More Fossil Fuel on the Fire


I must say, I like it when my alma mater, including its organ for alumni, challenges us to be engaged critically. I appreciate the work you’re doing and what it’s produced.

Living with a now-retired UC San Diego professor (music) I met living off campus as a Reed sophomore in 1961, I took note of UCSD professor Brad Werner’s paper titled “Is Earth F**ked?” delivered to the American Geophysical Union in 2012. His answer: “More or less.” Another dispatch from the frontier of the great scientific consensus on climate change.

Sojourning in Sydney, I recently read an op-ed in the Sydney Morning Herald by a former fossil-fuel CEO in which he refers to business as usual among his heirs as “crimes against humanity.” The language is not mere rhetoric.

President Obama, that most attractive and hopelessly hopeful of presidents, delivers fine rhetoric on climate change, then spruiks the snake oil of another free-trade agreement that promises to eviscerate any attempt to address climate change that threatens corporate profits (as any serious attempt must) and, perhaps given wind, gives Shell the go-ahead to plunder our Arctic Ocean for more fossil fuel.

Meanwhile, our Reed trustees worry about a rumored “slippery slope”—imagine the carcass of a giant airliner, momentarily afloat, with slides deployed from its emergency exits (a form of escapism)—and what it may mean for “academic freedom.” As the world burns, our trustees fiddle. Denial has many faces.

The question you have to ask: how can it have come to pass that we, with what appears to be willful blindness, fail to recognize catastrophe overtaking us? Of course, there have been many precedents for this kind of behavior, but any notion that a Reed education should be proof against it is at risk. Is the pride we take in our reputed intellect and rigor misplaced? Smug?

All of us are responsible. That’s our problem. All includes 20,000 surviving Reed alumni. We must act. There’s no neutral territory. Reed must divest, and we must bring it about now.

If, still, you insist on your slippery slope, yes, divesting is just a beginning. There’s much more that we can and should do to address climate change. We must be willing to address critically what appears to be complacent understanding of who we are, so that our reputation, let alone academic freedom, may have merit.

—Felix Prael ’66

San Diego, California

Full of Fullbrights


“The Zen of Fulbright” indeed [Reediana, June 2015]. Landing a Fulbright, like gaining entrance to Reed, is an act of self-definition with lifelong consequence. I was inspired to go after an early career professional Fulbright fellowship as a working journalist, because I wanted to immerse myself—and my wife and I wanted to immerse our young family—in late 20th-century Japan. My goal was to better understand the Japanese investment juggernaut in America. I interviewed Akio Morita about his family sake business and the ascent of Sony. My wife and I chatted with the crown prince, now Emperor Akihito, at a reception and were awestruck not by his royalty but how his subjects dealt with it. We walked the Tokaido road that samurai traversed. We soaked in fast vanishing neighborhood baths. In the shogun’s castle we were transfixed by floors that chirped with each step to alert sleeping lords of assassin intruders. It would be fascinating to know more about the subset of Reed graduates who have had their career and personal horizons lifted by the program launched by a farsighted former senator from Arkansas. How many Reedies have snagged the scholarship? [It’s 89—Ed.] What are their stories? For answers, Reed’s Center for Life Beyond Reed might want to launch a cyber-forum for this subset of alums, and invite interested students to listen in.

—Marty Rosenberg ’71

Overland Park, Kansas

In Defense of Academic Freedom


This is a reply to Professor Nigel Nicholson’s remarks about academic freedom (Eliot Circular, June 2015). His remarks neglect a crucial part of Reed’s history. In 1954, the board of trustees discharged Prof. Stanley Moore [philosophy 1948–54], a tenured member of the faculty, for refusing to discuss his political beliefs with the board. This was during the time when the spirit of McCarthyism had run wild throughout the country. It was clear to me that taking over academic institutions had become a serious sport where the prestige of the academy was hijacked to satisfy political aims.

Indeed, the very next year, acting president F.L. Griffin [mathematics 1911–56] circulated a memo to the faculty, asking them to identify colleagues with Communist sympathies. Fortunately, he withdrew his request after a delegation consisting of Prof. Frank Smith Fussner [history 1950–75], Prof. Warren Susman [history 1953–58], and myself persuaded him that it would lead the college down a perilous road.

Reed had clearly violated one tenet, though not the only one, of academic freedom. It had given in to political pressure, and the pressure was so severe that the precepts of faculty governance were violated. But academic freedom also means that the political, religious, or philosophical beliefs of politicians, administrators, and members of the public cannot be imposed on students or faculty.

This imposition was at work under the Solomon Amendment, which was passed in 1995 when the controversy over U.S. involvement in Central America was at its height. The amendment required that colleges welcome the ROTC and military recruiters or risk losing their federal contracts, and that students would lose their federal aid unless they registered for the draft. It imposed political views on colleges and college students and represented a direct attack on academic freedom.

The purpose of this comment is to inform the reader of only some of the defenses which must be in place when academic freedom is under attack. And I have barely touched the subject. Academic freedom is always under attack. People are anxious to apply the label, less anxious to focus on the things that justify its application.

For example, I am also troubled about the idea that Reed should be understood as a college which regards one of its tasks as promoting something called “inclusivity.” It may be a good or bad thing, but there is nothing in this notion which flows naturally from our precepts about teaching and passing on the properties of serious inquiry to students. If not watched carefully, it could reach the areas guarded by academic freedom—the evaluations of teaching and the composition of the curriculum. But this is simply cautionary. It does require watching.

—Prof. Marvin Levich [philosophy 1953–94]


Cheating Heisenberg


William Abernathy ’88 concludes (“Cheating Heisenberg," Reed, June 2015) that we do not know how William of Ockham would account for the qubit measurements of Kater Murch ’02. But we do know that Libert Froidmont, a 17th-century scientist and theologian, coined the phrase “Occam’s Razor” as an insult. He claimed that Ockham used it to “cut away and scrape off all distinct entities, leaving only a plurality of names,” when we ought to posit faculties of intellect and will distinct from the rational soul as Aquinas did. Ockham disagreed about what distinctions to posit in the human soul. And I’m inclined to think that he might also have held that we need not suppose that future states cause present ones in order to calculate a radiation value based on the states before and after a target we cannot measure directly. Whether the math is simple or not, this supposition seems to involve fewer inconsistencies. But, then, I may not understand what’s up, since it’s clear that Abernathy has simplified the situation radically. With thanks for the article about Murch’s work.

—Rega Wood ’66

Bloomington, Indiana

Triumph on the Slopes


Two letters prompted my response. I share in the sadness over the passing of Terry Chase ’59. I distinctly remember the ski meet referred to by Roger Moment ’59 because I was one of the spectators. What Roger did not remember was that the course was very, very foggy, such that the great Austrian skier Toni Sailer (three Olympic medals in 1956) who “foreran” the race (prerace ski run), was almost invisible coming down the hill. I recall being asked by a bystander when Sailer would appear and had to tell him that Sailer had already gone by. That was why the more powerful programs fell so often or missed gates while the Reed ski team practically snowplowed down the hill but all four skiers completed the race! The next morning the Oregonian ran a headline, “Reed College Wins Ski Tournament????” It was indeed memorable. And thanks to Roger for recalling it. By the way, like all athletics at Reed, the “ski team” was four volunteers who were all recreational skiers, but they didn’t embarrass themselves. Both Eric Terzaghi ’58, who was Norwegian, and Terry had skied in Europe, which was pretty exotic in those days. 

I was also a freshman in the New Men’s Dorm and one of the #10-can-stackers in front of the dorm room of Prof. John Hancock [chemistry 1955–89]. (It was in honor of his efforts to build his own pipe organ out of #10 cans.) Upon returning from a rainy afternoon he encountered the “curtain” in his doorway. I vividly recall that he was characteristically unruffled, reached out the handle of his ever-present umbrella, and pulled out one of the bottom cans. There ensued the most deafening din in the history of the school when those empty cans hit the floor in the corridor. He calmly stepped over the pile of cans and went into his room without a word.

—John Graef ’60
Boston, Massachusetts


Full credit to Roger Moment ’59 for his recollections of the Great Northwest Winter Carnival. Reed was one of the few coed, if not the only school, which fielded (sloped?) a coed team. Ruth Leeds Love  ’58 was our heroine. Reed’s success on the slopes did not, however, end the day. Even more dramatically, Reed’s triumph was assured in the snow sculpture contest. Our free-standing, larger-than-lifesize entry of a couple in a decidedly romantic pose so outclassed the frieze efforts of the Stanford “S” or the Washington “Pinetree” that there was no second! As to the imposing silver plate trophy, we knew not quite what to do with it. Sunday night, many of the team converged at an off-campus apartment whereat it served as a splendid pizza tray. Monday morning, absent a trophy case in  which to enshrine the evidence of Reed’s athletic and artistic prowess, the plate was presented with appropriate pomp and ceremony to the president of Reed. Thence, we know not its journey nor where it may, this night, repose.

—Jonathan Hough ’59

Boulder, Colorado

Dancing with Trisha


In the latest Reed issue, the letter from Bernice Livingston Youtz touched off good memories of Trisha Brown. I was the student hired to babysit preschoolers while faculty women and wives participated in her dance class. A vent (with a grill!) afforded a nice view of the gymnasium dance floor from above and the kids glanced from time to time down at the dancing moms.

—Ann Birnbaum ’62

Seattle, Washington

From Reed to Martha Graham


Your obituary of Prof. Judy Massee was especially of interest because I left Reed in 1959 precisely because there was no dance. I went—almost—straight from Reed to the Martha Graham Studio of Contemporary Dance. There were no auditions. Anyone off the street could take a class if there was room. Hundreds of students came and went unnoticed. The atmosphere was charged and intimidating. The teachers—all members of Graham’s company at the last period of rich creativity—recognized perseverance, improvement, and talent. The beginners’ classes could be crowded; advanced never.

—Nonny Burack ’60

Amherst, Massachusetts

Reedites Rebel, Zorgs Attack


Hurrah for Rosina Corbett Morgan [’41] (Letters, June 2015). I have also loathed the cringe-inducing word “Reedie” for decades. It makes me think of a weenie wearing a beanie or a Trekkie taking a selfie. Are there Vardies, Mouthies, Fordies, or even Lewies? Granted, there are Yalies (George Bush comes to mind). “Reedie” is a lazy word that means everything and nothing. It does not reflect either the seriousness or the joy that are part of being a member of the Reed community. I propose the alternative word Zorg.

—John Cushing ’67


Editor's Note: Zealous Olde Reed Graduate? Zaftig Old Reed Granny? Zombie Of Reed oriGin? Acronymous suggestions welcome.

English and Math


Who could disagree with Prof. Paul Gronke [political science 2001–] pointing out the need to acknowledge that it is the chosen major and the senior thesis rather than the first-year humanities class that defines a Reed education? (Letters, June 2015.)

However, I want to note a slippage in his argument about Reed’s identity and reputation that concerns me. Paul’s letter notes, “If you look at theses, it is quite clear that Reed emphasizes the natural and physical sciences, mathematics, psychology, English, and the social sciences,” correctly grouping English among the most popular majors. A few lines later, however, the letter concludes that the majority of Reed students do “classes . . . quals, and . . . theses . . . in the sciences, mathematics, and the social and behavioral sciences. This is our emphasis.” 

How did English drop off the radar here? English has long been and remains one of the top three majors at Reed. Focusing attention on the importance of the disciplines in which most Reed students work should acknowledge this fact, not sidestep it. I am concerned about a vision being articulated here of Reed as a place which is “really” about the natural and social sciences which ignores the actual numbers. This unwarranted sidelining renders English peripheral, if not invisible, as a major, and does a disservice to English students and faculty at Reed. I may be a professor of English, but I believe numbers are very important.

—Prof. Maureen Harkin [English 2002–]




In the last issue, we mangled the name of the late Prof. Fred D. Ayres [chemistry 1940–70], mistakenly dubbing him Frederick. His widow, Prof. Angela Ayres [Spanish 1966–73], was kind enough to remind us that his name was indeed Fred, pure and simple and in need of no ornament. We made the same mistake in December 2011. We’re sorry for the errors.