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reed magazine logoWinter 2009

Thanks to the G.I. Bill, however, Levich was able to attend Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, earning—in two and a half years—four bachelor’s degrees: psychology, history, sociology, and philosophy. A fellowship enabled him to pursue graduate work at Columbia University, where he made the decision to teach. “No other career seemed to me to be a valuable one or worth pursuing,” he recalls.

Levich arrived at Reed just in time for one of the darkest chapters in the college’s history. In 1954, during the heyday of McCarthyism, Reed came under the scrutiny of the House Un-American Activities Committee, which dispatched a tribunal to the campus, holding nationally televised hearings during which three Reed professors were questioned about alleged Communist sympathies. All three refused to answer. One of them, tenured philosophy professor Stanley Moore, refused to cooperate with a subsequent investigation by the board of trustees. In response, the board fired him—over the vehement protests of the faculty.

This tragedy took a terrible toll on Reed. Those who survived vowed to never let it happen again—in part by trying, as far as possible, to maintain the political neutrality of the college.

Waskow

English professor Howard Waskow received tenure, but left Reed in frustration.

Levich never forgot the lessons of the Moore affair. It took him a few years to figure out what he termed “the privacies of Reed life”—exactly who and what made the college tick. Over time, Levich became convinced that the true calling of a Reed professor was not only to teach, but also to protect the college from forces that could destroy it. In particular, he believed that it was the faculty’s duty to defend Reed’s academic program—one that was rigorous, traditional, and clearly demarcated from politics.

But in the late 1960s, neither the Young Turks nor their student protégés were familiar with this background. They just considered Reed an insular place, where students were immersed in a dusty curriculum that had little bearing on their lives. The war in Vietnam was raging. The civil rights movement was well underway. Astronauts had taken their first steps on the moon. The call of the outside world was deafening, as was the call to some undefined larger purpose. “I came in with a life inquiry: how do I make a difference?” Dearborn recalls. “The school didn’t seem to have much to offer someone like me, as it turned out.”

Dearborn was not the only student expressing such concerns. “I feel there is not a great community feeling at Reed because Reed does not offer individuals an opportunity to really be alive,” student Peter Shefler wrote in a 1968 Quest article. “I’d like to see Reed change from a place of petty constraints and official inhibitions to a place where there are people and warmth and love and life.”

For these students, the Young Turks were an important source of guidance and affirmation. Dearborn recalls Kirk Thompson as the one who “taught me how to think and write, how to analyze and sequence, and he did it with extraordinary care. I felt respected and challenged and supported by him.” She says of Howard Waskow, “He was a person who evoked enormous inquiry of the heart and mind simultaneously,” and of the Young Turks collectively, “Each of these guys had qualities of heart and mind that invited my wholeness to come forward, whereas in the presence of people like Levich, I just kept my mouth shut.”

Levich may have intimidated some students, but he inspired many others. “I had more than a few outstand­ing teachers at Reed,” Tom Shapiro ’63 recently wrote to the college. “None is more memorable or had a more lasting influence on my ability to think logically, analyze an argument and reason to a justifiable conclusion, than Mr. Levich. After 50 years, the Humanities 11. . . and Mr. Levich remain in my memory the definition of my freshman year at Reed.” In 1969, Levich was named one of the top ten scholar-teachers in the country by the Danforth Foundation.

The Young Turks tried their best to shake things up. Drukman introduced Reed to the Free Speech Movement. Waskow taught Upward Bound classes on campus in the summers. They got the faculty to pass an unprecedented resolution protesting police presence at UC Berkeley. But after a while, they began to believe the Old Guard was threatened by their efforts.

reed magazine logoWinter 2009