formal dance image

Students dressed for a formal dance in 1935.

Part Two

The Golden Age, 1921-1945

Excerpt from Chapter Eleven: No Rules, No Regulations

“There was lots of questioning about anything and everything. Nothing was out of bounds. You could question anything and talk about it. That was encouraged.”

—Genny Hall Smith ’43

“Reed students had a libertarian streak. There was a sense that you had a right to decide for yourself, and down with all rules and regulations.”

—Ann Stearns Whitehead ’44

During Reed’s first two decades, the college’s image of academic purity tended to attract intellectually adventurous students. By the 1930s, they also came because of the element of freedom that Reed projected in both its scholarly and social life. Self-selection and socialization on campus were beginning to produce what was to the external community a recognizable “Reed type,” one strongly distinguished by individualism, political radicalism, and social nonconformity.

The Honor Principle, which had served as the main means of social control for a relatively homogeneous student body during the first twenty years, began showing signs of being a less pervasive community ethos as students moved toward more personal interpretations of the principle. A laissez-faire attitude of protecting the individual from controls of the community, especially in the case of social freedoms on campus, emerged in its place.

Reginald “Rex” Arragon, history professor 1923–1962, 1970–1974: Dexter Keezer brought a fresh breeze to the college that at first invigorated, but then chilled. This was due to a temperamental disposition that made the president difficult to work with, ranging from impatience, petulance, and scolding, to disparagement of individuals, threats, and retaliations.

While Keezer initially raised justifiable questions about the curriculum, individual teaching effectiveness, and student behavior in the dormitories, he could not refrain from antagonizing many of his collaborators. Faculty, in his view, were unduly sensitive, although he would occasionally apologize for an outburst a day or two later, explaining that he was made that way. This explanation regrettably came to appear true.

Conflict arose over dormitory problems and the authority of the president of the college in relation to the roles of the student-appointed Dormitory Council and the effectiveness of student government.

Clement Akerman, economics professor 1920–1943: Mr. Keezer seemed to feel that the students should be guided more in their conduct by the faculty. I felt that students were able to take care of themselves in most ways, and that they should be left alone in their social lives to a great extent, and allowed to form their own methods of governance and entertainment. The students themselves felt very strongly about their self-government, and they resented any efforts to be bossed. If anything seemed to infringe upon their self-government, they were up in arms.

There were a few incidents of students publishing things in the Quest newspaper that some members of the faculty felt were not proper, and we had some differences over that. On the whole, though, the student government that was set up seemed to work. We had the Community Affairs Committee, which was composed partly of faculty members and partly of student members, and which handled most of these problems of student administration, including questions of conduct on the part of the students.

Wilbur L. Parker ’36: The Honor Principle worked pretty well. Once in a while, someone would slop over and get pulled up for it. If you got hauled before the Student Council with a charge against you, they were almost sure to say, “Leave the college. You’re through.” They weren’t very merciful. If you pulled some dumb stunt—like one student who stood outside the Commons at a dance one night and obnoxiously offered drinks to everybody—they threw him out. If a girl was caught in flagrante delicto, they just threw her out. That was it!

Eleanor May ’45: There were rules about drinking. You could drink on the campus, but you couldn’t drink in mixed company, meaning mixed sexes. Also if you sat together in mixed company on the couch or whatever, you had to keep one foot on the floor.

One time I had been downtown with a fellow. He was twenty-one and I was nineteen. At that time in Oregon, you had to carry your own bottle into drinking establishments, you couldn’t just buy a drink over the counter. We had some drinks downtown and there was a little liquor left in the pint bottle. When we got back to the campus, he said, “I don’t want to leave this sitting here, let’s not waste it.” So we drank it in mixed company.

I was on the Student Council at the time. Somebody came before us to be reprimanded for having been found drinking in mixed company on campus. I thought, oh my God, I did it too. So I told the other members of the Council, and one of the boys said, “Shut up.” I did, and never said another word about it. 

Elizabeth Tabor Mullady ’38: My introduction to the Honor Principle was in the intro biology course. We had to get a bug collection—go out and find bugs. Ever try to find bugs in October in Oregon? There weren’t any bugs. I spent every afternoon on the nearby Eastmoreland golf course, running around with a butterfly net. The trouble was, there were swans down there who chased me. So I talked to the athletic director, Mr. Botsford, and got permission to claim as my PE activity being chased around the golf course by swans. I actually got in a lot of running, and it was all the gym I needed. I hated gym anyway.

But it turned out that several people were cheating in that biology class with the bugs. Whether somebody reported them and they had trials before the Student Council and were thrown out, or they left voluntarily, I don’t know. But they disappeared.

Ann Stearns Whitehead ’44: Reed students had a libertarian streak. There was a sense that you had a right to decide for yourself, and down with all rules and regulations. The Honor Principle was the heart of the whole thing—you were responsible for yourself, and expected to police yourself, essentially. The whole business that you could take your exam back to the dorm room, but that you weren’t supposed to look up anything—that was very powerful. It worked. If you broke the Honor Principle there was enormous social disapproval from your peers—tremendous rejection and disgust, which was probably more powerful than anything. But you needed at least a modicum of maturity to handle that kind of responsibility. I saw some people who just went to pieces because they couldn’t take charge of themselves and there wasn’t anybody to take charge of them.

Cheryl Scholz, dean of women 1924–1937, history professor 1938–1943, administrator 1943–1945: I sat on the Community Affairs Committee from 1925 to 1944. The committee was comprised of students and faculty, and served as something of an appeals body for students hauled before the Student Council and found guilty of breaking the Honor Principle. I found that something the young do not care to do is to pass judgment on somebody else. That was the weakness of student government, and it is why a great many colleges in the country won’t have it. The pressure on everybody when they are in college is to get through it, and to get some education under their belt. They sometimes do what is expedient, with the justification that they won’t cheat later.

Dexter Keezer, president 1934–1942: Behavior that the student community generally agreed was dishonorable consistently prompted vigorous corrective action. That seemed to evaporate, however, in dealing with conduct in fields where there was not sufficient agreement among students as to what constituted offensive behavior, such as those involving amorous activities of young men and women and the consumption of alcohol. Indeed, in such controversial fields the Student Council seemed to avoid imposing any government at all. Even the elementary contention that the Oregon state liquor law—which contained prohibitions against the possession of alcohol by minors—applied to the college campus was strenuously resisted by a durable element in the Student Council, largely on the grounds that it undermined the more compelling principle of individual self-determination in such matters. It may have been that the Honor Principle, with its compulsions of individual conscience, was hopelessly compromised when absolute regulation was introduced.

That line of argument was well worn by many agents of student government in resisting regulation in closing hours of dormitories and the visiting back and forth between men’s and women’s residence halls. The resistance enlisted equally enthusiastic support on the part of young men who had earthy objectives, and on a group of young idealists who, proceeding on a high and detached plane, were concerned about “the principle of the thing.” One of the latter put it as follows: “I believe that a functioning, organic group such as the students of this college have certain rights of self-determination which are ethically and legally beyond the control of any external authority whatever, faculty or regents. I believe the faculty has certain rights, such as freedom of academic discussion, which are similarly beyond the right of the regents to control. Any contrary doctrine is likely to be based on the pernicious theory of absolute sovereignty—a theory which, clothed in various sorts of mystical nonsense, has done perhaps more damage to modern civilization than any other idea.”

This flight inspired one of the more impish of the student champions of social laissez-faire to remark to me, “Gosh, it’s great to know that interference with freedom of necking is practically unconstitutional.” To others it seemed like a dignified and erudite way of obscuring the fact that, like many of their elders, they did not know what to think or do about standards of social behavior of the sort in question.

I doubted that a police system, maintained by college administration, would be able to enforce standards of social behavior much safer and saner than those that the students involved wanted enforced. If the students themselves tried to do the job—granted, in a way most of their elders would find pretty casual—some important elements of education may be involved. I believed, though, that the administration could still do a great deal to create a social environment conducive to the development of standards of social conduct, apart from devising rules and regulations and policing them.