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Reed U continued

The Test of Time

As related in the beginning of this tale, Sullivan’s concept of Reed University rested on two pillars: the dearth of major university-level research in the Portland area, and the belief that the liberal arts college as a viable institution was in decline. After 50 years, neither pillar has withstood the test of time. Portland has a flourishing technological community in spite of the fact that there is still no upper-tier university to feed it basic research or graduates. As for the inevitable demise of the liberal arts college, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated.

Sullivan argued that the graduate program was a natural progression for the Reed Institute. According to this argument, Reed, after demonstrating success as a liberal arts college, should not be afraid to take the bold step of becoming a university. After all, in 1911, who would have thought that a little college on the far side of nowhere could compete against the establishment east of the Mississippi?

The reply to this argument is that the original Reed College attracted young, dynamic innovators such as Foster and the talented faculty who were willing to bet on a radical idea. By contrast, the 1960s effort at a graduate program lacked the spirit of innovation—it was instead an attempt to clamber aboard a bandwagon; Sullivan was in many ways (both for better and for worse) the antithesis of Foster. Thus, Reed U was unlikely to attract the revolutionaries who could make it succeed.

With the passage of time, most of the former proponents of Reed U have rethought their positions. Marsh Cronyn ultimately concluded that the proposal was fundamentally flawed, as did Hugo Bedau, who is glad now that the graduate program did not happen. But while reasonable people may disagree on the merits of the idea, it’s hard not to conclude that in the end, we got lucky. Had the trustees actually implemented their decision in 1964, Reed would quite likely have overextended its mission beyond what von Clausewitz calls its “center of gravity”—and when the financial crisis hit, it surely would have toppled.

Author’s Note:

I wish to profusely thank Mark Kuestner, Reed library special collections assistant, for identifying and providing me with the documentation essential for this tale. Mark also read the still-confidential minutes of the trustee and community senate meetings of the period, telling me about relevant portions and—more importantly—confirming the absence of potentially disconfirmatory materials. Thanks are also due to Hugo Bedau, Marvin Levich, Toinette Menashe, and William Wiest for informative interviews, plus many others with whom I had shorter, but still interesting, conversations about Reed University.

  1. Richard H. Sullivan, “The Historic and Future Reed,” Address at the Reed College Fiftieth Anniversary Convocation, September 30, 1961.
  2. Hugo A. Bedau, “Graduate Education and Research In a Liberal Arts College: A Report on The Reed Institute, May 1963–January 1964.” Monograph prepared for the College in January, 1964.
  3. Marshall W. Cronyn, Oral History narration taken November 16, 2005.
  4. Richard H. Sullivan, Speech to the City Club of Portland on 13 May 1963; quoted in Bedau (1964). I am probably not the first person to find it ironic that when Sullivan left Reed, it was to head the Association of American Colleges.
  5. Bedau (1964).
  6. Cronyn (2005).
  7.  Interviewed on May 6, 2010.
  8. Special Committee on Graduate Education, “Report to the Faculty,” September 6, 1963; see also Bedau (1964).

Yes, There Are Master’s Programs At Reed

Carol Creedon

Professor Carol Creedon [psychology 1957–91] was a key force in Reed’s MAT program.

Although almost exclusively a BA-granting institution, Reed has had four different master’s degree programs in its history. From the outset, there was a Master of Arts degree, available only to recent graduates of Reed who were employed by the college—largely as teaching assistants. Only seven degrees were awarded between 1911 and 1934, and the program faded away.

The next program was a Master of Arts in Education, in response to the fact that more early Reed graduates became secondary school teachers than any other profession. This program generally took two years to complete and was transformed into a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree in 1959. The difference was that the program now also prepared its students for Oregon teacher credentialing, requiring an internship as well as coursework. The MAT proved highly successful and benefited from foundation support and close cooperation with the Portland public school system. Graduates were highly sought after, according to Carol Creedon [psychology 1957–91], one of the program’s key faculty members. Unfortunately, the MAT’s success could not be sustained for various reasons. Creedon said that the state imposed increasing credentialing requirements not really germane to pedagogy (e.g., running a movie projector), until students had to take a third of their coursework at Portland State. Toinette Menashe MALS ’71 [special programs, 1973–95] noted that the Portland Public Schools pulled financial support because of budgetary constraints. These two factors, plus tension with the state accreditation board, led to the program’s termination in 1979.

The current master’s program, the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS), started in 1966. Originally MALS was conceived as an extension program for teachers, but after the demise of the MAT it evolved to take on a life of its own. MALS now draws a diverse range of students who wish to pursue interdisciplinary graduate work in a program that is both flexible and rigorous. Most students are part-time, balancing the demands of the Reed curriculum with careers, family, and community involvement. MALS courses are offered in the evenings and summers, and students have the additional option of taking upper-level undergraduate courses. Most MALS students enter the program primarily as a way to engage with the life of the mind. Some graduates use the program as a stepping stone to consider new careers and directions; others pursue PhDs.

For more about MALS, see

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