Mission & History

About Reed College

Since its founding in 1908 as an independent undergraduate institution, Reed College has remained steadfast to one central commitment: to provide a balanced, comprehensive education in liberal arts and sciences, fulfilling the highest standards of intellectual excellence. Reed offers a liberal arts education of high quality under unusually favorable conditions, including a challenging curriculum involving wide reading, conference- and laboratory-based teaching in small groups, and a student body motivated by enthusiasm for serious intellectual work.

Learn more facts about Reed, including the HEOA Student Consumer Information.

Mission of the College

Reed College is an institution of higher education in the liberal arts devoted to the intrinsic value of intellectual pursuit and governed by the highest standards of scholarly practice, critical thought, and creativity. Its undergraduate program of study, leading to the degree of Bachelor of Arts, is demanding and intense and balances breadth of knowledge across the curriculum with depth of knowledge in a particular field of study. The goal of the Reed education is that students learn and demonstrate rigor and independence in their habits of thought, inquiry, and expression.

The Reed Education

  1. The Reed education balances broad study in the various areas of human knowledge and a structured, in-depth study in an academic discipline through degree requirements established by the faculty.
  2. The educational program’s pedagogies are characterized by close interaction of students and faculty in an atmosphere of shared intellectual and scholarly concern and active learning. Small conference and laboratory classes are the norm, providing students the opportunity to demonstrate intellectual initiative and creative engagement.
  3. College-wide distribution requirements provide a foundation for all students in the assumptions, basic theoretical frameworks, techniques, and current literature of a range of academic disciplines, both humanistic and scientific.
  4. The program in a student’s major area of study is an intensive examination of the objects, literature, theoretical concerns, and research models characteristic of an academic discipline. Among the requirements for the major are successful performance on a junior qualifying examination, completion of a yearlong senior thesis based on original research or artistic expression, and a successful oral defense of the thesis before an interdisciplinary faculty board.
  5. The Reed education is distinguished by a yearlong interdisciplinary humanities course, required for every first-year student. The college further encourages interdisciplinary study through upper-division humanities courses, as well as established interdisciplinary majors representing areas of research and scholarship that span traditional disciplines.
  6. To ensure the highest quality education for its students, the college supports and encourages scholarly research by the faculty and the application of such scholarship throughout the teaching program.

Operating Principles of the College

Free Exchange of Ideas

The educational mission of the college requires the freest exchange and most open discussion of ideas. The use of censorship or intimidation is intolerable in such a community.

The Honor Principle

All members of the college community, including students, faculty, and staff, are governed by an honor principle, which emphasizes personal responsibility and mutual respect in the conduct of one’s affairs.

Political Neutrality

Because the college fosters and defends academic freedom, it avoids taking positions on political issues that do not directly affect the fulfillment of its educational mission.

No Religious Affiliation

The college has no religious affiliation and maintains neutrality regarding religions and religious practices.

Central Educational Mission

Any postbaccalaureate educational program that the college chooses to offer must be consistent with and supportive of the college’s central educational mission.

Student-Faculty Ratio

Reed is by design a small college that values opportunities for in-depth and sustained academic exploration and the development of close professional relationships among students, faculty, and staff.

Activities of the Staff

The activities of the staff are essential to the well-being of the institution, and, in areas related to the educational program, the staff supports and advances the pursuit of the college’s academic goals.

No Division by Academic Ability

Students are not divided by academic ability or promise, and there are neither “honors” degrees nor other such programs.

Faculty Advisers

Each student works with a faculty adviser, who helps plan a course of study that is consistent with the student’s academic goals and that meets the distribution and major requirements. Faculty advisers also provide evaluation and advice related to the student’s performance.

The Evaluation of Coursework

Instructors provide students with frequent and substantive evaluation of their performance in order to promote student intellectual growth. Although grades are recorded for all classes, they are not routinely reported to students.


The affairs of the college are conducted under constitutional government that accords primary governing responsibility to faculty, students, and staff within their appropriate spheres, and encourages collaboration and cooperation among all constituents in the development of policies of general concern. Matters concerning the curriculum are ultimately decided by the faculty.

A Residential Community

Reed is a residential college that provides on-campus housing in small residential communities for a majority of its students in order to sustain vibrant social and intellectual exchange outside of the classroom and laboratory.


The college believes that pursuit of its academic goals is advanced by actively seeking a student body, a faculty, and a staff that reflect a diversity of social, racial, and ethnic backgrounds.

Financial Aid

The college seeks to attract and enroll students solely on the basis of their suitability for the academic program, and, to the degree possible, without regard to financial need or other disadvantages unconnected with academic performance or ability.

Health and Counseling

In service of its educational mission, the college provides a broad array of counseling and health-related programs, cultural events, extracurricular and community service activities, and recreational sports to support the academic growth and physical and emotional health of its students.

History of the College

Reed College was founded in 1908, and its first classes were held in 1911. Reed is named for Oregon pioneers Simeon and Amanda Reed. Simeon Reed had been an entrepreneur in trade on the Columbia River; in his will he suggested that Amanda “devote some portion of my estate to benevolent objects, or to the cultivation, illustration, or development of the fine arts in the city of Portland, or to some other suitable purpose, which shall be of permanent value and contribute to the beauty of the city and to the intelligence, prosperity, and happiness of the inhabitants.” Amanda Reed followed that suggestion in her will by setting up a board of trustees to found the Reed Institute. After extensive research, the trustees of the Reed Institute made the decision to establish a college of liberal arts and sciences in Portland, with no limits other than an insistence on equality and secularism.

Reed’s first president was the visionary William Trufant Foster, who served from 1910 to 1919. He was followed by Richard F. Scholz, 1921–24; Norman F. Coleman, 1924–34; Dexter M. Keezer, 1934–42; Arthur F. Scott, 1942–45; Peter H. Odegard, 1945–48; E.B. MacNaughton, 1948–52; Duncan S. Ballantine, 1952–54; Richard H. Sullivan, 1956–67; Victor G. Rosenblum, 1968–70; Paul E. Bragdon, 1971–88; James L. Powell, 1988–91; Steven S. Koblik, 1992–2001, Colin S. Diver, 2001–12, and John Kroger, 2012–18. The current president is Audrey Bilger, who assumed the office in 2019. Reed was led by an administrative committee from 1919 to 1921 and by seven acting presidents: Frank Loxley Griffin, 1954–56; Byron L. Youtz, 1967–68; Ross B. Thompson, summer of 1968 and 1970–71; George A. Hay, 1980–81; William R. Haden, 1991–92; Peter J. Steinberger, 2001–02; and Hugh Porter, 2018–19.

Governance of the College

The affairs of the college are conducted under constitutional government. How the faculty, students, and staff participate in governance is set forth in the faculty constitution, the community constitution, and the student body constitution.

Ultimate responsibility for the welfare of the college rests with its board of trustees and president. Educational policy is the responsibility of the faculty. An elected faculty Committee on Academic Policy and Planning (CAPP) makes recommendations about curricular change to the faculty and provides advice to the president about the college budget and faculty resources. A parallel Student Committee on Academic Policy and Planning (SCAPP) works with the CAPP. An elected faculty Committee on Advancement and Tenure (CAT) makes recommendations to the president about faculty personnel matters. Many faculty committees have student members, and students may also attend regular meetings of the faculty. The advice of students is sought, particularly in the evaluation of the faculty’s classroom performance.

An elected student senate works with the faculty’s Community Affairs Committee on the nonacademic life of the college. The student body controls expenditures of student fee money through the student senate and makes appropriations that fund the budgets of most campus organizations.