and the lives of anyone planning to teach said students.
The discussion is open. It has been open. I was attacked for pointing out that folks who
complained (two years after the incident) about police twisting their arms and letting them
go at Safeway after they were removed from the Development Office during the South Africa
divestment sit-in got off pretty easy. A few years older than my fellow students and from
a blue-collar background, I found Reed student liberalism (and conservatism) broad but not
particularly deep. As in the real world, a lot of the people didn't care about politics at
What I found most astounding about Gay Monteverde's article though, given its premise, is
its failure to mention the current campaign led by David Horowitz's Students for Academic
Freedom to pass an "Academic Bill of Rights" in state legislatures nationwide that
purports to protect academic freedom but is viewed by faculty groups in states where it's
moving forward (such as Florida) as a restriction on acceptable topics of discussion in the
classroom and the ability to correct students whose views don't mesh with topics like evolution.
The campaign is predicated largely on painting the faculties and student bodies of colleges
as "too liberal." As a private college, Reed wouldn't be affected by anything like
that passing in Oregon, but the timing's certainly a heck of a coincidence.
From David Bloch ’93
Kudos on a fine and timely piece—I'm pleased to see the college focusing on the issue
of campus intellectual orthodoxy. I was bemused, however, by Professor Dirks's comment
that “it's absolutely crucial that people understand the difference between an argument
and a political assertion. And they're not going to learn that distinction from Rush Limbaugh
or George W. Bush.” That is an uncommonly silly and ill-informed thing to say. One
can only hope that hers was an off-the-cuff remark, rather than an expression of precisely
the “politically correct” mindset the rest of the article decries.
From Jeremy Faludi ’95
I read your recent article "Uncivil Discourse", and as much as I agree with the
point that leftism at Reed sometimes eclipses true liberalism, I cannot express emphatically
enough that Reed should NOT try to "balance" (read: conservatise) its politics.
The entire country is bowing under the suffocating weight of conservatism today; just last
week, PBS's chairman has said (only half-jokingly) they should "make sure their programming
better reflected the Republican mandate." Even if it comes to Thoreau or Orwell's "majority
of one", it is imperative that Reed retains its integrity by not cowing to America's
present conservative culture. It is one of the few schools in the country where students
can delve into liberal/leftist theories without constantly being held back by conservatism's
intellectual ball and chain, which traps debate in ruts that were run in the 1950's. If Reed
wants to turn itself into an inferior replica of Harvard, then by all means conservatise
the politics. If Reed wants to keep the things that make it valuable and distinctive, it
should stay the way it is.
From Joshua Rahtz '06
Once again, Reed magazine has abandoned the college's mission to conduct education
in the spirit of critical inquiry. Limiting the field of political views to the reductive "liberal" and "conservative" ideations
is more fit for cable television than for the college's official magazine. But as if that
were not enough, the inaccuracies plaguing the reporting in your May 2005 issue reveal a
more deeply troubling picture. The brief discussion of the student body newspaper, for example,
is simply incorrect. The Quest does not currently abide by an open publishing policy,
as "Uncivil Discourse" maintains, and its editors have openly rejected articles
on political grounds. In fact, the Quest has leapt to the defense of Harvard President
Larry Summers' outrageous sexism; in this regard, at least, it is well to the right of both
the New York Times and the Harvard student body newspaper. More broadly, the implied
argument in Gay Monteverde's informal survey can only logically point to its own undoing.
The quest for so-called "political diversity" must have limits if it is to coexist
with the civil society the author holds in such great esteem. By definition, a pluralistic,
liberal, and democratic civil society cannot accommodate the worship of monolithic power
and the use of repressive violence to subvert the rule of law. If, in the name of "political
diversity", Reed encourages students to tolerate para-legal mass arrests of innocent
civilians at political rallies, say, or the existence of virtual concentration camps for
Muslims and Arabs, or the illegal use of force against foreign populations, then political
diversity is not a goal worth striving for.
Dr. Edward P. Fisher, ’69
In response to the lead article in your May issue “Uncivil Discourse”. . .
I came to Reed as a “brat,” having grown up on military bases around the world,
but especially in the Southern United States. Son of an Air Force pilot and a “hellfire
and brimstone” Baptist Mother, I was only accepted at one other college at the time
I applied – the U.S. Coast Guard Academy! They don’t come from anymore ‘conservative’ background
than that. . .
Of course the times were ripe for a change – after tanks rolled through the streets
in the Heart of Dixie on my way to high school in the Sixties, and after watching JFK (the
REAL one, not the movie), something was stirring inside of me. My first weak on campus,
I almost had an altercation with an upper-classman in the TV-lounge over some unflattering
remarks he made about jet-pilots while watching “Roger Ramjet” (don’t laugh!).
An attractive co-ed bystander intervened, however, and “reasoned” with me before
we ever came to blows. . .
Whatever isolation I experienced at Reed was mostly self-imposed, as I worked through my
beliefs, until I could articulate what I felt without feeling embarrassed. But I never felt “victimized” because
I always seemed to blunder into friendships and associations that encouraged me to speak
my mind. No one ever mocked or belittled me. Quite the contrary, everyone I met tried to
engage me with humor, challenge me to think my beliefs through, or guide me with some sort
of useful object lesson.
As a result, four years later I graduated a “flaming” liberal, as my Dad liked
to say, although the Colonel never used the “L”-word in mixed company. And all
I can say now is: “I think whatever gods may be for my radicalization at Reed!”
Back in the 80s, the so-called Reagan Revolution succeeded in freeing the press from the
equal-time constraints that insisted on a balanced presentation of points of view. This,
along with media conglomeration by defense contractors and other corporate interests, help
give rise to Rush Limbaugh, “Talk Radio” and Fox. Now, however, the Right seems
to want the “fairness doctrine” back . . .
Well, I’m sorry: I will listen to people tell me the world is flat, that the entrepreneurial
sprit alone (not land fraud, slavery and genocide) made America great, that the Holocaust
never happened, that gay people can’t go to heaven, that cigarettes don’t cause
cancer, guns don’t kill people, that Creationism is a science, that pre-emptive war
is an option, or that there’s no such thing as Global Warming . . .
I will listen – I have to, the Right has the megaphone – but I SHALL
NOT be moved!
Mary Leber ’50
Hooray for your article Uncivil Discourse. During the last election, I began to wonder if
differing political passions were going to alienate members of our remarkable and wonderful
group of friends.
The most useful and important thing I learned at Reed was that there are (nearly?) always
at least two sides to any issue. This was imbedded particularly by a) super-talented faculty
and students who could devastate even convincing arguments with other facts and ideas and
b) writing a thesis.
I believe the best “mind set” for such labels as liberal(1), conservative (2),
is “Danger! Use with care! Go to it guys!”
Chris Emerson, ‘66
Reed magazine’s current article “Uncivil Discourse” brings to
mind vivid memories of the early Sixties.
I was one of three Catholics at Reed and could not have felt more comfortable or respected.
Commons’ Friday menu of steamed halibut was especially unpopular. My friends would
file past my table shaking their trays in my face, a gesture I regarded as a peculiarly Reed-style
term of endearment.
We had a Young Republican Club. There were, as I recall, six members out of a student body
of 800. There were about 300 Young Democrats, who loved and courted the Young Republicans,
because they were the ones who owned cars and could transport Democrats to off-campus beer
My senior year brought a series of controversial speakers to campus. The civil rights movement
was boiling, and Gov. Ross Barnett of Mississippi arrived. He was an outspoken proponent
of segregation and was received courteously, although not warmly. There were a number of
students in the audience who had worked in the South during the Voter Registration Project,
including Rhodes Scholar who came back to campus one September proudly wearing the prison
jumper he had earned for his efforts. I do not recall any untoward behavior, although I knitted
so furiously during the speech that a set a personal record for production.
Another speaker in the series was the leader of the seven American Nazis known to exist
at the time. As I understand it, the majority of students at Reed during my time were of
Jewish descent. Reed had no quota. Apparently, six percent was the upper limit for Jewish
admissions at comparable schools. In 1965, these students were likely to be the children,
nieces, nephews, or grandchildren, if not siblings, of Holocaust victims. The speaker was
again received with rigorous courtesy. He fielded penetrating questions not very ably. Reed
certainly treated this fellow better than his own family: an uncle ran him off his property
with the blast of a shotgun to his heels when he shows up in uniform one day.
As to the general quality of discourse on campus, I do not recall hearing mockery of any
person, idea, or thing. World-class snootiness was the predominant style of aggressive discussion,
and I miss it terribly.
I see a link between the article on discourse and the one on left-wing politics and mainstream
Christianity. In my day at Reed, Professor Dorothy Johansson remarked that it was dangerous
to society when citizens did not share a common cultural reference, the Bible, with its wealth
of allusions. My thesis advisor, Lloyd Reynolds, essentially taught a religious curriculum
in the guise of art history and calligraphy. He remarked that science had dismissed religion
as a tropic because it could not be measured, and that an element of the humanities had therefore
been ignored. Even if it is only regarded as an interested low-tech software system, religion
has value to anyone in its development of the self as a social being. At the very least,
one should attend to issues of religion now because it is damned dangerous to ignore them.
Remembering Kenneth Hanson
From Charlotte Gould Warren '59
Ken was my thesis adviser (I wrote a book of poems), and over the years, we became friends.
His brief, often droll letters, brought the world to my doorstep, “lit the night
sky.” They reflected his just spirit, his nimble mind and quick, often acerbic wit,
his delight in the world, and his sure eye for political chicanery. Mentor, friend, fine
poet, his voice still accompanies me. He had an uncanny ear for the language, its hidden
music, the beat and cadence of speech. His Chinese translations catch the wry humor and
integrity of the originals while honoring a vernacular that suits western sensibilities.
In his own work, too, Ken set the standard: lyrics that got “the set of the words
just right,” vivid detail and classically uncluttered lines. His poems reflect a
sympathy for the exiled, the marginalized, for “stairs that go nowhere,” and
the least, rather than the greater, panda; a long view of history. Unfailingly kind to
me as a teacher, he was known by students and faculty alike as a stellar guide in the
study of modern poetry, and as a fair and thoughtful human being. The world is diminished