Setting the Stage

Reed in the 1960s

Reed College has always been shaped by the individuals who care about it most. Founded in 1911 out of Progressive Era ideals, Reed’s early years were fueled by a desire to reject the status quo of institutions like Harvard and Yale, instead taking full advantage of what William Truant Foster, Reed’s founding president, called Reed’s “advantage of freedom from tradition.” “What should an institution” Foster wrote, “establist [sic] under these extraordinary conditions, strive to become?”

Reed College faculty in front the Hall of Arts and Science, later Eliot Halll, 1914. Reed’s first president, William Truant Foster, stands in the first row, fourth from the left. Photo courtesy of Reed Digital Collection.

By the 1960s, what it meant to be at Reed was becoming more defined: a Reedie was guided by the life of the mind and the intentionally nebulous Honor Principle, Reed’s moral code. 

A Different Drummer. A short film made about Reed by Harry Paget ’52. 

This Reedie way of life, however, was not always interpreted in the same way. In the 1960s Reed was beginning to undergo an ideological schism between the Old Guard, Reed’s established faculty and administrators, and the Young Turks, the younger faculty. The Young Turks, often untenured, were Reed’s faculty known for their progressive stance on education. Many believed that the traditional Reed curriculum was overly ‘intellectual’ and did little to prepare students for real work. The Old Guard on the other hand, composed of Reed’s established faculty, took a much more conservative approach to Reed’s academics. Many of the Old Guard had been with the College in the 1950s when Reed faculty were targeted by McCarthy trails. As a result, the Old Guard rooting themselves firmly on the side of political neutrality as a means to achieving academic freedom.

One thing had became clear:  Reed was in the midst of an identity crisis which pitted young thinkers against the status quo. 

Young Turks Jon Roush, professor of English, and Kirk Thompson, professor of Political Science. Photo courtesy of Laura Ross’s “Defending the Citadel” in the Reed College Magazine, Winter 2009.

Old Guard Marvin Levich, professor of Philosophy, and Richard “Dick” Jones, professor of History. Photo courtesy of Laura Ross’s “Defending the Citadel” in the Reed College Magazine, Winter 2009.



Benjamin McKendall. Reed’s Dean of Admissions 1968-1970. While at Reed, McKendall aimed to address what he called “the expectation gap.” Photos courtesy of Reed College Archives, Benjamin McKendall File.

This crisis did not go unnoticed by students, many of whom became consumed by the “expectation gap.” Coined by Benjamin Mckendall, Reed’s Dean of Admissions 1968-1970, the expectation gap encapsulated the disappointment liberal students felt, drawn to Reed for its free-spirited reputation, upon realizing how academically conservative the institution really was. It was these students, spurred by global cultural shifts, who found themselves incapable of accepting the apparent apathy of Reed professors.


“The Expectation Gap” published in Sally Port, Reed’s alumni magazine 1948-1971. Courtesy of the Reed Digital Collection, Sally Port Magazine, Vol 29 no. 4, Feb 1970.

In addition to facing matter specific to the Reed experience, the school was far from immune to national and international context. Quest articles from the era show strong national politics, particularly anxiety stemming from the Vietnam War, left wing politics, and race relations nationwide.  While at times an insular community, the struggle for civil rights,  national protest against the Vietnam War and generalized frustration found its way onto campus.

For this reason, many students began to dissent.

This site will give a brief window into Reed student’s participation in Vietnam War protests, the struggle for Black Studies headed by the Black Students Union, and Reed College’s reaction to student dissent.

Vietnam War Protests              Black Studies at Reed             Reed’s Reaction to Dissent