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Why I Teach at Reed

Six professors on shaping young minds

Photography by Edis Jurcys

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Ask alumni or current students what sets Reed apart from other colleges and universities, and the answers almost always invoke the faculty.

We decided to ask the faculty why they teach at Reed; why they stay around when they could seek work at a big research university where grad students teach sections and grade, office hours are really limited to what it says on the door, and research and publications matter more than student achievement and evaluations. They talk about how leading Hum 110 conferences and advising senior theses enriches a professor’s own research, and about creating the kind of intellectually invigorating experience that they themselves craved as undergraduates.

Time to pursue independent research is always at a premium at Reed, where the emphasis is heavily weighted toward teacher-student face time. “Reed is a teaching institution,” says Dean of the Faculty Peter Steinberger. “That’s why we’re here: to provide the very best undergraduate education in the liberal arts and sciences. But in order to do this well, faculty need significant opportunities to reflect, to study, to engage the materials of their disciplines in serious ways, to pursue scholarship—in short, to exemplify precisely the kinds of scholarly and critical habits, skills, and dispositions that we seek to inculcate in our students.”

What does it mean to teach at Reed? Why do so many highly qualified applicants compete for each tenure-track opening? During the past two semesters, we interviewed more than a dozen Reed professors across disciplines to seek answers. We’ve excerpted from interviews with six of those professors here.

—The editors

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Ariadna García-Bryce millender thumb Ellen Millender swanson image Irena Swanson ’87