Presidents of Reed

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Paul E. Bragdon


Born on April 19, 1927, in Portland, Maine

Paul E. Bragdon’s tenure as Reed’s president has been the longest and among the most pivotal in the college’s history. After leaving Reed, Bragdon remained a transformational figure in the field of higher education in Oregon, leading several institutions through difficult transitions and continuing to work on higher education issues in public policy.

A graduate of Amherst College and Yale Law School, a Marine Corps veteran, and a practicing lawyer in New York City, Bragdon served as New York City’s Legislative Representative and Press Secretary to the mayor. Eleanor Roosevelt and others recruited Bragdon to assist their political reform efforts; Bragdon later advised Senator Robert F. Kennedy on urban issues. But it was his work as vice president of New York University that caught the eye of Reed’s trustees, who were looking for a leader to navigate Reed out of the financial doldrums into which the college had drifted. Inheriting a meager endowment—which had been reduced to about $4.4 million—Bragdon assured a wary faculty he was committed “to improving the resources of the college as a means of sustaining quality and enriching our programs.”

Reed, he counseled, should improve fiscal prospects not at the expense of quality but as a result of it. He was true to his words. As annual giving tripled to $2.4 million in four years, eventually reaching $24 million in a single year, frugality gave way to prudent investment in academic expansion, enriched student life, and structural maintenance. Departmental status for Spanish, majors in Asian studies along with art and history, restoration of the senior symposium, new visiting professorships and faculty chairs, enlargement of Hauser Library and establishment of the Douglas F. Cooley Memorial Art Gallery, construction of Vollum College Center and a studio arts building, and pioneering programs in computing and educational technology were all achievements of the Bragdon years.

Bragdon’s “Campaign for Reed” raised $65 million in his final five years—putting Reed’s first capital campaign $20 million over goal—and he left the college with a 16-fold increase in endowment and a $2 million reserve. When he departed, Bragdon had handed diplomas to 40 percent of all Reed graduates. He and his wife, Nancy, an educator, author, and popular presidential spouse, continue to make Portland their home.

Bragdon served as education adviser to then-Governor Neil Goldschmidt after leaving Reed, and also directed Oregon’s Office of Educational Policy and Planning. He became president of the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon, which he led into a merger with Oregon Health & Sciences University Foundation, and was asked, subsequently, to be president of the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology. There, he helped restore stability, oversaw the development and implementation of a new master plan, and encouraged closer ties with OHSU, leading ultimately to the merger of OGI with OHSU. OHSU awarded Bragdon with a rare honorary degree.

In 2003, 76-year-old Bragdon was called out of retirement to be interim president of Lewis & Clark College (2003–2004), and he guided the institution through a difficult transition.

Bragdon has been awarded honorary degrees from Amherst College, Whitman College, Oregon Health & Sciences University, Pacific University, Lewis & Clark College, and Reed College.

Throughout his years in Oregon, Bragdon has supported and often led civic and cultural institutions. He has been the recipient of a number of awards in recognition of his role in the community, including the Torch of Liberty Award from the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, the Presidential Leadership Award from Marylhurst University, the Kaul Foundation Award of Excellence, the Aubrey Watzek Award from Lewis & Clark College, the Simon Benson Award from Portland State University, and the Paul E. Bragdon Leadership Award from Multnomah County Library.

Bragdon’s complete biographical information can be found, here.