Comrades of the Quest (continued)

The Tug-of-Warrior

Dexter Keezer [president 1934–42]

Educator, journalist, and New Deal economist Dexter Keezer arrived on campus determined to give bookish students a taste of the outdoors and crack down on the canoodling. It didn’t always work.

Time, November 11, 1935: Dexter Keezer arrived at Portland last autumn with his wife and small daughter, sworn to become no stuffed shirt. Students made his acquaintance during the freshman-sophomore tug of war when the victorious sophomores discovered that one of the “freshmen” they had been dragging through the mud was new President Keezer. Subsequently “Prex Dex” attracted even more attention by appearing in bright red duck pants. In the winter he could be seen carrying an armful of wood to heat a cold conference room. In the spring he played tennis and fished with his students, shocked bookworms when he inaugurated a carnival and skiing trips, and reminded them: “You don’t live on intellect alone.”

Cheryl Scholz MacNaughton [dean of women 1924–37, history 1938–43]: Keezer was an able, hard worker, and certainly astute in many ways. But he ran into a tougher situation at Reed than he had expected—it was a phalanx of free thinkers who had strong ideas of what they wanted to do academically. They didn’t care to be upset by some young man from the East who didn’t know a thing about how they had done things up until that time. The faculty didn’t care to be disturbed on those grounds. It never has.

Keezer: I found the social setup at Reed strangely out of balance and coeducationally dangerous, both for too-docile young ladies and for the young men who were gaining an altogether false impression of the importance of their opinions.

Cecelia Gunterman Wollman ’37: President Keezer wanted us to be more decorous in our lifestyle on campus. Among the many things that came up for discussion with him was whether we were going to have dorm controls, including the business of locking the doors in the women’s dorms in the evenings. “Intervisitation” was another one—whether we could have men in the women’s dorms and under what conditions and at what hours.

Clement Akerman [economics 1920–43]: Mr. Keezer seemed to feel that the students should be guided more in their conduct by the faculty. I felt that students were able to take care of themselves in most ways, and that they should be left alone in their social lives to a great extent, and allowed to form their own methods of governance and entertainment. The students themselves felt very strongly about their self-government, and they resented any efforts to be bossed. If anything seemed to infringe upon their self-government, they were up in arms.

E. B. MacNaughton [president 1948–52]: Five months slipped by before we realized there had been no inauguration for President Keezer. One day I said seriously to Reed’s new president, “You should know by now that Reed College has been credited with encouraging such unconventionalities as Communism and free love, and we haven’t yet legitimized your relationship with us and made an honest man of you.”