Presidents of Reed

bragdon image

Paul E. Bragdon


Born on April 19, 1927, in Portland, Maine

Paul E. Bragdon was born in Portland, Maine, was educated in the public schools there, and served in the Marine Corps in the latter days of World War II. Thereafter he received a bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and a law degree from Yale. He practiced law in New York City, and at the same time became a leader in a grass roots reform movement in the Democratic Party in Manhattan, for which Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt and former Senator and Governor Herbert H. Lehman provided an umbrella. He then served in high positions, including as New York City’s legislative representative, on the staff of the City’s mayor. Leaving public service, he became Vice President for Public Affairs at New York University, where among other things he coordinated the common public policy agenda for the presidents of New York University and Columbia, Cornell, Rochester, Syracuse and Fordham universities, including the successful effort to obtain state support for New York’s independent colleges and universities. He left that position to accept and assume the presidency of Reed.

Bragdon served as Reed’s president for seventeen years, the longest presidential tenure to date, with over 40 percent of the college’s then graduates receiving their degrees during his presidency. In announcing his appointment, the Trustees noted “the extreme need to obtain more operating income for the college,” set obtaining additional funding as a first priority goal for the new president, and said that “severe constraints on various programs” existed, and “must continue until such time as new income can be generated.” In a resolution welcoming the new president and promising support, the faculty expressed appreciation of the spirit in which he had undertaken the responsibilities of the Reed presidency, with full knowledge of the gravely unsettled condition of affairs at the college and declared that “effective leadership at this time is essential, not merely to Reed’s continued development, but to its meaningful survival.”

Presiding at the first meeting of the faculty in the new academic year, President Bragdon confirmed his commitment to the conservation and effective use of existing resources and to improving the resources of the college as a means of sustaining quality and enriching Reed’s programs. He expressed his conviction that Reed was worthy of support and could attract it, and that recent decisions by faculty and trustees to make survival and viability achievable fortified the case to be taken to supporters, present and prospective. Two other matters received significant attention in his first remarks to the faculty: concern for the quality of student life and that faculty engage in a process of continuing curricular review and renewal as a means of making an excellent place even better. Many years later, in his final meetings with the faculty and board of trustees, he cited the foundation laid by the common effort through the years and the stability of the college in expressing his confidence that the “best years for Reed lie still ahead” and that the college was on the threshold of even “better tomorrows”

Total annual gifts to the college from all sources for all purposes during the first year of Bragdon’s presidency were approximately $750,000. By 1974–75 the total reached $2.4 million. With the incentive of a fire-year challenge grant to encourage gifts from various constituencies for current projects and operations, the annual giving level continued to improve and was capped by an extraordinary year in which Reed rivaled top-ranking peers in fund-raising with total gifts of $24 million. The college mounted its first successful comprehensive fundraising campaign—The Campaign for Reed—during the final five years of Bragdon’s presidency, raising $65 million in gifts and pledges, about $20 million in excess of the campaign goal of $45 million. The $4.4 million endowment at the outset of his presidency grew to approximately $16 million at the beginning of the campaign, and reached the $65 million level at campaign’s end. Indebtedness of $1.8 million on the threshold of his tenure was discharged and supplanted by reserve funds of approximately $2 million.

With an increasing flow of operating income, constraints were loosened and additional support was given to support students, faculty, and the campus environment. The first fully funded chairs for faculty were created and a program of visiting professorships was introduced with gifts and foundation grants. Supporting the initiative of a faculty committee, the college was among leaders in introducing technology to support the educational program, and qualified early for designation as a “computer-intensive college.” Spanish was accorded departmental status, and a grant paved the way for the introduction of Asian Studies in furtherance of the objective to include more materials with respect to other cultures in the curriculum. With generous gifts, significant resources were added to support art and art history at the college. The Senior Symposium, a fixture in the curriculum of the college in earlier years, was restored as an elective.

Buildings and facilities were necessarily a secondary priority in the Bragdon years. Nevertheless, a new studio arts building was added and Vollum College Center—with classrooms, faculty offices, the first lecture hall suitable for the largest college classes, and lounge space—was built. Construction on a substantial addition to the Hauser Library, including an art gallery, was underway as the Bragdon presidency ended. Purchases of a residence and apartment house adjacent to the campus presented the opportunity to expand student housing on campus. A complete renovation of the offices and laboratories of the psychology department was completed, and funds were allocated for both maintenance and attacking deferred maintenance of campus facilities. Improvement of the grounds, including the removal of automobiles and vehicular traffic from the central campus, accompanied the construction and improvement of facilities.

During Bragdon’s tenure, the college vigorously pursued an effort to catch up with most of its peer institutions in developing its capacity to manage and use college resources more effectively, enhance its base of financial support, share its story with the public more systematically, and identify and reach potential applicants and students. Steps were taken to move student services away from a focus on assistance and personal attention and toward a coordinated effort within the college to improve the quality of student life and the environment for teaching and learning. These steps—representing to Bragdon some of the most significant actions of his tenure—were subject to immediate controversy and discussion, which continued for several years beyond his presidency.

Bragdon, who had been part of similar efforts before coming to Reed, was among the group of college presidents at the forefront of establishing a national association for independent colleges and universities as an advocacy force in Washington, D.C. For most of his presidency, he was engaged, with others, in putting together the federal public policy agenda for independent institutions and for higher education as a whole. He was one of seven presidents who convened representatives from 50 liberal arts colleges to address science research at their institutions, a meeting which resulted in a compilation of the contributions of graduates of such institutions to science education and research, and an advocacy document for policymakers and funding entities. He was also among the sponsors of two conferences that brought together representatives of small liberal arts colleges to improve strategies to attract more minority applicants and students.

At the state level, Bragdon was engaged is similar public policy efforts, and responded as well to calls from several governors to serve as a citizen member of commissions, committees, and task forces. He and his wife, Nancy, an educator, author, and a member of the staff of Portland Arts and Lectures—which sponsors a public lecture series featuring notable writers—were engaged and active citizens of Portland throughout his presidency; it therefore came as no surprise that they elected to continue to live in Portland after Bragdon left the Reed presidency.

After leaving Reed, Bragdon immediately took up the position of education advisor to the Governor of Oregon, and served in that position and as director of educational policy and planning for the final two-and-a-half years of Governor Neil Goldschmidt’s term of office.

Thereafter, Bragdon became president of the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon (MRF), a grant-making foundation and grantee by NIH for the operation and management of a basic biomedical research institute. His principal activity during his three-year tenure was to join with the president of Oregon Health Sciences University in effecting a merger of MRF into the OHSU foundation.

Immediately thereafter, Bragdon moved from the Oregon Graduate School of Science and Technology’s (OGI) board of trustees to its presidency to confront an institution-threatening financial crisis. Four years later, with stability established, financial and budgetary controls in place, the reorganization of the administration completed, a new strategic plan approved and in its implementation stage, and OGI in a position to launch a presidential search, Bragdon resigned—and also left the world of paid work.

During his tenure at OGI, he and the president of OHSU had initiated an examination of the research synergies between OGI and OHSU. Such explorations ultimately led to the merger of OGI into OHSU as the OGI School of Science and Engineering at OHSU. In 2004, the president of OHSU notified Bragdon that OHSU had approved the conferral of the honorary degree of Doctor of Science upon him, and noted that “OHSU has granted very few honorary degrees since it became a university” and most “of those who have received honorary degrees have contributed directly to the growth of OHSU through their work and service, and been instrumental in laying the foundations that enable us to look to the future with such high expectations.” The citation accompanying the conferral of the honorary degree notes that:

“…his vision has laid a basis for the Medical Research Foundation, the Oregon National Primate Research Center and the Oregon Graduate Institute to play critical roles in Oregon Health and Sciences University…and…the mission of each component has further strengthened the mission of the whole, creating an irresistible force of advocacy for education and science research…”

Bragdon also received honorary degrees from Reed, Amherst College, Whitman College, Lewis & Clark College, and Pacific University. He has also received recognition from other colleges and universities, and from civic and nonprofit organizations. In 1987, he was selected as one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the nation in a foundation-funded study by James L. Fisher, president emeritus of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education and author of Power of the Presidency (1984) and coauthor with Martha Tack and Karen J. Wheeler of The Effective College President (1988).

Upon retirement, Bragdon invested more time in his role as founding chair of the Library Foundation, established to augment public funding and provide a margin of excellence for the Multnomah County Library. The system was then engaged in adding new branches, renovating and refurbishing existing branches, and completely renovating the historic central library. After vacating the founding chair position and retiring from the board, Bragdon was honored by the Library Foundation with the creation of the Paul E. Bragdon Library Leadership Award in 2001; he was named as its first recipient. Bragdon took time out from his usual activities in 2004–05 to serve as Interim President of Lewis & Clark College during a critical period for that institution.