Presidents of Reed

powell image

James L. Powell


Born on July 17, 1936, in Berea, Kentucky

Geologist James L. Powell took the helm from Bragdon in 1988. He had been president of Franklin and Marshall College, in Pennsylvania, and, earlier, a professor at Oberlin. He arrived at Reed with the goal of safeguarding Reed’s accomplishments, rather than changing its direction.

Southern-born, Powell had attended Berea College in Kentucky. He earned a Ph.D. in geochemistry from MIT, and maintained his membership on the National Science Board, the policy-making body of the National Science Foundation. He crusaded for science education, and hoped to help Reed remain a leader in the teaching of science.

During his presidency, Powell worked to raise faculty salaries, citing the disparity in compensation between Reed and other liberal arts colleges. He also created an administrative presence that was decidedly more marked than that of previous Reed presidents.

Under pressure from the federal government that colleges and universities institute stricter drug and alcohol policies, Powell changed some practices at Reed: students of that era may remember the disappearance of free beer from Reed socials.

Powell left the college in 1991 to become the CEO of the Franklin Institute, a science museum in Philadelphia. He later served for seven years as the president and director of the Los Angeles County Museum for Natural History, until his retirement in 2001, when he became the executive director of the National Physical Science Consortium.