Presidents of Reed

Diver photo

Colin S. Diver


Born on December 29, 1943, in Boston, Massachusetts

Reed’s 14th president, Colin S. Diver, came to Reed during a challenging time for small colleges. A national focus on enhancing vocational training and technology-based learning was contesting the very foundations of a liberal arts education. In addition, during Diver's tenure, the country experienced the worst economic downturn since the great depression. Nonetheless, Diver’s insistence that the college stay true to its historic role as a community of scholars and font of innovation inspired a time of great progress, increased national recognition, and financial stability for the college. Upon his retirement from Reed after a decade of service, Reed’s board of trustees stated that Diver had, in the years leading up to the college’s centennial, inspired the Reed community “to see and love the college anew.”

Diver came to Reed from the University of Pennsylvania, where he served as the Charles A. Heimbold Jr. Professor of Law and Economics and, before that, as dean of the law school. He holds a law degree from Harvard and served as a faculty member at Boston University School of Law and as a visiting professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He held posts with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and with the Mayor's office in Boston and has been a member of the executive committee of the Harvard Law School Visiting Committee, a trustee of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and a trustee of Amherst College, where he received the honorary degree Doctor of Laws in 1990.

An active teacher of Reed students, Diver left the academic program measurably strengthened. The faculty was expanded to achieve a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, faculty compensation was equitably strengthened, and faculty research received greatly expanded support. Diver also oversaw key changes in Reed’s traditional curriculum, including a significant investment in the performing arts, a new major in environmental studies, and an expansion of the Hum 110 syllabus to include material from ancient Egyptian and Persian civilizations.

Diver balanced his dedication to the academic program with heartfelt commitment to students' success. Under his direction, the college constructed new residence halls and invested in important infrastructure to support students, notably a new learning center to provide professionally directed tutoring programs. Programs in health and counseling were enriched and student life programs received expanded space for their operations. The acquisition of over seven acres on the college’s northwest corner provided room for both current and future expansion.

Under Diver’s direction, the college made historic steps in claiming its founders’ vision as a place of opportunity and learning. The college greatly enhanced its capacity to admit those who could not otherwise afford to attend Reed. During Diver’s tenure, the college doubled spending on financial aid and also doubled the percentage of historically underrepresented students. College-wide initiatives to enhance racial, ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic diversity culminated with the creation of a new senior position to help direct the college’s many initiatives in this area. 

Diver particularly championed the performing arts at Reed, expanding the staffing of the music, theatre, and dance departments and leading the effort to build a new interdisciplinary performing arts building, for which construction began in 2012 on the west side of campus.

Celebrated as an accessible president whose dignity and passion complemented a Reed-like playfulness, Diver was known for his wry speeches, costumed appearances with his wife Joan at college events, and enthusiastic bear-hugs of the joyful seniors who paraded through the registrar’s office each spring.

A relentless fundraiser, Diver launched an ambitious comprehensive campaign to coincide with the college’s centennial celebration. Despite the unfavorable economic environment, the campaign succeeded in raising over $199 million toward its $200 million goal by the time of Diver’s retirement.

Diver was the fourth Amherst College alumnus to head Reed. Other Amherst alumni who have been president of Reed are Dexter Keezer, Duncan Ballantine, and Paul Bragdon. In 2004, the University of Pennsylvania School of Law honored Diver with the creation of the Colin S. Diver Distinguished Professorship. As an authority on administrative law, Diver co-wrote a popular textbook, Administrative Law: Cases and Materials, now in its sixth edition.

President Diver's speeches, letters, and articles