If you think that a colony of cute feral cats are just a warm and fuzzy bunch of felines, think again. Cats in the U.S. destroy a median of 2.4 billion birds a years plus 2.3 billion mammals, reptiles and amphibians. And, the most destructive cats are feral. Once removed, the wild cats in Reed’s canyon should not be returned to it, even if they have been neutered, but should be given to willing pet owners or euthanized. Perhaps the introduction of a single, neutered coyote wouldn’t be a bad idea, just to even things out.
One of the pains and pleasures of moving from a house is that things lost or put aside are found and so it comes about that I am reading the December 2012 Reed magazine, and two items spoke to my pleasure in a book group here in McMinnville. The first was a note in “Empire of the Griffin”: “This year expect to hear more about an online book club for Reedies everywhere.” The second was a remark by Suzanne Cassidy ’65 that at Reed her favorite class was Senior Symposium, “where students from different disciplines got together once a week to discuss books they were reading.”
I belong to a book club that meets for two hours, once a month, at the local senior center (good for those of us in our 80s and 90s who don’t drive at night). Rather than all of us reading an assigned book, we have chosen either a free choice or to read to an assigned theme. This way we have books on the Silk Road, books on the meaning of dreams, books about small Oregon towns founded on faith or progressive ideals. We bring books from the library or books of our own to lend out and to discuss and share. In past months we have talked about The Tenth Parallel, Stealth of Nations, For the Love of Physics, 1493, a biography on Cleopatra, and we share good suspense and mystery writers. Some of us also belong to more conventional book clubs with a chosen book discussed by all readers but as Suzanne wrote, “a multidisciplinary approach is more rewarding and richer.”
For me, in my 90s, it has given me access to books and ideas that I also find rewarding and rich outside my normal range of interest. So: thank you, Reed, for your December 2012 magazine.
I am so sad to hear of the passing of Richard Crandall ’69, one of my favorite teachers at Reed. Two memories stand out. First, I remember a class wherein we needed to multiply some rather large numbers to get an answer. We all bowed our heads towards our handheld calculators, but Richard admonished us to look up and do the math in our heads. How?! These were really large numbers. He showed us some shortcuts and then quizzed each of us with some examples. It was high-pressure stuff, but he was right: it was possible to exercise our brains to get the answer without the help of a machine. After my fear subsided, I came to really respect him for that lesson.
My second story recalls an after-hours encounter in the electronics lab. I was thinking about geomagnetism for my thesis. After some discussion with Richard about this, he grabbed an oscilloscope mounted on a wheeled cart and suggested we try to measure the magnitude of the earth’s magnetic field by noting how the deflection of the ’scope’s green dot from center varied with the cart’s rotation. It didn’t really work, but it was so fun to try! Richard’s enthusiasm really inspired me. The guy was brilliant and yes, intimidating, but also enthusiastic and fun. Reed has lost a great mentor.
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.