In 2019, the Reed College Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Audrey Bilger as the 16th president of Reed College. Bilger is the first woman to be selected for the post. She joined the Reed community from Pomona College, where she served as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college and professor of English.
Bilger earned an MA and a PhD in English from the University of Virginia and a BA in philosophy from Oklahoma State University. She was a member of the English faculty at Oberlin College and professor of literature at Claremont McKenna College. Bilger held several leadership positions during her 22-year tenure at Claremont McKenna, including founding faculty director for the Center for Writing and Public Discourse, chair of the literature department, coordinator of gender studies, and member of the board of trustees academic affairs committee. While at Claremont McKenna College, Bilger was selected to participate in the American Council on Education Fellows program, the nation’s leading program for preparing academic leaders for presidencies.
Bilger is a prolific author of scholarly books, articles, and chapters, as well as reviews, creative nonfiction, and journalism for the popular press. Her acclaimed work focuses on comedy, Jane Austen, the English novel, feminist theory, popular culture, and gender and sexuality. Her most recent book, Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage, co-edited with Michele Kort, was a 2013 Lambda Literary Award finalist. She is the author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen. She serves on the Ms. magazine Committee of Scholars and was the Gender and Sexuality section editor of The Los Angeles Review of Books. Her work, which has appeared in Ms., The Paris Review, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Los Angeles Times, has frequently covered issues pertaining to same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights.
“I have a profound respect for Reed's intellectual traditions, and I share the values expressed in Reed’s mission,” states Bilger. “Reed is doing something that is rare in higher education today. It is a privilege and delight to champion this community of scholars and to serve as president of an institution engaged in such critical work.” Bilger noted, “I am also drawn to Reed’s location in Portland, and value the importance of enhancing connections between the college and this vibrant city.”
The search for the 16th president of Reed College began in June 2018. The search committee comprised 16 faculty, staff, students, and members of the Board of Trustees—which included five alumni of the college. For the first time in Reed’s history, students and staff were voting members of the committee. Dean for Institutional Diversity and A.A. Knowlton Professor of Physics Mary James was an ex officio member who advised on best hiring practices and how to avoid implicit bias. The search firm Storbeck Pimentel & Associates, a woman- and minority-owned firm that specializes in higher education executive searches, was employed to assist the process.
“Reed College is distinctive for the rigor of its academic program, its embrace of community governance, and its defense of scholarship in service to undergraduate education,” said Roger Perlmutter ’73, chairman of the Reed College Board of Trustees. “Audrey Bilger has demonstrated her commitment to these ideas throughout her career. She is also a fierce advocate for the liberal arts. Her leadership experience combined with her scholarship inspired the presidential search committee, members of the Reed community with whom she met, and our Board of Trustees.”
“In Audrey Bilger’s experience and leadership in academia we found a great deal of evidence that she has the qualifications the Reed community identified as essential for our new president,” said Alex Martinez ’73, presidential search committee chair. “Among the qualifications she exhibits is a deep understanding of the importance of diversity and inclusion as essential tenets of a 21st-century education. Her advocacy for issues such as marriage equality and her contributions beyond academia make Audrey Bilger the right person to lead Reed College at this time in our history.”
“Over the course of more than two decades at Pomona and Claremont McKenna Colleges, Audrey Bilger’s contributions have been invaluable in advancing teaching and scholarship,” said David Oxtoby, president of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and immediate past president of Pomona College. “She has demonstrated her insightful leadership, commitment to the liberal arts, and dedication to the power of ideas. I have great confidence in her ability to be a terrific president for Reed College.”
Steven Koblik, a beloved past president of Reed (1992–2001) who also came to Reed after a long tenure at two of the Claremont Colleges, stated, “Audrey has a sophisticated and deep understanding of the nature of residential liberal arts colleges. She is dedicated to the education of undergraduates and has embraced the distinctive way that Reed defines that mission. She is an excellent choice for Reed’s 16th president.”