Eduardo Ochoa ’73 presented his reflections on higher education during Reunions 2013. Photo by Leah Nash
His peak intellectual experience was being a student at Reed, which also formed the foundation for everything that followed, says Eduardo Ochoa ’73. So, being asked to help lead his alma mater as a trustee was the ultimate validation, comparable to having a parent say, “You’ve done well.”
Elected to Reed’s board of trustees in October, Eduardo is president of California State University, Monterey Bay, and was the former assistant secretary for postsecondary education in the Obama administration.
A native of Buenos Aires, he attended bilingual schools in Argentina before immigrating with his family to Portland in his sophomore year in high school.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in physics at Reed, he went on to complete a master’s degree in nuclear science and engineering at Columbia University and a doctorate in economics from the New School for Social Research. He became a professor at California State University, Los Angeles, eventually moving into administrative posts in the Cal State system, including provost at Sonoma State University.
When efforts stalled to initiate an intellectual rite of passage for first-year students at Sonoma State, Eduardo looked back and drew some lessons from Hum 110.
“Hum 110 helped me connect with the human project,” he explains. “I have always been interested in trying to make sense of what life is all about. Learning about Western civilization gives you a moral compass that allows you to make wise decisions when you finally do get into a position of leadership.”
At Sonoma he proposed an overarching topic that would span disciplines and place students in small seminars to engage with the material, articulate and defend their views, and critique others. To make it affordable at a state school, the seminars were offset by large lectures, team taught by faculty, and the endeavor proved a success.
Eduardo’s leadership caught the eye of the Obama administration, which tapped him for assistant secretary for postsecondary education.
Though his term at the department of education has ended, Eduardo foresees turbulent changes in higher education, particularly for second- and third-tier private colleges and universities. How will state universities expand to provide the education that larger segments of the population are finding necessary to complete in a global economy? Is there the political will to subsidize and support that kind of endeavor? Will it be possible to maintain and preserve the liberal arts foundation of American higher education?
“Given its niche and quality,” he says, “I think Reed is relatively safe. There will always be a market for what it provides. It’s essentially a boutique, high-end experience, and now that it has a substantial endowment, I think it has the ability to do what other leading institutions do, which is to provide access to people from underprivileged backgrounds who are able to meet the academic rigor of the experience, but who wouldn’t have the resources to do it otherwise. The role that places like Reed can fulfill is to replenish and nourish the leadership of our country so it reflects the diversity of the country.”
Eduardo will attend his first board meeting in February 2014 and is looking forward to learning how the college has changed since he was a student. “Having an institution take some responsibility for student success is a good thing,” he says, “particularly for people who are first generation at college and haven’t received all of the knowledge they need to succeed—beyond working on academics—through osmosis.”
We congratulate Eduardo on his election to the board.