Last September 5, I was in Portland, Oregon and was fortunate to be able to visit Reed College. The subject of a previous post on on this blog, I had never stepped foot on campus until that day. I wondered if what I would see would live up to what I had written.
I arrived at the Admission Office a bit early for my 9:30 am information session. I sat and chatted with the friendly receptionist until we (I was joined by two prospective students from California and their parents) were led to the "third largest classroom at Reed" by Crawford Marr, an admissions representative and Reed College Class of 1990. The so-called third largest Reed classroom was on the second floor of Eliot Hall where the Admission Office was located and was not much larger than a typical college classroom which would seat about thirty students. Third largest? Indeed. The large majority of Reed classrooms were seminar rooms which sit ten to twelve students for discussion (not lecture). Crawford didn't bring a laptop with the usual PowerPoint presentation...all he brought were a couple of books which were required reading for freshmen (Gilgamesh and Homer's Odyssey) as well as a few senior theses which he promised he would let us look through but never did. Sitting in the classroom, Crawford expounded on the academic life of Reed. He spoke enthusiastically about Reed's liberal arts tradition, intermixed with its strong math and science programs. He talked about the senior thesis which all students were required to write in order to graduate. Call me crazy but he spoke in almost reverential tones when it came to the thesis. It's what "students come to Reed for..." and "the thesis is a tradition that binds all Reedies past, present, and future together..." That and Humanities 110 (or Hum 110), a class all freshmen take regardless of major. Hum 110 delves into the foundations of Western thought and civilization. Crawford said they used to start with Homer's Iliad but now they go back even further several thousand years to the Epic of Gilgamesh which dates to the dawn of civilization itself with the Sumerians. Hum 110 is taught in lecture but then broken up into discussion sessions with the teaching faculty. It is said that this class teaches Reedies how to read, think, write, and reason like a Reedie. Throughout this time, Crawford spoke with a soft yet passionate voice and it's obvious that he's proud to be a Reedie. He was relieved to see some changes in the college since his time...there are a lot more support services for students. Back in his time, Reed was more of a sink or swim kind of place.[caption id="attachment_1223" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Typical Reed classroom. I took this picture from a distance but you can see how small the classroom is and the predominant form of instruction here is the discussion, not the lecture. Definitely not for the faint of heart is the Reed experience.[/caption] Eventually we had to leave our classroom (a line of patiently waiting students were going to use the room next) and we were handed off to Wendell for the campus tour. Interesting guy, Wendell. Lanky and African American, Wendell is a tall drink of water with his jaunty hat set at a rakish angle. A native of Kansas, he said he originally came to Reed as a political science major but eventually fell in love with--and is now majoring in--Chinese literature. He is a senior. At the end of the tour, I tried my rudimentary Xavier Chinese on him and he gave me a big smile and replied in kind. Wendell spoke about the Honor Principle. He took us to three places on campus and worked those places into his Honor Principle spiel. He first took us to the library and showed us the famed Thesis Tower. Filed by graduating class, the theses of every Reed graduate is bound, preserved and made available here for general perusal. Again, the talk of the thesis and how it was now his turn to write his opus. He said that in the beginning, he was frightened to death of the prospect of having to write a thesis but now after being at Reed for three years or so (he had spent time in China immersing himself in the language and the culture) he is actually looking forward to it. He took us next to the dorms and explained how the Honor Principle extends there too...how one's behavior is not governed by rules in a book but by adhering to an Honor Principle that respects the rights of others. Finally, he took us to the Gray Campus Center, the main hub on campus where the cafeteria is located and where one of the largest private comic book collections is housed. So if you want, you could have your Nicomadean Ethics with a side of Fantastic Four. Wendell said that for a Reedie to come in with an idea to improve life on campus for his or her fellow Reedies and not act upon that idea is acting dishonorably (at least according to Wendell). So if you feel that the Honor Principle is pervasive on campus, you would be right. As a matter of fact, when I stepped out of the Admission Office and looked down, the words "Long Live the Honor Principle!" were carved into the sidewalk concrete. [caption id="attachment_1206" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The famed Reed Canyon which divides the campus into two parts. Every year, students, staff and friends gather for Canyon Day, the annual cleaning of the Canyon.[/caption] By this time, the noon hour was upon me and with the end of the tour, I moseyed over to the cafeteria to sample the culinary delights of this institution and perhaps catch a few of the natives and engage them in conversation. Typical college fare but with vegetarian, halal and vegan options. I sat down with some students, introduced myself and found that my companions were all first year students. Cole was from New York and the two girls he was with (can't remember their names now) were both from California. Interesting tidbit: only 10 to 15% of Reed students are from the states of Oregon and Washington. State with the largest representation? California! What struck me after talking to these freshmen is that in spite of only being in the third day of class, they were really enthused and were really and truly glad they were there. Reed is indeed a small college, the Gray Campus Center is really tiny and doesn't hold a candle to the leviathan student unions of the larger universities I had visited before like UBC or Waterloo. The range of food choice on campus isn't anything to brag about. But you get the impression that students chose to be there and Reed was few people's second or safety choice. They're not sitting there pining and wishing they were at Stanford. Reed is not terribly selective (admission rate is presently about 50%) but is selected. Students come here because they want to be here. [caption id="attachment_1204" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Hauser Library[/caption] [caption id="attachment_1203" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Gray Campus Center Quad[/caption]