The Art and Science of Reed

In “Reed Declares New Majors” (March 2015), you asked, “Are computers really compatible with Reed’s emphasis on the humanities?” You answered your own question with a “resounding Yes,” but the real question you should have asked is, “Why did it take so long for Reed to develop a computer science major given Reed’s emphasis on the sciences?” 

Every student at the college takes Hum 110. It plays a central role in socializing and orienting students to Reed. During the strategic planning process, faculty, students, staff, and alumni reiterated our commitment to the course. 

However, Reed’s national reputation has been largely built on its teaching and scholarship in the natural and physical sciences, particularly the historical success of these programs in producing PhD students. While every student’s career starts with Hum 110, every student’s academic career ends with the senior thesis. Many alumni will tell you that the thesis was the most important part of their Reed education. If you look at theses, it is quite clear that Reed College emphasizes the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, psychology, English, and the social sciences. In 2014, more than half (54% or 173) of Reed seniors graduated with degrees in MNS and HSS. Add to this total those seniors with degrees in linguistics, psychology, or interdisciplinary degrees in MNS, HSS, and environmental studies, and you’ve covered 70% of Reed seniors. (All data taken from Reed’s institutional research page.) 

The staffing requirements for Hum 110 mean that Reed has always had and will continue to have a strong foothold in the humanities. The new comparative literature major is a wonderful addition to our curriculum, welcome to many because it may start to rebalance disparities in upper division enrollments and theses. But it is long overdue that we recognize that the majority of Reed students after their first year take classes, take quals, and write theses in the sciences, mathematics, and the social and behavioral sciences. This is our emphasis. Our self-understanding as a community, even when it comes to tongue-in-cheek sentences in the magazine, should reflect this fact.

—Prof. Paul Gronke [political science]

Portland, Oregon