College honors president who helped build today’s Reed
What stands out about Richard H. Sullivan’s Reed presidency is its prescience. In fact, says President Emeritus Paul Bragdon, the college owes much of its subsequent success to Sullivan’s ambition for Reed and his willingness to take risks.
Sullivan’s contributions were recognized in a ceremony at the annual Amanda Reed dinner during the Board of Trustees meeting in October. During the ceremony, with Sullivan’s widow and other family members in attendance, the Steele East residence hall was renamed in his honor.
Sullivan served as president of Reed from 1956 until 1967, when he resigned to take up the presidency of the Association of American Colleges. He died in 1982.
Sullivan’s term was bracketed by a political crisis at its outset and a fiscal crisis at its conclusion. He was appointed in the aftermath of a wrenching incident in which a Reed professor was fired after allegations in Congress that he had Communist Party ties. The incident became a wedge between faculty and trustees, and Sullivan went about bridging the gap and healing wounds by improving faculty conditions, recruiting prominent new trustees, and attracting funds for important campus facilities.
“Teaching loads were reduced and faculty recruitment broadened,” says Bragdon, who served as president of the college from 1971 to 1988. “A new faculty constitution was written and adopted and a systematic sabbatical program for faculty was established.”
Members of the faculty at the time also cite Sullivan’s efforts to involve faculty in college decisions, and to strengthen Reed by increasing the size of the student body and aggressively pursuing construction of new facilities in such areas as science and student services.
“[Sullivan] was very responsive to faculty concerns,” says Frank Gwilliam, Laurens N. Ruben Professor Emeritus of Biology at Reed.
“Scholarship was a major issue for me,” says Laurens Ruben, who is Reed’s Kenan Professor Emeritus of Biology. “He made a commitment to faculty members who wanted to do scholarly research. That wasn’t common in small colleges at that time. Dick gave us full support, even going to the foundation and making the case. I was always grateful to him for that. Dick put himself out in front to get a biology building that would allow us to do research as well as teach.”
In Sullivan’s time, the college received and successfully matched one of the first of eight Ford Foundation college-improvement grants, the only such grant made to a Western college. He was able to catch a wave of national science funding that was sweeping the United States in the wake of Sputnik. “Sullivan did a lot in terms of fundraising to get the biology and physics buildings constructed,” says Gwilliam. Other facilities added or planned during his years as president include the south wing of the library (doubling its size), several residence halls, the commons and bookstore, and the sports center.
As part of his vision for the college, Sullivan nearly doubled the undergraduate population, bringing it to 1,200, and added faculty at an even faster pace, lowering the student-faculty ratio. He also strengthened the board of trustees by adding new members who were not Reed alumni and were drawn from across the country.
In the end, the onset of the Vietnam War and other factors cut back on federal support for higher education and precipitated retrenchment at Reed and other colleges. But Bragdon says much of Sullivan’s vision was nevertheless realized under subsequent presidents.
“Without Richard Sullivan’s national recruitment of faculty, students, and financial support,” Bragdon concludes, “Reed would not be where it is today, among the first rank of liberal arts colleges.”