The "hit" came in the summer of 1954, when a popular philosophy professor, Stanley Moore, refused to declare in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee that he was not a communist. Most of Reed's faculty, students, and alumni, calling the committee's demands a violation of academic freedom, supported Moore. The college's board of trustees, however, fired him. (See the article about this in the August 1997 Reed.)
"People at Reed felt very strongly. Students were upset on both sides. Some students said, 'I don't like what's being taught.' It was a very difficult situation. It tore people apart."
As the '50s slipped away, so did HUAC and McCarthyism. "Then we got into the '60s," Johnson says.
The civil rights era prompted Reed to expand the number of minority students on the campus. But when some students staged a sit-in designed to force administrators to include minority studies courses in the curriculum, faculty and staff members--including Johnson--were locked out of their offices. Although campus riots in other Oregon colleges and across the nation had already resulted in massive vandalism, and in some cases injuries and even death, Johnson says she wasn't afraid.
"The students told us they wouldn't touch our records, and I believed them, but I was mad. I never felt fear. I was angry," says Johnson, her arms folded and her small brown eyes opened wide. "I couldn't get into my office. I had to reassign classes. I got umpteen mad letters from Reed students asking why I had delayed mailing their transcripts."
When the sit-in concluded, there was no sign that anything had been touched, "not even the mimeograph machine."
The college survives today thanks to the efforts of three of Reed's presidents, Johnson believes. William Trufant Foster, the college's first president, set the tone that remains today. Richard Sullivan "picked up the pieces and got started again" after the Moore controversy. Paul Bragdon "picked up more pieces" when Reed faced financial challenges that nearly closed the college in the 1970s. Bragdon established a strong board of trustees with members that invest their energies to ensure the college's future, she adds.
"They have the same questing spirit that was there when Reed began. They are forward-looking, noble-spirited people who ask 'What can I do?'"
The former registrar, whose desk once was surrounded by owls given to her as gifts from faculty and staff members, says she's never really left Reed. She is now serving as one of the four alumni trustees on Reed's board and often visits the campus in her role as a member of the alumni board of management. Other activities include volunteering at the Beaverton Library and doing book reviews for her reading group. Her avid interest in growing orchids slowed following the death of her husband in 1989.
On her visits today, Johnson finds Reed may have new instructors and more buildings, but the students are a lot like those she's played with, studied with, and worked with for 65 years.
"It seems to me the river that runs through it is still much the same. Students still have the same intensity. They still do as many silly things as we did. They're people who are interested in doing things. There's a spirit there of trying to see that the world is a little better when they leave it."
Nancy McCarthy MALS '92 is a freelance writer living in Portland. This is her first article for Reed.