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reed magazine logoSpring 2009

Scholz, like Foster, approached his vision at Reed with a relish for experimentation, relying on what he called “a method of trial and error” to test the validity of his ideas. In rebuilding the college, he had the good fortune, like Foster, to handpick much of the new faculty. With the strong backing of trustee president Kerr, he built up academic strength in the humanities, adding six full professors to the faculty, most of whom would play central roles in carrying forth his vision for years to come.

After months of planning, Scholz presented his new unified curriculum to the faculty in the spring of 1922, diagramming it on a blackboard. The Scholz curriculum revolved around a conception of the human experience unfolding in time. All students were required in their first two years to take prescribed courses: the freshman year on the evolution of man in nature and society and his achievements in literature and the arts; the sophomore year on problems of the contemporary world. The last two years were devoted to specialized fields of study, with a required course in the junior year on citizenship and international relations, followed by a senior colloquium that encouraged students to formulate their own unified perspectives of the world.

To break down the barriers between subjects and departments, Scholz proposed organizing instruction into four divisions grouped around interrelated subjects: Literature and Language, History and Social Science, Mathematics and Natural Science, and Philosophy, Psychology and Education.

Richard F. Scholz

Reed’s second president, Richard F. Scholz, believed the humanities should be the foundation of the Reed curriculum.

Scholz’s proposal immediately sparked vigorous debate. Its emphasis on the humanities placed Scholz at odds with the science faculty, made up of holdovers from the Foster era. One professor finally stood up at the presentation and wiped Scholz’s curricular design from the board. The faculty meetings that followed descended into an ongoing “pitched battle.” Scholz was forced to compromise, accepting separate sets of requirements for majors in the social sciences and humanities versus those in natural science during the first two years, opening half of the second year to electives, and reducing the upper divisional requirements.

By the spring of 1924, the tensions and kinks of Scholz’s experiment were still being worked through with the faculty, forcing him to press on in defending his vision. In April 1924, Scholz called in his good friend Alexander Meiklejohn, one of the leading progressive educators in the country, to assist him in weaving together the loose ends. Recently dismissed from the presidency of Amherst for his non-traditional views on education, Meiklejohn was a master of the Socratic method, renowned for his ability to wake students up intellectually. Such was the sensation he caused at Reed, where he stayed for six weeks as a houseguest of Scholz and his wife in Prexy.

Not long after Meiklejohn’s arrival, Scholz entered the hospital for an appendectomy. While he was convalescing, troubles began to flare up on campus. Financially the college had been scraping by with small grants and donations from the regents. In 1923, relief had appeared in the form of a sizeable gift that required matching funds. Reed mounted a local fundraising drive, which unfortunately stoked old suspicions about the college that still smoldered in Portland. Reed professors were discovered to have lectured at a communist meeting hall. Female students scandalized the city by openly smoking on campus. Students, exercising their power of self-governance, staged a minor rebellion over mandatory smallpox vaccinations. In the highly-charged political environment of the Northwest, these activities reinforced the unconventional image Reed had been branded with during Foster’s era.

Scholz rose from his hospital bed to address the crisis. The strain led to a setback in his recovery, leading to a second surgery, and then a third. Scholz did not recover from the final operation, dying on July 23, 1924.

Being among the first Rhodes scholars had lent Scholz a heroic scholar status at Reed. Under his unifying vision, sharp intellect, and personal charm, the college had enjoyed not only a rebirth but a renaissance. His sudden death, with his efforts only half finished, left the college at a critical crossroad without a leader. The stage was set for an epic power struggle.

On August 7, 1924, the board of regents convened a special meeting to discuss Scholz’s successor in the Portland offices of William M. Ladd. A conservative banker, Ladd had donated the initial forty acres for the Reed campus in 1908 to serve as an anchor for his residential development of Eastmoreland. He chaired the eleven-member regents board which included five original trustee positions led by trustee president James Kerr.

reed magazine logoSpring 2009