REED HOME Gryphon icon
Feature Story
reed magazine logoDecember 2010

Reed U continued

This position was not as preposterous as it might seem now. The line dividing school and college has long been placed further along the continuum in Europe, where university entrants have the equivalent of two years of American college experience. Moreover, the 1960s witnessed a surge in postsecondary education, making the bachelor’s degree less valuable in the job market. Federal support for postsecondary education was largely through university-level research, which put liberal arts colleges at a competitive disadvantage.

Sullivan was not blind to the hazards of this proposal. He noted that many faculty and students were opposed to a graduate school, and he acknowledged that the move risked “converting what may now be a first-rate college into a fifth-rate and undernourished university.” But overall, Sullivan, Vollum, and other trustees remained convinced that expansion was the key to Reed’s future.

Storm Clouds on the Horizon
Robert Sullivan

President Sullivan did not anticipate the opposition that his proposal would trigger.

As Sullivan sought to build momentum for his idea, he approached five other local private undergraduate colleges to discuss a possible Portland Center for Graduate Study, a proposal that gained support from Oregon Governor Mark G. Hatfield; in 1962 the talks were expanded to include public institutions. The public component was short-lived, however, because of fears that a Portland center would siphon funds away from Eugene and Corvallis and by the latest in an ongoing series of Oregon tax revolts that made public funding impractical. The consortium of local colleges got cold feet; by May 1963, it was clear that Reed would have to go it alone.

For the next year, the graduate school was a defining issue on campus. Sullivan appointed a special committee, with himself as chair, to issue a recommendation. Apart from Sullivan, the committee consisted of 9 members of the faculty, and it is easy to conjecture that its composition was stacked to agree with him. Two served as administrators as well as faculty, and four of the remaining seven hailed from the sciences—believed to be most in favor of a graduate school. Hugo Bedau [philosophy, 1962–66], although not a voting member of the committee, served as a paid rapporteur over the summer. Notably absent were influential faculty members who opposed the idea, such as Marvin Levich [philosophy, 1953–94], Richard Jones [history, 1941–86], Maure Goldschmidt [political science, 1935–81], and Lloyd Reynolds [English and art, 1929–69].

The committee immediately recognized that any decision it would make would be under tremendous uncertainty, because there were many unknowns. Such unknowns included the following:5

  • Where would the money come from? The faculty were adamant that not one dollar be shifted from undergraduate to graduate education. Committee member Marsh Cronyn ’40 [chemistry, 1952–89], who at the time was in favor of Reed U, recalled that the proposed funding sources were hopelessly inadequate. He said that a graduate program would cost “really, hundreds of millions just to get started, minimal. You know what they [were] talking about? Twelve to fifteen million. Peanuts, I mean just peanuts.”6
  • Would it detract from Reed’s undergraduate program? “It was obvious to many of the older faculty that would be outrageous,” Cronyn said. “Every time that has happened, the undergraduate program gets what’s left over after the graduate program.”
  • Would it attract top students? Levich7 says that he was astonished that any professor would consider establishing a graduate program to which they could not recommend their own best students.
  • Who would be in charge? Reed faculty prided themselves on the critical role they enjoyed running the college; this might recede with the complexity of the graduate school.

Nonetheless, by a vote of 8–1 (with one abstention), the committee finally concluded8 that it be:

RESOLVED that the Reed Institute, through its faculty, administration, and board of trustees, should establish graduate programs, and conduct the required related research, in the liberal arts and sciences, linking such educational and research efforts to, extending, and reinforcing the present programs of Reed College.

The consistent impression from reading the report is that the committee carefully identified each of these issues, and then assumed the best of all possible worlds (in spite of its preamble regarding uncertainty) in order to dismiss their importance. Hubert E. Chrestenson [mathematics, 1957–90] was the sole dissenter, and his concern was not based on opposition to the idea so much as his belief that the risks and uncertainties had not been adequately addressed.

Levich believes that Sullivan and Vice President Richard T. Frost [political science, 1960–69] pressured the committee not to investigate the deep merits or disadvantages of the program. For example, the committee acknowledged that more support from the Ford Foundation and others was needed for the undergraduate program alone, and that without substantial additional support the graduate program could not succeed. But it then asserted that this shortfall could be overcome because a university would be better able to capture philanthropic dollars and that its greater visibility would actually drive support for the undergraduate program. These assertions were made without any evidence—they were, more or less, so much whistling in the dark.

Controversy Strikes

The committee’s report sent the campus into an uproar. Reed divided into two factions—most students and a majority of the faculty opposed to a graduate school, with a minority in favor.

As the issue neared a crucial faculty vote, both sides dug in their positions. By this time, some opponents believed that President Sullivan and Vice President Frost had begun to adopt an argument of financial justification. Summarizing an interview with Sullivan in the Quest, Alison Publicover ’67, wrote:

Any graduate work in any given field is more likely to attract money from the government and the foundations than undergraduate work alone. Carleton Whitehead, Assistant to the President for Public Services, has succeeded in finding the funds for expansion and improvement, even if the money has sometimes not been at hand when the programs were begun. He felt that funds will probably be forthcoming for any well thought-out program that meets a real educational need.

reed magazine logoDecember 2010