The Politics of Neutrality
As an alumna and faithful donor (of small amounts) to the alumni fundraising campaigns,
I am grateful for your article, “To
Be or Not To Be Political” [Spring 2006],
and deeply disappointed by the college’s choice of investment strategies.
Indeed, to act, or to fail to act, is an ethical choice. But the business of socially
responsible investing has been around for at least 30 years; long enough to demonstrate
that it is a viable option for those who want their money to support their values. It may
not produce the highest return, but I think we agree that profits should not be the only
driving force in business decisions—or should we reinstitute slavery? If our nation
were not wasting billions on war and occupation in Iraq, there would be more resources
for higher education, along with many other significant social goods.
If Reed were to join with other academic institutions, pension funds, and nonprofit organizations
in directing its financial managers to use “socially responsible screens” for
its investments—sure, some definitions of sweatshop might be questionable; sure, some
otherwise “clean” companies might be found to violate a law—we could
take a stand in favor of reducing the proliferation of weapons and pollution, while supporting
companies that pay living wages, promote women and minorities to leadership positions,
make useful consumer products, etc., etc.
I guess where we differ is that my Reed education taught me that it is my job to challenge
the status quo.
Claire E. Gorfinkel ’66
I find it tragic that the president of Reed College suggests that my alma mater is “not
qualified to take positions” on questions of justice. It is even worse that he suggests
pornography is an obvious evil, while labor exploitation is not. But the salt in the wound
is the pervasive inconsistency in his reasoning. If “Diver said that the college
would not knowingly invest in businesses involved in organized crime or pornography,” then
clearly he is using investment standards that go beyond legality, and are not “politically
neutral” (pornography is, for the record, legal). On the other hand, Diver undermines
the requirement of legality by suggesting that every business we invest in is probably
a law-breaker, so law-breaking should be no deterrent to investment. In that case, why
not invest in organized crime? At least it creates jobs at home.
If Diver wants to “liberate minds,” the least he can do is to encourage a genuine
discussion on the relation between politics, morality, and the law that does not depend on
a facile divide between the world and the university. Joining the boycott of Coca-Cola would
not be a “political” move in the sense precluded by the Reed policy of neutrality,
as this boycott does not support any political platform. It would be a moral choice—and
a far more ethically coherent one than Diver’s reactionary opposition to pornography.
Lily Chumley ’02
Lauren Rother ’07 and President Colin Diver at a Reed
Union on political neutrality in February
You can’t imagine how excited I am each quarter to find the new Reed magazine
in my mailbox. Similarly, you can have no idea how far my heart fell reading the recent
article about Colin Diver’s comments on Reed’s investment strategies. Diver’s argument
that Reed should take formal positions on issues like affirmative action or financial aid—in
its direct interest—but avoid similar consideration of actions taken by the college
that affect the interests of others, is ironically resonant of the administration’s
position on the recruitment of underrepresented students—specifically people of color
and students from working-class families—during my time at the college.
The idea that Reed is not implicated in the social and political universe into which
it delivers its graduates smacks of the worst of the rarified attitude that left so many
of my classmates feeling bitter and alienated. As “free and vigorous thinkers,” Diver
and those responsible for investing Reed’s endowment should be well positioned to
consider the ways that the status quo position they currently hold is not, in fact, a neutral
position but rather one directly implicated in real power relationships.
Rather than prudently avoiding the imposition of American labor standards on less powerful
nations, Reed is actively supporting a global system that ensures those nations will be unable
to develop standards for workers or citizens outside of the influence of multinational corporations
empowered by American investment capital.
Diver’s and trustee Steve McGeady’s (’80) comments on political neutrality
seemed particularly ironic given the announcement of this year’s McGill Lawrence
internships for multicultural understanding, and awards from the newly established Reed
Environmental Activism Fund. Further, the college’s growing emphasis on service learning
and ostensible commitment to acting as a public art repository in the face of reduced government
support seem to suggest that Reed
is more than willing to exercise
its particular value system within
a larger community. Exempting Reed’s investment dollars from the ethical frame applied
college activities seems an unreasonable and irresponsible omission.
Equally ironic was the back-page article lauding the refusal of Reed alumni, faculty, and
staff to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings in 1954. Reed
professes to prepare its students for a rigorous life of the mind. It is a sad reflection
of our institution if engaged critiques of political conditions are relegated to cheering
ourselves on in the rearview mirror.
Greta Marchesi ’97
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Continue the Search
In the last Reed magazine, the article “Life
in Venice” intrigued me. The two
former Reed students, Mark Bedau ’76 and Norman Packard ’77, are using their
small company in Venice, Italy, to do fundamental research on creating new living cells—sometimes
called “artificial life”—from basic chemicals. I believe most people
view this as a huge leap from inert material to life. This is an excellent example of human
beings exercising their basic instinct to explore the boundaries of the possible. As with
any exploration, it could well end in failure, but the risk of failure is what makes it
exciting. I am not a biologist and do not understand the challenges they face, but I suppose
there are many. I hope that they can create something that is helpful to both man and nature.
The ethical problems brought out in the article and the sidebar [“Should
We or Shouldn’t
We?” a Q &A with Arthur Caplan, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania]
are based on fear or strong concerns. The first one is that the scientists might create something
that could harm either nature or human beings. This fear seems to be deep in human nature,
coming down to us in literature from Greek myths to the novel about Dr. Frankenstein and
his monster. I believe that if we have the ability to create life, we have the ability to
control our creation. The second point is that most religions of the world have their own
sacred story of how life was created, and creating life is performing a function most religions
reserve for God. Perhaps some religious people fear that if mankind could create life it
would diminish their vision of the power of God. As a Christian, and a person whose beliefs
have been colored by a Christianity that has endured for 20 centuries, I can still accept
our human ability to create life as a natural step towards God’s great evolutionary
Harris Dusenbery ’36
Issues of Art and Style
As a graduate of Reed in theatre, I was very gratified by the article on a possible performing
arts center complex: it is long overdue [“Into
the Limelight,” Spring 2006].
The article, however, indicated that the new building would adjoin Kaul Auditorium. A respectful
suggestion: don’t make an already poor choice worse. As wonderful a performance space
as Kaul is, its setting partially destroyed one of the best spaces on campus—the
beautiful sloping hill—which (once) commanded a panoramic view
of the West Hills and the all-too-rare (but welcome!) sunset. Putting a new building next
to it would complete this unfortunate process. Planners should take a cue from Harry Weese,
the designer of the subtle and beautiful Watzek Sports Center, which, despite its large
size, gracefully flows down the same hill with notable humility. There must be a less invasive
way to site this much-needed facility.
And a short note of support for Bob Palladino’s call for a revival (however modest)
of Reed’s legacy in calligraphy [Letters,
Spring 2006]. As a student during his late years at the school, the presence of calligraphy,
from permanent school signage to a lowly “roommate
wanted” note on the community bulletin board, gave a sense of beauty and design to
even the most quotidian elements of campus life. Calligraphy was once synonymous with Reed;
it would be lovely to make reference to this tradition on the cover of Reed.
Mark Worthington ’83
Los Angeles, California
I was delighted to see the letter that you published by Robert
J. Palladino. Bob was my
calligraphy teacher and possibly the friendliest artist I have ever known. Besides his
incredible skill, Bob loved his work and his life. Poise and a well-rounded spirit were
a part of his art. This balanced out the more intellectual side of Reed. If we were too
stressed to hold a pen,
he would provide Italian food to calm our spirits. Bob would also comment directly on everything
he saw without stimulating an academic debate. We could digest the criticism without having
to defend a position. This irritated the art faculty, but it also guided me back to my
studio without any pressure.
My father, age 82, still has a piece of calligraphy on his wall that I did at Reed. Now
that I have a spinal condition that affects my hands and prevents me from writing well,
I appreciate the time I had in Bob’s class for the confidence he engendered. It was also
fun to watch him calligraph, with pleasure, every single diploma, no mistakes. As you can
tell by his letter, each one meant something. I’ll have to dig mine up, now that I’ve
read the magazine, and give Bob a call.
Melinda Hunt ’81
P.S. I agree that the new masthead is infinitely better. May I suggest calligraphy for alumni
college with Italian food on the side?
Ascent of F6 Revisited
I am amused by special collections librarian Gay Walker’s (’69) account of the
performance of the Auden/Isherwood play The Ascent of F6 in 1940 [“Theatre on the Eve
of War,” Spring 2006]. I wonder where she got the information that I (“a student
copyist”) copied out 60 pages of Benjamin Britten’s music for the play? I did
conduct the student ensemble which performed it (and included my future wife, Doris Felde ’43),
but have no memory of copying 60 pages of music. It is unlikely that the publisher’s
agent would have allowed that, or would have sent out the score without the instrumental
While Walker recounted then-drama director Kaye Stuurman’s trivial complaints about
the curtain-pullers and mentioned the unreturned borrowed phone, the sources evidently failed
to clue Walker in to the most dramatic moment of opening night: someone tripped on the extension
cord lighting the musician’s nook and we fumbled in pitch dark for an interminable
As for Avshalomov—“now a composer and conductor living in Portland”—this
is the same guy who led the Portland Youth Philharmonic for 40 glorious years. Yours in
great devotion to Reed . . .
Jacob Avshalomov ’43
Editor’s note: Information in a theatre scrapbook maintained by Kaye Stuurman (and
now held by special collections) notes that The Ascent of F6 was being presented at Harvard
at the same time. An article from the Reed College Quest, dated March 29, 1940, says that
since there was only one score and it had been sent to Reed, the publisher’s agent
requested it back and allowed the copying.
Lessons of McCarthyism
Our family was deeply affected by the McCarthy era as my husband, John MacKenzie ’50
(1923–1999), not only suffered loss of employment and the process of appearing at the
HUAC hearings, but was one of only four in the state of Oregon who went on trial for contempt
of Congress early in 1955. I have collected a lot of information on this, encouraged by the
interest of Michael Munk ’56 in this part of political history [“McCarthyism
Laid to Rest?” Spring 2006].
As time goes on and the people involved in those times inevitably pass away, we learn
that many people—from Reed, and from many walks of life—were attacked by the mob psychology
of those days. As I grow older (I’m 73 now), I meet people who were caught in those
attacks, people I never knew—this indicates to me that
the numbers involved were very great. It is surprising to me that so many younger people
know very little about the issues of the McCarthy era. As the Munk piece states, today’s
threats to civil liberties certainly remind one of that time, and I certainly hope we are
not headed down a similar path.
Mary Mathisson MacKenzie ’53
I read with dismay recent letters describing Reed professors who have long been retired
from teaching (and some deceased) as “classroom bullies.” I hope this discussion
will end, but I could not let the subject rest without vigorously defending chemistry professors
Marsh Cronyn ’40 (currently a professor emeritus) and John Hancock (who passed away
in 1989). I was a chemistry major in the late ’70s/early ’80s when Cronyn and
Hancock taught organic chemistry. Their course was reputed at Reed and beyond the campus
borders as one of the most challenging college courses anywhere. The course was taught in
a rigorous manner. While the classroom experience could be humbling, their teaching styles
were not abusive but were aimed at getting students to think. Exam averages often hovered
at well below half correct, emphasizing to the student how much of the subject remained to
be learned. In the Reed tradition, Cronyn and Hancock taught in a manner that stretched students’ abilities
and instilled respect for the subject. They stand out as two of the best professors I had
at Reed and during subsequent years of post-graduate study. I consider myself lucky to
have studied chemistry
at Reed during their tenure.
Tracey Scherban ’83, Ph.D.