May letters 2004

Reed welcomes letters from readers about the contents of the magazine or the college. Letters must be signed and may be edited for clarity and space. Our email address is

diversifying reed
From Jack Call, parent of Aaron Call ’07


Thank you for publishing Colin Diver’s excellent article, “Affirmative Action, the Constitution, and Reed College,” in the November 2003 issue of Reed. When I saw the cover of that issue, with the heading “Diversifying Reed,” I was apprehensive that I was about to read yet another invocation of “diversity” as a magic word that suspends the need for critical thinking. To my delight, what I found instead, in President Diver’s essay, was an analysis of the historical background of the issue, an insightful critique of the Supreme Court decisions in the U. of Michigan cases, and a reaffirmation that in Reed College’s admission policies, “every person must be judged on the basis of his or her own merits and achievements, rather than on the basis of group membership.” It is to the undying credit of Reed College that it continues to uphold this principle which has been abandoned by so many other colleges and universities.

From David Robinson Jr. ’50

I read with great interest your November issue’s articles on diversity efforts at Reed. Most of the many years that have passed since I graduated from Reed have been devoted to teaching, the last 38 on the faculty of the law school of George Washington University. The law school is only modestly larger in student population than Reed College. Undoubtedly significantly because of our location, we have the luxury of a huge volume of applications—about 120,000 per year—to study law here. Like every American law school of which I am aware, we have a vigorous affirmative action program. When I arrived in 1965, we had no racial preferences in student (or faculty) acceptances. The number of black students was small, and there were no black faculty members. Following the murder of Martin Luther King in 1968 and massive black rioting, an affirmative action program was proposed and immediately approved by the faculty. Many supposed that this would be a temporary measure. This has not been the case. At our law school, we admitted a substantial group of black applicants despite their often significantly lower LSAT scores and lower undergraduate performance records. We continue to do so, although it is my impression that the quality of the minority applications has improved over the years. Still, in view of the continuing scarcity of fully competitive black and Hispanic applicants, failure to grant any preference would greatly shrink our minority group student population. My experience with “special admission” students has been quite positive on a personal level. But they have tended to perform toward the bottom of their classes academically, as they were predicted to do. Still, we are substantially adding to the number of black lawyers, itself a positive result. On the more troublesome side of the equation, in addition to the moral and legal objections to making admission decisions on the basis of race, there have been a number of additional costs of the program, not all of which are obvious to many observers. One, since we admit minority group applicants to study with more competitive classmates, they may experience a less helpful learning environment than would be available in another school, a problem that may be compounded by the demoralization attendant on finding oneself to be performing toward the bottom of the class. A second concern is the pressure affirmative action places on the grading system. When black students found themselves disproportionately receiving low grades, they filed complaints, despite (or partly because of) the fact that we had adopted anonymous grading procedures. While these charges were ultimately not pursued, gradually the number of D and F grades have almost disappeared and C’s are now following. Of course, grade inflation is a nationwide phenomenon with many causes. But we know that when we give a low grade, it is disproportionately likely it will turn out to be a member of a minority group that will be hurt. One might think that a substantial presence of members of minority groups would enrich class discussion. My own experience is that the expression of a distinctive point of view by such students almost never occurs. On the other hand, the avoidance of subjects whose dispassionate consideration might give offense to some students is quite common among faculty and students. I have often been guilty of this myself. Specialized courses on racism and civil rights litigation may be less likely to be similarly inhibited,but they are often politicized and elected by a small and self-selective number of students. Pragmatically I am pleased that the Supreme Court left room in the Michigan cases for (obfuscated) racial preferences. In view of the determined commitment of a majority of American administrators and faculty to a substantial presence of minority group populations, the alternative is not being color-blind. It is utilization of subterfuges such as those adopted in Texas, Florida, and California. The importance of merit (as reflected in measures such as standardized testing and prior academic performance) would be depreciated for all students, not merely selected racial and ethnic minorities. This would be the larger potential cost.

home away from home
From Marvin H. Lehr ’54

As a former president’s house resident I was pleased to read that Prexy was being used as a music building (February 2004). If it had been torn down, many of my cherished memories of my student days at Reed might have faded with it. I lived in Prexy for more than four college years. During the summers of 1954 and ’55, when Dave Fahrney ’59, Jack Sadler ’56, and I were working in the chemistry department, we slept and cooked for ourselves in Prexy. I lived most of my years in the bottom floor suite, which included the kitchen. Remember, Prexy was built as a house, so it was different from the traditional dormitories. It felt literally like a home to me. My friends and I bought a 150-lb. hindquarter of nicely marbled, grass feed, aged beef and had it cut into steaks and hamburger, frozen, and stored at a supermarket up on Woodstock. Every evening we enjoyed our dinner, usually consisting of beef, baked potato, milk, and plenty of green salad, to the sound of classical music played on Jack’s record player with a 15-watt (large for then) speaker. And to celebrate our good fortune as summer drew to an end, we constructed a barbecue pit outside and had the chemistry professors over for red wine and dinner (T-bones of course). We had a great time in Prexy. I am very grateful to the college for preserving it.

calligraphy reunion lives on
From Charlotte Gould Warren ’59

Reed’s 2003 reunion, filled with marvelous calligraphy, testimonials, demonstrations, and lectures, celebrated the lifetimes of work in the arts. Thanks to the many dedicated individuals who made it happen. When Robert Palladino stood before a hushed audience and with steady hand and spirit drew his classical Roman caps—the second movement of Beethoven’s 5th piano concerto accompanying him—few eyes stayed dry. With his back to us, turning only to dip his long-haired brush in ink and wipe it lightly on a cloth, he formed each letter, one wide curve and narrow shoulder at a time. The quote he chose was from Cicero: “When I am an artist/then I am a man.” Yes! Keep the study of art at Reed. It sustains lives.

End of Article
Reed Magazine May 2004