Reed buckles, president resigns

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The article below deceives its audience with what it leaves out. It says nothing about why Reed changed its freshman humanities course.

I used to have a filter labeled ‘marketing bullshit’. I still do. You would not believe how much language out there qualifies. Now a new one has developed, labeled ‘propaganda’. It used to be called ‘government bullshit’, but Reed now shows we need a category for ‘academic bullshit’, and who knows how many other labels to cover all the genres. Of course, Reed Magazine is simply a marketing voice for the college, so I suppose you could just put the article about Humanities 110 under ‘marketing bullshit’.

Reed caved in to latter-day Maoists on campus, who barged into classrooms, humanities classrooms in particular, until Reed’s president, John Kroger, decided to let them win. To suggest that college faculty decided on their own to ‘modernize’ the curriculum for Humanities 110 is total trash. Reedies Against Racism employed tactics straight from the Red Guards’ Cultural Revolution in China, except they didn’t murder faculty members and dump their bodies in the Columbia River.

Now we read that John Kroger has decided to resign as president of Reed. My first reaction to the news in my search results was, ‘What a coward. He not only fails to stand up to student gangsters, he leaves campus after he gives them what they want.’ Then I read the article, and see the board of trustees probably told him goodbye. One way or another, he likely could not keep the board, faculty, or alumni happy, which means people stop giving money to the school.

Join a community of friends and scholars who value your contributions because you treat them with dignity, a community your family believes in because they believe in you. To be a part of this community, treat everyone here with respect.

At the first sign of Red Guards roaming Reed, the president should have gathered faculty and students together, as did the superintendent of the Air Force Academy when racial epithets appeared on a dorm room door, and said to the Guards:

“You are out of here! You will never threaten or intimidate my faculty. You will never disrupt another classroom. We will not initiate a misconduct process, we will not keep your tuition, we will cut off contact with you. If your family does not like that policy, let them find another school for you. We made a mistake when we let you come here, and now we will correct it.

“Not one word I say here contradicts ideals of free speech we hold here at Reed. Free speech means free speech for everyone. That’s why I’m kicking you out: your protests show that you value only free speech for yourself. You shut down what other people want to say in order to gratify your own sense of power.

“Let me repeat what I said at the beginning. You will never mistreat or intimidate a faculty member here at Reed, and get away with it. You will never shout down, disrupt, threaten, disrespect, assault, or publicly act in an uncivil manner toward anyone on this campus. If you do, we will escort you off campus, and you will never return.

“Try me. Does anyone want to heckle me right now? I encourage you to speak up now, to test whether I mean what I say. If you do not care to test me now, I will assume that faculty and students, who want to conduct classroom discussions according principles of education we value here at Reed, can do so free of interference.

“To those of you who disagree with me: you knew Reed’s curriculum before you chose to join our community. You knew Reed’s absolute commitment to free speech for every community member. If you did not know, you know it now. If you find you made a mistake, we will help you find another school. If you came here with your eyes open, but something about our community makes you want to disrupt it now you are a member, leave. If disruption of free speech is your method, we never want to see you here again.

“I have laid down a vision of Reed’s future that is unequivocal. We have always been open to change here. We have always encouraged students to speak their minds. We know we are one of the best colleges in the country, largely because we open our community to every point of view, every well spring of experience. If Red Guards barge into our classrooms, that threatens our faculty, and our commitments to open, free speech. A closed community will not happen here.

“Let me tell a story to close. When I went to Reed, I had a philosophy professor named Marvin Levich for aesthetics. He sat on my thesis board. He was provost of the college, a position that made him leader of both faculty and administration. He stood for free speech, and for Reed’s other commitments to academic freedom. He kept Reed open for business during a time when other schools effectively closed.

“Do you know why he won respect, shortly before I came to campus? He stood up to violent intimidators who tried to shut down the campus in response to the Vietnam war. All across the country, from Berkeley to Columbia, students disrupted academic communities with tactics that Reedies Against Racism have revived. These tactics are not Martin Luther King’s tactics. King fought racism with civility and respect. RAR’s tactics are Mao Zedong’s tactics, a leader who practiced and promoted deadly coercion, threats, and fear.

“When you sit in the front of a bus, or walk into a lunch counter and sit with everyone else, that is not the same as using force to shut down a classroom. A sit-in that forces staff to leave private workspaces is a tactic of intimidation, not civil disobedience. Civil disobedience takes place in public spaces, and has something to do with the change you want to effect. When you shut down a freeway to make a point, that is not civil disobedience. It is simple obstruction. It does not work on a freeway, and it certainly does not work at a private college.

“Defenders of free speech and civil discourse, and the entire country observe what happens here. College leadership would not tolerate attacks on Reed’s ideals during the Vietnam war, and I am sure I and the rest of the faculty will not stand for them now. This institution will not buckle and fail.

“I will conclude with an invitation, to end this shabby but destructive mutiny, and to balance expulsions that follow from uncivil conduct. I do not care to expel anyone who wants to study and grow here according to our customary but firm academic traditions. Join the community you learned about when you decided to come to Portland to study. Join a community of friends and scholars who value your contributions because you treat them with dignity, a community your family believes in because they believe in you. To be a part of this community, treat everyone here with respect.”


Afterthoughts

The more I think about John Kroger’s position as head of Reed during this time, and about how he tried to handle students who aimed to wreck his college’s moral foundations, the more sympathy I feel for him. His last letter to the community, posted at Reed College President’s Office, is dated October 31, 2017. Before that, he wrote about Reedies Against Racism, and their campaigns of uncivil disruption, with some frequency. For the last six months, he has been silent, until this week’s announcement that RAR won the curriculum change they demanded. It feels as if he gave up.

I wonder if he found any backing at all among faculty and the trustees. He must have. His letters show a president who dithered: Reedies Against Racism should have a voice, but they should not disrupt. Did he agree at bottom with their main point, that the traditional freshman humanities course reflects white supremacy? Did other powerful voices on the faculty and board of trustees agree with RAR?

By their victory, Reedies Against Racism have destroyed Reed.

For me, RAR’s aim to modify the freshman humanities curriculum does not matter at all. That is, once they intimidated faculty members in pursuit of their aim, the rightness or wrongness of their point has no weight. Their presence on campus indicated a diseased community: in fact, a mortal threat. Leaders of learning communities have to remove students who practice intimidation immediately. If one group threatens other groups – in this case, if students threaten faculty – college leaders must excise the group. More accurately, they must excise the group’s methods. After you cure this disease, you can return to discussions of substance.

By their victory, Reedies Against Racism have destroyed Reed. They may believe their tactics worked, but people who value freedom no longer want to join the community. Prospective students and their families observe what happened there and conclude, why would I join a group of people like that? I’m going to spend four years among other students who successfully shut down free discussion on a campus that used to value it? What kind of an education is that? If I want a totalitarian training camp, I’ll go to North Korea, where they have the real thing.

Having caved, Reed cannot recover for a long time, if ever. If you do not protect your faculty, if you do not respect students who join your community to learn, you have no more community. You just have gangs of people who roam around with signs and chants. They pretend to stand for diversity and what they call marginalized groups, but in fact they stand for no more than what you see in front of you: force. If you do not do as they say, the gangs will destroy you. Gangs at Reed demonstrated they can get their way, and destroy the college, the college’s president, and the college’s ideals in the process.


Related articles

New Hum 110 Gets National Attention

The Surprising Revolt at the Most Liberal College in the Country

Related site

Reedies Against Racism (open letter to Reed faculty)