Prof. Jack Dudman ’42, legendary dean of students
Prof. Jack Dudman ’42 played many roles at Reed—often simultaneously. Student leader, proud graduate, inspiring teacher, patient mentor. But he is probably best remembered as dean of students, an office he held from 1963 to 1983—during which time he helped hundreds of students through some of the most difficult times of their lives.
John Almon Dudman was born in Iowa in 1920 and majored in mathematics at Reed, where he made a deep impression on Prof. Robert Rosenbaum [math 1939–53]. “Jack was the best of the group,” Rosenbaum wrote later. “Not just in seriousness and diligence, although he clearly held his own in these qualities—but in the imagination that he brought to his study, and in the evident pleasure that he took from beginning to see the roles that mathematics plays in human culture.”
Dudman was elected student body president and became an active student advocate. During that time, two male students were involved in a homosexual relationship which somehow became public; college administrators were determined to put an end to it. Dudman argued that the students’ relationship was a private matter and that the college had no business meddling in their affairs. Sadly, his arguments fell on deaf ears and the students were expelled.
After graduation, Dudman served as a meteorological officer in the U.S. Navy, worked as a statistician at the United Nations, spent three years doing research at the Bureau of Applied Social Research, and taught math and biostatistics at Dartmouth.
In 1953, he returned to join the mathematics department at Reed, focusing on probability and statistics. In 1958, he married Barbara Reid ’60, who herself taught math for many years.
Dudman served as dean of students during some of the most tumultuous times in modern American history. Throughout this social upheaval, “Jack scrupulously maintained relations among the students, the college administration, and the Portland police,” said his brother, Richard. “Through it all, Jack never lost his wry sense of humor.”
Dudman touched the lives of generations of students—including Steve Jobs, who later described Dudman as “one of the heroes of my life.”
“Often times, when I was at the end of my rope, Jack would go for a walk with me and I would discover a $20 bill in my tattered coat pocket after that walk, with no mention of it from Jack before, during, or after,” Jobs later said. “I learned more about generosity from Jack Dudman and the people here at this school than I learned anywhere else in my life.”
When Dudman retired in 1985, students planted an Alaska cedar near Old Dorm Block in his honor. Students chose a weeping variety because they wanted him to remember how sad they were to see him go.
Jack Dudman died in 2008 after a brief illness. Below we present excerpts from some of the many comments and letters we received following the notice of his death.
I believe I can write on behalf of all the “troublemakers” of 1962–65 (and beyond), including one member of the board of trustees, in expressing our recognition of Jack’s remarkable independence, human warmth, and honesty throughout a period when the administration and part of the faculty were enraged by perfectly reasonable demands which now seem self-evident parts of Reed’s “culture.” . . .
Jack never lost sight of his role as teacher, adviser, and, indeed, friend, despite the pressures we knew were brought to bear on him. Every September, he would call me in to provide me with a matter-of-fact, confidential briefing on new or continuing students with a need for potential sensitivity to any stigma others might project on them (within and without the Reed community). He did that with a justified confidence that the “radicals” were, if anything, more dedicated to revitalizing the Honor Principle than the top of the administration.
—Tom Forstenzer ’65, Paris, France
At a time when national events and cultural changes were driving students and their parents apart from each other, Dean Dudman was there for us, our wise, helpful and mostly nonjudgmental in loco parentis. When students “found themselves in a jam” (one of his favorite phrases), one could trust in his unfailing discretion, his ability to sort out complicated situations with utmost subtlety and respect for a student’s privacy.
In keeping with Reed’s character, Jack was not a typical dean of students. He often took unorthodox steps to help students who sought his assistance. He did not assume, for example, that it was the first duty of the dean to enforce the law, a position that sometimes brought him into conflict with local authorities as well as the college administration. Whatever the “jam” happened to be—a drug bust, an unwanted pregnancy, a roommate talking about suicide, an eviction—Jack believed in being a student advocate and mentor, rather than the official enforcer of rules. This way, he believed, he could make himself more useful to a student who might otherwise refuse to seek out help from an adult authority figure. Dorm advisers took inspiration from his example and tried to provide the same sort of help to the students in our dorms.
A few years after graduating from Reed, I worked for him as his assistant (1970–73). I was privileged to learn about the inner workings of his office, and to watch him handle an endless stream of student problems, sometimes 24 hours a day. A native Portlander, Jack enjoyed friendly connections with people downtown in medicine, the courts, and law enforcement. When local authorities sometimes harassed countercultural and politically deviant Reedies, he could work minor miracles in his efforts to resolve the situation in a student’s favor.
The work took a lot out of him, but he was good at it. He obviously felt he was doing something vital, making Reed a better place for its students. In addition to his difficult work as dean, Jack also enjoyed teaching math, and was well regarded in that role. His legacy is an entire generation of students who loved and respected him. This came home to me a few days ago, when I mentioned his passing to a Reed graduate. “Oh, Dudman,” she said. “He just saved me.” Those of us who knew Jack are grateful that he was at Reed when we were.
—Gray Pedersen ’68, Seattle, Washington
I am sad to learn of our loss of Dean Dudman. I was fortunate to know him in the early ’70s when I was at Reed. More than anything, he was an icon of elegance at Reed. When I consulted him on personal issues I faced as a student, he presented the most thoughtful, caring, and clear solutions to difficulties that, to this day, inspire me with admiration for his contribution to my life. I will miss him dearly.
—Herb Dreyer ’74, Palm Desert, California
Dean Jack Dudman was an invaluably kind and supportive force during my time at Reed. During my first fall break, one of my housemates had a health crisis that led him to call Dean Dudman at two in the morning. “Where are you, John?” Dudman immediately asked, and then got up and dressed and drove to where John was and took him to the hospital. Details of other specific instances have become fuzzy in my mind (or perhaps always were fuzzy—this was, after all, the ’70s), but I remember Jack Dudman as a peace-broker, troubled-water easer, compromise-finder. Sometimes simply seeing him walk by on campus gave me a little boost of calm. I hope he knew how greatly he was appreciated.
—Stephen Lindsay ’81, Victoria, B.C.
Last night, I opened the Reed magazine and read the editor’s letter—stunned and deeply saddened to learn that Jack Dudman had passed away this summer. Chris Lydgate did an excellent job describing the role that Jack played in countless students’ lives—during some very vulnerable years. Jack was a kind and caring and fair man, and a hero to the students. For those needing advice or guidance, his door in Eliot Hall was always open.
I was one of the many who stepped through that door, and if it were not for Jack I doubt I would have been financially able to stay at Reed. I treasure many fond memories of working during the summers with Jack while planning the yearly freshman backpacking trip. Last night, I was finally unable to hold my sorrow in, and my concerned husband came to check on me as I wept uncontrollably. Al sat by me and listened as I described the role Jack had played in my life. “I wouldn’t be what I am today if it hadn’t been for Jack,” I said.
I am so glad I got in touch with Jack a few years ago; we passed a couple letters back and forth and caught up with one another. I wrote to tell him I finally published a book, and I wanted him to read it. Fortunately, it also gave me the opportunity to tell Jack what a great help he had been to me during my years at Reed.
I was so lucky to know you Jack, I will miss you deeply.
—Tara Meixsell ’83, New Castle, Colorado
When I arrived on campus as a freshman in 1983, Jack was one of the college’s defining figures. In reverent tones, upperclassmen would recount his legendary ability to help in a crisis. Among many other valiant deeds, he once cleared students of thousands of dollars of poker debts by declaring the IOUs invalid—and commanded enough respect to make his ruling stick. Through the chaos of two tumultuous decades, he held one of the most difficult portfolios imaginable—special envoy between Reed and reality.
His warm, reassuring presence and wry humor comforted generations of students through some of the most vulnerable years of their lives. Even after he stepped down as dean, students continued to make pilgrimages to his office. (Jack was also a wonderful professor who taught me to enjoy mucking about in mathematics despite my total failure to master long division.) No matter what kind of jam you were in, you knew you could trust Jack.
—Chris Lydgate ’90, Portland