REED HOME Gryphon icon
Feature Story
reed magazine logoWinter 2009

“I think [the Old Guard] identified with the college, and what happened here was what happened in their lives—was their life,” Drukman recalls. “It felt as though there hadn’t been new ideas for a long time. It felt kind of stuck where it was. Some of where they were stuck was a very nice place. But some of it felt kind of stultifying.”

In a sense, Drukman was right—Reed was at the core of the Old Guard’s identity. “The things that went on at Reed were part and parcel of what I thought about as a person,” says Levich. “They were the things that mattered most to me in my life.”

It would be unfair to suggest that the traditionalists were insulated from the outside world; several of them were passionately involved in current events. Levich, for example, served as state chairman for Senator Eugene McCarthy’s 1968 presidential campaign, and was bitterly opposed to the war in Vietnam.

But the Old Guard was genuinely concerned about the future of Reed and, indeed, the future of higher education itself. They watched with rising alarm as confrontation between police and protestors turned violent and sometimes deadly at Columbia University and UC Berkeley. Across the nation, it seemed, students were venting their frustrations about Vietnam, racial inequality, police brutality, the military-industrial complex—and everything else that was wrong with America—on their own colleges and universities, and many of these institutions were retaliating with force. California Governor Ronald Reagan called out the National Guard to put down unrest at Berkeley; the shootings at Kent State were just around the corner. Meanwhile, counterculture prophets such as Timothy Leary were exhorting an entire generation to turn on, tune in, and drop out. As tensions mounted and bomb threats became commonplace, “There really was a question about whether colleges in any recognizable form could continue,” says Levich.

Against this backdrop of political and social turmoil, the debate over Reed’s curriculum—and, indeed, its mission—grew increasingly contentious. As the faculty struggled over the humanities program and the requirement structure, however, a new battle erupted. Echoing demands at other institutions, Reed students—particularly members of the Black Student Union—had begun calling for a Black Studies program. The Young Turks supported the idea. The Old Guard opposed it.

The issue for Levich was not whether the new field of Black Studies was academically valid—he believed that it was. But he opposed the program for several reasons. First, the discipline was as yet unformed, and was defined by shifting political notions of what constituted Blackness, which he believed violated the college’s commitment to political neutrality. Second, the Black Student Union wanted complete control over the content of the courses and the hiring of faculty—conditions that would prevent the program from being integrated into Reed’s academic system. Third, Black Studies professors were in high demand and short supply in those years. Reed had no hope of winning excellent faculty members away from Ivy League institutions and historically black colleges and universities. Therefore, Levich felt that adding Black Studies to the curriculum—at that time—would jeopardize Reed’s academic integrity.

Matters came to a head in December 1968, when the Black Student Union barricaded Eliot Hall, plunging the campus into disarray. The faculty, which had been meeting frequently, began meeting even more frequently. An emergency meeting in the sports center drew as many as 800 student observers. Emotion—and frustration—ran high. “I reached a point where it was feeling dismal,” Drukman recalls. “The faculty meetings felt like death to me. It felt like death walking in there.”

On March 3, 1969, the faculty finally held a vote on the proposed Black Studies program. Each side rallied all the support they could muster. Professors who were on leave flew back to Portland to vote. Several emeritus faculty—who retained voting rights but seldom attended meetings—made a special effort to attend. When the final vote was tallied, the program was approved, 57–55. The Turks had won.

Unfortunately, the vote did little to relieve the tensions among the faculty. While the Old Guard had lost the battle on Black Studies, they still dominated the Faculty Advisory Committee, which decided matters of tenure.

As the only Turk on the FAC, Jon Roush was increasingly dismayed by the committee’s decisions in November 1969, denying tenure to several of his friends, but he hoped the decision would be different for Kirk Thompson. With calm determination he walked towards Eliot Hall for the meeting that would decide Thompson’s career at Reed.

reed magazine logoWinter 2009