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reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Reed U continued

Reed University Quest

The trustees were skewered in the February 3, 1964 edition of the Reed University Quest.

The question was called in a faculty vote conducted on January 23, 1964. Eighty-four faculty cast ballots in an election supervised by Bedau. Of the 10 proposals put to the vote, the fifth, supporting the establishment of PhD degree programs in the arts and sciences, was the critical one for Reed U. Faculty could vote yes, no, or neutral. Blank ballots for that question were lumped with the neutral votes. The results were:

  • 32 in favor;
  • 41 opposed;
  • 11 blank or neutral.

At first glance, the results seem to suggest that the faculty opposed the idea. However, when the time came to transmit the results to the trustees, Bedau reached a different conclusion. He argued that the neutral votes should be counted as “not opposed” and added to the votes in favor, yielding a tally of:

  • 43 in favor or not opposed;
  • 41 opposed.

Thus he contended that the vote showed a nearly even split.

The day after the faculty vote, the trustees gathered to consider a graduate program. On the eve of their meeting, they agreed to hear a delegation of student leaders, who presented six principles aimed at ensuring the quality of undergraduate education and providing a student voice in implementing the program. The Quest reported that the trustees replied with interest and enthusiasm. However, the next day, the trustees voted to approve four points that Sullivan had put forth:

  • Creation of a multidisciplinary Center for Research Studies attached to Reed College.
  • introduction of MA degree programs in the arts and sciences.
  • Continued efforts to strengthen the preparation of secondary school teachers through the bachelor of arts and master of arts in teaching.
  • Continued efforts to strengthen the undergraduate program.
Had it ended there, the vote might have been mildly received. However, the trustees barely acknowledged the existence of the students’ six principles, agreeing that “would be taken into account in further deliberations by the board” and then went beyond Sullivan’s recommendations to state:

A majority of the Board predicts that the newly-approved plans will eventuate in Ph.D. degree programs and also prefers that positive steps be taken in that direction as soon as is feasible. [emphasis added] The Board recognizes, however, that an important division of opinion on this issue exists within the faculty, and that further study and review are clearly preferable to any immediate adoption of a policy position.

The trustees, it seemed, had finally given Sullivan what he wanted—a university.


The student reaction was outrage. The February 5, 1964 issue of the Quest was emblazoned REED UNIVERSITY QUEST, with a front-page editorial by Mark Loeb ’67 stating, “It is indeed regrettable that the Board of Trustees only paid lip service to the Reed Faculty and Student Body.” Around campus, signs appeared quoting Reed’s first president, William Trufant Foster, “[Reed] is a College that mistakes not bigness for greatness.” During Canyon Day 1964, Kathia Naumann Emery ’67 and I were part of a group that painted “REED U” on the newly paved Botsford Drive. For all the outrage, though, there was a sense of fait accompli; it seemed unlikely that the trustees would ever reverse course on such an important issue.

One might expect that the next few years would be dedicated to establishing the new program. But that did not happen. Instead, the initiative faded into nonexistence. Combing through the archives, one is struck by the scarcity of references to it. In the spring of 1964, the community senate formed a committee on graduate education, but its activities, if any, remain undocumented. Occasional Quest articles made glancing references to the issue—on April 6, 1964, for example, the newspaper reported that the trustees had finally agreed to uphold the students’ six principles. But for the most part, the silence is deafening. There is scant mention of the graduate program in trustee minutes.

What happened? The answer to this conundrum can be found in President Sullivan’s convocation address of September 1965. In a complete turnabout from the optimism he had expressed two years earlier, Sullivan revealed that the college had overextended itself and was in danger of closing. Drastic measures were called for: he proposed tripling the size of the student body.

In response, faculty and students formed the so-called Committee of 42 and formulated a short-term plan for 1966-67 to keep the college alive and set in motion longer-term planning to see whether Reed was sustainable. With the college confronting the question of survival, the grand plans for Reed University went into permanent deep freeze.

One last, almost plaintive, note was sounded by Sullivan in a letter to the trustees on June 15, 1966 regarding “major questions ahead for the college” after his forthcoming resignation:

University or College: The large, unresolved question involves the important dialogue between those who visualize the Reed of the future as basically a small, undergraduate college, with each added program or activity being scrutinized with great caution, and those who see it as desirably more open-ended, perhaps eventually taking on more the characteristics of a small university. ... I am really talking about a basic set of attitudes and, to oversimplify, these can be thought of as homogeneity or pluralism, centrality or range.

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