faculty lounge image

The faculty lounge, 1970s.

Part Four

The Cultural Wars, 1967-1989 

Excerpt from Chapter Thirty-three: End of the Barony

“When I first came to Reed some of the old faculty barons took me aside and warned me that I was publishing too much. Bad thing.”

–Peter Steinberger, political science professor

“Reed was a place that was in some way divided deeply within itself between its allegiance to traditions of the past, and its curiosity and desire for experimentation.”

–Lena Lencek, Russian professor

Beginning in the mid-1970s, a new generation of professors began arriving at Reed, many of whom would ascend to faculty leadership positions during the following decades. Unlike the Young Turks, whose departure at the end of the ’60s had left a noticeable gap in faculty succession, this new faculty cadre did not challenge the relevance or the framework of Reed’s core curriculum. In fact, by the early 1980s, a number of prestigious colleges such as Harvard and Stanford that had adopted free electives in the mid-’60s were returning to core curricula. What the new faculty members did bring to Reed was a new sensibility that was less insular, less combative, and more inclusive than that of the Old Guard. They were interested in participating in the larger academic community beyond Reed through research and publication, while still maintaining their dedication to the primacy of teaching.

The transition from the Old Guard to this next generation of faculty leaders would slowly unfold throughout the 1980s. Although these changes occurred during a relatively calm period for Reed, major fault lines were developing beneath the surface exacerbated by the pressure of shifting cultural forces. One of those forces was evidenced by an increase in the number of women on the faculty. While women had comprised 22 percent of the faculty in the college’s first decade, rising to 30 percent by 1940, they accounted for a mere 10 percent in 1965. By 1990, women made up 26 percent of the faculty, and over the next two decades their numbers would increase to 40 percent.

Peter Steinberger, political science professor 1977–  , dean of faculty 1997–2010, acting president 2001–2002: In the early 1980s, when Paul Bragdon started the process of professionalizing the administrative staff, there were some of the old faculty barons who were giving him pushback, and this created some real tensions within the faculty and the college. Philosophy professor George Bealer got into a shouting match with Paul and other members of the faculty during a faculty meeting. It was very unpleasant.

I was elected to the Faculty Advisory Committee immediately after getting tenure.

Marvin Levich, who by then had relinquished his role as provost, was also on the FAC. An issue arose that had to do with the percentage of the budget that was being spent on so-called “administrative” items as opposed to “instructional” ones. Marvin gave it to Paul Bragdon pretty hard. Paul seemed to take what Marvin said very personally and gave it back to Marvin equally hard, and at great length. When he finished, we just sat there. Maybe it was only a minute and a half, but it felt like half an hour. Nobody said a word. It was like an episode from the Twilight Zone. That long silence really brought to the surface the tension between what Paul was doing and what some members of the faculty, particularly the so-called Old Guard, were thinking. Some of these people were arguing that we were getting away from the foundational ethos of Reed, and becoming too much like other institutions. 

Marvin Levich, philosophy professor 1953–1994, provost 1972–1979: I felt that during his regime Bragdon was very protective of the administration and increased it considerably. A good many ills, if the college has any, were caused by what he did in his administration.

Carleton Whitehead ’41, administrator 1952–1983: Within the boundaries it had established early on, Reed did a great deal of innovation and creative programming, but it was not a compulsive experimenter. That distinguished it from many colleges, particularly those that had followed some of the trends of the late 1960s that had since came to be seen as rather faddish. During that time, thanks to members of the Old Guard, Reed had stuck by its basic principles and its fairly structured, conservative academic program.

Change magazine, Barry Mitzman, “Reed College, The Intellectual Maverick,” September 1979: Though a foolish consistency may be the hobgoblin of little minds, Reed’s reasoned stubbornness may be its greatest strength. The college’s administrators and faculty seem to think so. They see the reaction elsewhere to 1960s laxity as a reaffirmation of Reed’s uninterrupted rigor. They see Harvard’s widely publicized new core curriculum as a return to what Reed has been doing all along. They see Antioch’s foundering as a cautionary tale, demonstrating the dangers of headlong institutional experimentation.

Robert Knapp, English professor 1974-  : The intellectual style and integrity of the college promoted a very healthy—though sometimes disorienting—belief among the student body that no subject was off limits. One of the things that I first noticed coming to Reed after my eight-year stint at Princeton was that, although Reed students were not brighter than Princeton students, and probably didn’t come from better educational backgrounds, they didn’t know their own limits. They didn’t have the sense of needing to stay within boundaries. That was central to Reed’s “Reed-ness,” if you will. 

That of course had all kinds of implications for the relationship of the institution to the larger world, and to the way in which Reed has been able to maintain itself as things changed on the national educational scene.

Peter Steinberger, political science professor: There were the “barons” of the faculty when I first arrived, and they were extremely impressive, very smart, but very intimidating and very tough. I feared them. In many cases I admired the fact that they were not only committed to the ethos of the college, but they also understood and lived it. They lived the idea of rigor and of quality and of seriousness: “If you’re going to come to Reed and screw around, get out. That’s not what you’re here for. You’re here to study and study hard and to enjoy it while doing it.”

They included Maure Goldschmidt ’30, whom I replaced in political science, Dick Jones in history, Marvin Levich in philosophy, Gail Kelly ’55 in anthropology, Marsh Cronyn ’40 in chemistry, and Larry Ruben in biology.

The idea embraced by these faculty members was Foster’s original founding idea: that this would be, to the degree possible, a place free from the usual kinds of nonsense one finds at many other colleges – the intercollegiate athletics, the fraternities, the sororities, the grade grubbing, the grade inflation. This barony both articulated and embodied that idea. They were really smart people and they didn’t suffer fools gladly. They called a spade a spade and this was in many respects good for me. You couldn’t get away with shoddy thinking. You couldn’t get away with a shoddy argument.

Paul Bragdon, president 1971–1988: Sometime in the mid-1970s there was a shift in the faculty. With departures and retirements, we began to have younger people, who, because of changes in society and changes in the people going to graduate school, were different from the faculty that had preceded them. Women became a definite presence on the faculty in terms of numbers during that time and, generally, I was pleased with what I saw happening.

Edward Segel, history professor 1973–2011: When I came to Reed from Berkeley in 1973, I was quite firmly out of the closet. I wasn’t quite sure how to deal with it at Reed, but it turned out some of my Berkeley students had friends at Reed, and had told them, “There’s a gay professor coming. Look out for him.” So the gay students knew about me before I arrived. Reed was always, so far as I’ve been aware, quite hospitable that way.

Judy Tyle Massee, dance professor 1968–1998: When I arrived in the late ’60s, there were something like eighty-three men on the faculty, and seven or eight women. The faculty was an old boys’ club, and the majority of faculty hiring that was done at that point was by men. Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did prohibit discrimination in employment on account of sex, but that didn’t mean that a woman’s curriculum vitae would be looked at the same as a man’s. The first faculty meeting I went to was an incredible eye-opener. When I walked into the meeting I was asked to leave by one of the faculty leaders, Marvin Levich, because he thought I was a student and was invading the sanctum of the Reed College faculty. I said, “Well, I’m on the faculty.” He just gave me this strange look and turned around and walked away. 

Ray Kierstead, history professor 1978–2000: The attitudes of many of the men hired at Reed in the late 1930s, ’40s, and ’50s were those of that era. I noticed that some of the faculty titans seemed uncomfortable around intellectual women. The great exception to the rule was Gail Kelly ’55, who inspired respect, awe, and terror in all who knew her.

When I arrived in 1978 there had already been appointed a contingent of very active female faculty, including Doris Berkvam, Leila Falk, Lisa Steinman, Dell Rhodes, Lena Lencek, and Christine Mueller. They represented only a small fraction of the faculty, but through example and advocacy they had an important influence on the changing college culture, while, at the same time, the older generation of males was retiring. In the early 1980s another cluster of women appeared, including Ellen Stauder, Maryanne McClellan, Gail Sherman, and Sharon Larisch. Anyone who chaired faculty searches then realized that the general academic demography was shifting fast, and that Reed would follow the trend. The gender composition of the humanities staff shifted dramatically in those years and that, in my opinion, had something to do with the survival of the humanities program at Reed.

Charles Svitavsky, English professor 1961–1998: In 1976, we finally got around to hiring a woman in the English department, Lisa Steinman. The hiring that followed in the early 1980s brought Gail Berkeley, Ellen Stauder, and Nathalia King, until by the time we got to the end of the ’80s, it was women who were running the department. I felt that eventually it was very similar to having all males run it. The women were running it from a woman’s point of view, really leaning in the direction of female colleagues, just as in the past we had always leaned in the direction of male colleagues.

Lisa Steinman, English professor 1976–  : I was very aware there were very few women faculty when I came, and even fewer tenured women faculty. You couldn’t help looking around and thinking that that might be because women in academics were not being taken seriously, or because the women being hired were being hired by people who weren’t thinking of them as serious colleagues. That was certainly the case then, but it changed over the years to the point that almost half of the faculty members were women. And certainly from my perspective, they were among the strongest, smartest, and most articulate faculty members. The women were not there to fill any quotas. They were part of what was keeping Reed College being Reed.