President’s Office

President’s speeches, letters, and articles

Subject: President Kroger’s Update on Hum 110

September 1, 2017

For the past year, our nation has been struggling with profound questions about the meaning of freedom, community, and identity. In the process, rational and civil discourse has suffered, replaced at times by anger, vituperation, and violence. At Reed, these questions have also become manifest on our campus and in our classrooms as students, faculty, and staff have searched for a way to make meaning during a period of tumult and conflict. Unfortunately, our discourse, too, has fallen victim to anger and conflict.

As most community members know, our Humanities 110 class has been the focus of serious tension over the past week. On Monday, student protesters disrupted the scheduled lecture and professors cancelled the presentation in progress. On Wednesday, the lecture proceeded on time but only after a heated exchange between a number of student protesters, Hum students, and faculty members. This morning, a professor cancelled class because he believed, as a matter of principle, that he could not lecture surrounded by signs and placards accusing the faculty of racism. Instead of delivering his lecture, he invited students to meet with him informally and met, I am informed, with approximately 150 students to discuss his views. All the involved parties, students and faculty alike, believe they are acting in a principled, ethical manner.

The Humanities 110 faculty have dedicated their careers to the study of the course material. They have accelerated their review of the course curriculum, and I commend them for it. We should trust their expertise and judgment and give them time to complete their review. While these deliberations over the curriculum take place, I ask my faculty colleagues not to allow a few poorly chosen protest tactics to overshadow commendable intentions or important issues.

To the student protesters, I wish to say that I respect your commitment and your right to dissent as is enshrined in our governing documents. I ask, however, that you think carefully about the effects of your dissent on your first-year classmates and that you refrain from any further disruption in the classroom. What makes Reed special is what happens in class. At Reed, the classroom is the domain and responsibility of the faculty. We must all respect their decisions about the appropriate teaching environment.

I also ask everyone to temper their rhetoric. Faculty, students look to you as models for conducting themselves during difficult times. Students, I want you to recognize that when you make ad hominem attacks against faculty members for teaching ancient Mediterranean texts rather than critiquing what you see as flaws in the curriculum, you damage the very cause you claim to advance.

To the first-year students and your families, I would like to reassure you that we are doing everything in our power to resolve this challenging situation. Reed is a remarkable community, but like any community committed to shared governance, it experiences moments of turbulence and division. Such moments are an important part of an education, and that is why we allow and even foster dissent on this campus. These moments present opportunities to better understand our differences and our responsibilities. The Dean of the Faculty has assured me that all Hum conferences, as well as all other classes, are proceeding as scheduled. It is my expectation that faculty and students will continue to discuss these important issues. My efforts in the coming weeks will be to help ensure a positive and collegial spirit on the campus. In the meantime, I ask for your patience.


John R. Kroger