PRUYNE: In these times of simultaneous international turmoil and domestic economic strain, is a liberal arts education perhaps rightly criticized as an indulgence or more likely to be an asset for the student? For society?
DIVER: A liberal education in the arts and sciences, as practiced at Reed, is undeniably expensive. If judged by its short-term payoff solely to its recipients, a Reed education might well be viewed as an indulgence. I am convinced, however, that, when properly viewed, a Reed education is a great investment. First, it is an investment in a set of abilities and perspectives that will provide benefits to the student over his or her entire lifetime. Older alumni often tell me, proudly, that “Reed made me think.” I take this as a shorthand way of saying that Reed introduces its students to a set of methodological frameworks and instills in them a set of analytical, interpretive, and communicative skills that equips them to confront successfully a wide array of professional and personal challenges throughout their lives. Second, Reed develops new knowledge, through student and faculty research and the development and testing of new pedagogies that benefit society at large. To me, the turmoil and uncertainty of today’s world are precisely the best arguments for liberal education—society is changing so rapidly and so unpredictably that education must focus on instilling lasting skills and values that will make its recipients optimally adaptable. Reed’s education, in my view, fits that description perfectly.
P: What has impressed you about today’s Reed students?
D: I have been impressed most by the degree of intellectual passion and curiosity of Reed students. This quality is reflected not only in the fabled capacity of Reed students to work long hours in the library and their fabled love of intellectual argument and debate, but also in the depth of their interest in, and knowledge about, at least one field or topic. I rarely come away from an encounter with a Reed student, even a chance encounter, without learning something. They are passionate learners precisely because they are equally passionate teachers.
P: So far you have traveled to nearly a dozen locations to meet with alumni and prospective students and their families. What impressions have you taken from these meetings?
D: My most vivid impression is that of the continuity of Reed over the generations. You can sit down with any randomly selected group of Reed alumni and have much the same kind of conversation you would have with a randomly selected group of Reed students. Alumni from all age cohorts can engage in a discussion or debate about Hum 110, the Quest, the problem of maintaining balance in a place of such academic intensity, the proper criteria for admission, financial aid policy—whatever. I take this as evidence of two points. First, despite many superficial changes in campus, curriculum, and personalities, Reed has remained remarkably faithful to its core mission over a very long period of time. Second, despite equally superficial changes in its graduates, they have remained remarkably loyal both to the college and to the values that they took away from their experience at Reed.
P: Where have you identified your opportunities to advance the mission of the college as it approaches its centennial?
D: I often characterize my role as one of “dynamic conservation.” The “conservation” refers to my belief that we must maintain Reed’s essential commitment to fostering a love of knowledge for its own sake. The curriculum will change, but it seems to me essential that it continue to include a common foundational course, a strong distribution requirement, an inquiry-based pedagogy, and a required exercise in original research. The “dynamic” aspect of my role is to guide the college through changes that allow it to remain faithful to its essential mission. Examples include expansion of the size of the faculty so as to enrich the curriculum, increased institutional support for pedagogically relevant faculty and student research, greater opportunities for artistic and creative expression by students, support for student service to the larger community, and further support for student services and housing options that can strengthen the sense of community on campus. I also want to pursue strategies in the areas of admission and financial aid that promise to bring to campus a student body that is more diverse ethni-cally, socioeconomically, nationally, and ideologically.
P: What roles do you see for alumni and the alumni association to play in the Reed community?
D: The alumni are, in a profound
sense, the measure of a college’s
success. Our claims of offering a superior education, one that justifies
its high cost,
must be borne out in the lives and experiences of