Patrick Pruyne ’83A message from the alumni association president
The more things change…
By Patrick Pruyne ’83

During a recent visit to campus I learned that after many months of deliberation the faculty had elected to leave the college distribution requirements “as is.”

You will recall that the requirements direct that every student will have significant depth of study in each of four groups: A) literature, philosophy, and the arts; B) history, social sciences, and psychology; C) the natural sciences; and D) mathematics, logic, or foreign languages or linguistics. This requirement ensures “the broad understanding of the arts and sciences signified by a liberal education.” Along with the humanities requirement these form the core curriculum of a Reed education.

The requirements accomplish more than that. By grouping departments together the faculty must consider its role in the larger context of educating Reed’s students. Ideally Reed faculty members embrace their teaching responsibilities in a far less parochial manner than might occur otherwise.

This conservative decision set me off on a bit of a hunt for the earliest history of these requirements that affect the nature of Reed so profoundly. With the generous assistance of special collections librarian Gay Walker ’69, I was able to review a selection of letters, speeches, and publications from the first presidents of the college.

Reed’s first president, Foster (1910–19) articulated that Reed would be “a college of liberal arts—not a trade school or technical school or a University or a professional school of any kind.” His successor, Scholz (1921–24), wrote in “Unifying the Liberal College Curriculum” that “Reed College [is] an educational experiment based on an honest effort to disregard old historic rivalries and hostilities between the sciences and the arts.”

It is not surprising that détente between practitioners and promoters of their own disciplines was and is required to construct such a core curriculum. This worthy educational goal must co-exist with its own very real political consequences. There is no perfect way to fashion a set of studies for the roundly educated person without disenfranchising some topical domain or enhancing the stature of another.

Yet the Reed faculty submits to and endorses this imperfect structure each time the debate is engaged precisely because it serves the education of their students so demonstrably well. Who among us does not know the Reed scientist with a poet’s heart or the Reed mathematician with a passion for architecture?
So the college arrives, once again, near where it began. After almost a century of creating the environment necessary to produce true liberally educated scholars the practical reality accepted is that what the college has always done works and works better than any alternative model yet considered.

As the college matures, as the faculty changes, and as the catalog of course offerings expands, the context within which Reed students pursue their education remains based upon a broad, reliable, and uniquely effective footing.
End of Article


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