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reed magazine logoSpring 2009

Students and faculty strongly advocated for the appointment of Meiklejohn to succeed Scholz, but Ladd was dubious. An alumnus of Amherst, he had watched as Meiklejohn enraged fellow alumni with his reforms during his eleven stormy years as president. Ladd and the conservative faction of the regents board were troubled by Reed’s ongoing faculty battles, its perpetual financial crisis, and the local suspicions of its political radicalism and immorality. They pressed for a complete change in the direction of the college. In Norman Coleman they saw a conciliator who could bring peace to the faculty, restore religious propriety to what locals dismissively called “godless Reed,” and move the institution toward something resembling collegiate normalcy.

The author of the famous Reed slogan, “comrades of the quest,” Coleman had served briefly on an interim troika running the college after Foster’s resignation. As head of the English department for the first eight years, he had been instrumental in establishing Reed’s tradition of academic papers. Coleman left the college in 1920 to run the Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen, a company union in Portland. Founded during World War I to address the labor strife hampering the supply of timber for the war effort, the 4L’s placed patriotism before all else, requiring that loggers sign a loyalty oath before being hired by lumber companies. Although the union’s influence greatly declined under his leadership, Coleman’s mediation skills had nonetheless earned him the respect of the Portland business community.

While the board debated the merits of the various candidates, trustee president Kerr, fearful that Coleman would return the college to Foster’s elective curriculum, pressed through a motion that bound any new president to carrying out Scholz’s unified curriculum.

On November 25, while Kerr was away in Minnesota on business, Ladd called a special meeting of the board to vote on Coleman. Learning of the vote by telegram, Kerr wired back that he was still opposed, but to no avail: two days later, Ladd marshaled a majority of the board and installed Coleman as president. Mindful that the faculty harbored serious doubts about him, Coleman insisted on a unanimous vote; he got it after Kerr agreed to withdraw his opposition.

The Reed community learned of the appointment in the Oregonian the following week. The news was greeted with disbelief; the regents’ unilateral action struck students and faculty like a slap in the face. Led by Quest editor Frances Berry ’24, students staged the first major protest in the college’s history. Their rebellion reverberated far beyond campus.

“Another college has been drawn back from the path of Bolshevism by the enlightened authority of a board of regents,” wrote the editors of the Harvard Crimson. “The death of Richard Scholz, its late president, gave the opportunity for the business interests of Portland, entrenched in the regents board, to deflect the college from its doubtful toying with ideas. The new president, Mr. Norman Coleman, was leader of the wartime movement to oust the I.W.W. [Wobblies] from mines and lumber camps. He is a stalwart defender of the political and social dogmata of the chamber of commerce, and accepts as his standard the business man’s stamp of O.K.…[h]is constant care will be to purge Reed College of its liberal fevers. From henceforth Reed College must play, in the educational sphere, a respectable if uninspired and totally mediocre role.”

The New Student characterized the change as “excellence brought into sharp contrast with aggressive dullness.”

The Oregonian, which had denounced Reed as radical and seditious during Foster’s tenure, came to Coleman’s defense, assuring Portland that “the kids were safe at Reed.”

William Foster and Richard Scholz had both been men of strong intellect, with forceful personalities and bold agendas. If Norman Coleman had an agenda, it was freedom and friendliness. His conciliatory nature, however, offered the faculty an opening—an opening they would shortly seize upon.

reed magazine logoSpring 2009