“Born a rebel,” Foster was equally confident challenging convention and climbing Mt. Hood.
Brilliant prodigy from Bowdoin, Foster scorned the “sheep-dip” mentality of higher ed and set out to create a new kind of college dedicated to the radical notion that students should actually study.
Dorothy Johansen ’33 [history 1934–84]: To his wife, summering in Maine, Foster wired the simple message, “Elected President.” When it came to her it read, “Electric President.” There was prophecy in this error, as the trustees and the city of Portland were soon to realize.
Foster: I was born a rebel. For many years I did not know what was the matter with me. Then I began to realize that my New England ancestors made me a cantankerous nonconformist, scowling at contented men and women, and warning them that whatever they were doing, they should be doing something else. To reform the world—and quickly—I mounted my horse, spear in hand, and rode forth in all directions at once. . . . I mention the belligerent orator who shouted, “I want tax reform, I want suffrage reform, I want money reform.” And the heckler who cried, “You want chloroform!” I do not blame those who felt that way about me. I hoped, however, that Reed College would continue to stand staunchly — and if necessary, stand alone — for whatever Reed College considered right.
F.L. Griffin [math 1911–56]: Very few men contributed as much as Foster to correcting the imbalance in American education between educational matters and recreational activities. He fashioned Reed not as a savings-bank college, where a student would deposit some course credits and then draw out a diploma, but as a coherent educational enterprise. The student would graduate only when he could show by a satisfactory thesis and all examinations that he possessed some well-organized knowledge. Foster knew the inequalities inherent in most grading systems. He corrected the worst of these and allowed extra credit toward graduation for work of a high quality. The grades, however, were administered without disclosure to the students, so that their usual role as instruments of motivation largely disappeared.
Arthur Wood [sociology 1911–15]: Foster was an able, shrewd, resourceful man. He had no speculative interests at all. Like the Romans, he was a very good man for building roads. He was hard, practical, and opportunistic. Yet, his personality was somewhat schizoid. He could be charming and lovable, but he could also be arrogant, morose, and domineering. Reed attracted the first-comers on the faculty because it was a new and promising venture in education. Foster painted the prospect in glowing colors—faculty houses, no fraternities, no intercollegiate athletics, small classes, real faculty government, and above all, a spirit of teamwork. A fine bill of goods! Some of us had had the normal academic experience in other institutions of double-crossing, discouragement, and frustration. All of us who came to Reed came with high hopes.
Foster:The story of Reed College is fired with the zest of pioneers. . . . We live by vision and by faith.