President Diver: The Exit Interview (continued)

Diver stands resplendent in a robe that could drown out a 747 on take-off.

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Above, hoisting a shovel with professors Kathleen Worley, Carla Mann ’81, David Schiff, and Virginia Hancock ’62 at performing arts groundbreaking.

Back to the fuchsia: Diver stands resplendent in a robe that could drown out a 747 on take-off. Hoisting a shovel with professors Kathleen Worley, Carla Mann ’81, David Schiff, and Virginia Hancock ’62 at performing arts groundbreaking.

What’s the biggest piece of unfinished business?

We are not fully need blind. We want to be able to admit every applicant without regard to his or her financial capacity. To get there, we need to do two things: increase our appeal to the most talented applicants who can afford full tuition, and increase our endowment for financial aid to support those who cannot. We have made good progress on both fronts, and I hope that Reed can get to the goal of becoming need blind in the next decade. The fact that we are not yet need-blind is not to say, by the way, that we are any less generous than our peers. If you look at other schools that are need-blind, we look pretty good. We have over 50% of the students on financial aid, with an average package of $34,000 a year. About 18% of our students are on Pell grants.

Another issue is the challenge of continuing to recruit top-quality faculty in certain disciplines, such as economics and some of the sciences. Reed has a very strong tradition of pay equity for faculty across disciplines. Preserving that tradition is very important to the faculty. But I worry that growing salary differentials among disciplines within the academic marketplace will make it harder and harder for us to recruit without either offering differential compensation in some fields or significantly raising salary levels for the entire faculty.

There’s also the ongoing struggle to combat substance abuse. We’ve made a lot of progress. We’re in good shape. But this takes time and a strong, sustained effort to change a culture. It takes 10 years to accomplish. And we didn’t get serious about it until about five years ago. We have turned the corner but we have to sustain the effort.

Is Reed too expensive?

Tuition is too high for many families—but we are able to help them with financial aid. I’m proud of the fact that all our financial aid is based wholly on need. Unlike many schools, we do not give discounts for wealthy  kids. But there’s a difference between price and cost. We are producing something special here—an elaborate package of services. It’s an artisanal product tailor-made to each student. The whole idea is that every student is the object of attention. So it’s expensive—it’s inherently expensive. Small classes taught by full-time professional educators. The facilities, IT, library, labs are all top of the line. We’re proud of it. That’s our trademark. Yes, you can do it cheaper. You can have huge lectures, distance learning, lots of adjuncts.

Since you’ve been president, the internet has made incalculable amounts of information available to anyone with a high-speed connection. Has that diminished the value of a Reed education?

No. But I think the biggest long-term challenge to higher education comes from the information revolution. Once upon a time, you got your news, your sports, weather, and your recipes from your newspaper—that’s the prix fixe model. But we are now living in an à la carte world. People can get their weather from the weather channel and their sports from ESPN—why should they buy a newspaper? The same thing is happening in education. You can get a first-class physics course online from MIT. You can get statistics from Carnegie Mellon. How does Reed compete in that world? We have to be the best integrator in the business. In a way, we’ve got a built-in advantage—we already have a pretty integrated curriculum. My advice to Reed is to figure out a science-and-math equivalent of Hum 110 and to reinforce its identity as a community of scholars. Because no online course can replicate the experience of living in such a community.

Has the Honor Principle outlived its usefulness?

I think it’s fair to say the Honor Principle has never lived up to its potential. People need to accept responsibility for their behavior and understand that the Honor Principle is not about license. You can’t have a community of honor if everyone has their own view of honor. Democratically approved policies are part of the Honor Principle. So the Honor Principle is not unwritten—it is written. There are difficult practical issues in implementing the Honor Principle, but the concept of honor, I think that’s a fantastic idea. I hope Reed never gives up on it.

The Diver Decade

Since taking the helm in 2002, Diver, 67, has led the college through several significant changes. Notable landmarks include:

Student life: Reed’s four-year graduation rate has risen from 45% to 70%. The college has built several new dorms, allowing almost 70% of students to live on campus. It has also revamped fitness, health, and wellness programs to help Reedies thrive in the intense academic environment.

Diversity: The proportion of American students of color has risen from 10% to 23%. International students account for 6% of the population, first-generation students for 12%. The college has a dean for institutional diversity and has embraced diversity as a core value.

Selectivity: Reed accepted 34% of applicants for fall 2012, down from 71%, while SAT scores have climbed steadily. (Median scores for the class of ’15 were 710 reading, 690 writing, 680 math.)

Performing arts: Reed has strengthened the departments, added several teaching positions, and begun construction on an ambitious performing arts building.

Professors: The college has added 13 full-time faculty positions, pushing the student-to-faculty ratio down to 10.23 to 1. Faculty compensation has been strengthened across the board. There is greatly expanded support for research.

Purse strings: The Centennial Campaign raised $199 million in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. The college has doubled its spending on financial aid to $22.5 million a year. Approximately 52% of students now receive financial aid; the average award is $34,200 a year.

Colin Diver

“Colin has been a really positive force on campus . . . he took us out of our complacency and pushed us to do things a little differently. That’s leadership.”
—Professor Arthur Glasfeld [chemistry 1989–]

“He is a thoughtful and articulate speaker and a wonderful writer. He is also a very moral person—he wants to do what’s right.”    
—Professor Virginia Hancock ’62 [music  1991–]

“The more time I spent with Colin, the more his intellect, thoughtfulness, and dedication to Reed students inspired my awe and admiration.”
—Misha Isaak ’04, former thesis advisee

“What I have seen in his 10 years here has been sensitive, thoughtful leadership, as all of us examined our principles, how we do things, and why, and we have emerged intact, but only more so. Reed is now in better shape in all respects than ever in its history.”
—Steve McCarthy ’66, trustee emeritus

“Colin Diver is a New Englander, and, I thought at first, a stoic and reserved kind of guy. Not at all. He poured his heart and soul into this job. He was never afraid of tackling the difficult issues. He embraced Reed and challenged Reed to engage in an ambitious campaign, including a long-sought-after performing arts center. He succeeded. His legacy will last a long time.” —Dan Greenberg ’62, trustee