Action against irresponsible drug use was needed at Reed, as indicated by recent mandates from law enforcement and two drug overdoses. However, the prioritizing of this action, to the extent that it becomes the apparent primary mission of the college president, is an indication of a loss of vision by the college.
President John Kroger, as depicted in his autobiographical Convictions, is a man able to prosecute Mafia criminals and Colombian drug lords, with a philosophical perspective, and a genuine intention to maintain honesty in the legal arena. The book includes some thoughtful reflections, such as: “What appears to be a difficult ethical quandary is sometimes the product of ignorance of your options.” Missing from the book is evidence of qualities that might be sought by a presidential search team.
It seems certain that the motivation for hiring Kroger was the intention to eradicate drug use on campus. This did not begin with his tenure. President emeritus Colin Diver, in his June 2012 exit interview, was asked what he might change at Reed, if wishes could come true, and his reply: “The most obvious example is addressing illegal drug and alcohol use.” Diver followed his wish with the accurate thought: “It’s emphatically a legal obligation. I think it’s a moral one, too.” But recognizing a need should be followed by an appropriate course of action. The draconian efforts of Mr. Diver (police arrest leading to felony prosecution of student with quantity amounts of marijuana) have been followed by the micromanagement-level enforcement efforts of Mr. Kroger this year (as reflected in the tinted imagery of the Quest).
Given that a major reduction in use was needed, an appropriate countereffort would involve midlevel administrators and the security staff. Choosing for president a prosecutorial attorney, a law enforcement officer, to accomplish this single-minded goal indicates that the central vision of the college is a remedial one, that Reed wants to correct a student-level problem by dedicating the highest office to this issue. One can question this motive without faulting Kroger for accepting the job.
A college presidency is a well-paid, high-status job that would burnish any résumé. Suitable nominees would not be scarce. What is important is that the college have a vision, an intention, and that the primary administrator of the college reflect that vision and enact that intention.
The current strategy prioritizes the drug problem over the other wide-perspective problems faced by all colleges, in particular attracting and retaining the best professors, an ongoing problem at Reed as elsewhere. If financial inducements for faculty are already at their maximum, a vision of a college dedicated to teaching and learning, administered with a willful intent to perpetuate academic inquiry, would be the best inducement to faculty retention. The current vision implies that Reed is resting on its laurels in regard to quality of instruction.
A higher vision might seek a 21st-century Mortimer Adler, a philosopher of education, an inclusive communicator between the branches of the academy, working to publish a 21st-century Great Books, enhancing community outreach, and using the internet to facilitate wider education. This is one of several more noble visions that could have been pursued by those who select the president of Reed College.