All Eyes on Hugh

Meet Hugh Porter, Reed College’s Acting President

The questions on many student and faculty minds alike this year revolve around one central theme: the college presidency. What’s going on with the presidential search? Who is our Acting President? What connection does he have with Reed? What does he do? Why haven’t I heard of him before?

Hugh Porter, our interim president, came to Reed in 1998 from Yale, the same university as former president John Kroger. He served as one of six vice presidents in behind-the-scenes roles within the institution before being appointed to the high-profile position of Acting President this year.

Porter is a tall white man with a command of his space and an open, articulate manner of speech, though he admitted to the Quest this Monday that he is not as comfortable “stepping into very different kinds of situations” as John Kroger was, since he has “stayed much more narrowly focused on education and music.” While it may be that the work of a president requires some flexibility, knowing that the current face of our college has had a conscious and consistent focus on education was heartening to hear. When asked what he wants the student body to know about him, Porter responded that the most important things in his life are music, family, education, and the outdoors. He originally pursued a career as a professional cellist, and since Porter is now an empty-nester, he has tried to find more time to play his music (even playing with the Reed orchestra last year). Porter also tries get outside as much as possible, though he noted that his new position requires him to travel more often, which cuts back on that free time. It is worth noting that while he was prepared and thoughtful with his responses to questions about the college, his position, and the presidential search, Porter was much more interested in and excited about questions regarding his musical interests, reading the Quest, or helping students achieve their personal goals.

As for his role within the bounds of the academic world, Porter described Reed as “a precious and fragile resource” that students, faculty, and staff must work together to sustain. He specified that we must acknowledge that those three entities will always disagree, “but,” he added, “I hope this year especially, we don’t lose sight of the fact that we’ve all signed up for a pretty precious enterprise of education, because it’s an unusual place … it’s worth preserving.” He hopes that this will be a “year of completing things, and … coming together around the things that we can agree are important.” This idea of completion stems from what Porter described as the typical job of an Acting President, which is to maintain and support the college in the direction that it is going, rather than try to change policies or begin new strategies in the single year that interim presidents typically keep their position.

Porter mentioned several times that a key step toward achieving this goal is looking for new and better ways to promote student success. This includes supporting students within the curriculum, but also making sure that the student body is aware of and involved in the current presidential search, and Porter hopes that student voices will be heard on all matters surrounding the process. He also stressed that when there is a constant buzz surrounding who the next president will be and all eyes are on the office of the president, it is easy to feel as though that position is the most important and powerful within the college. In reality, Hugh says, “presidents are invited into a place that exists … there will be a president before them and a president after them … think about the continuity that you’re experiencing, which is the students and the faculty. It’s not that I don’t think it’s an important role, but it’s just one role at the college.” He went on, “There’s a hope that [one] person can fix everything, but as we see … in our national landscape, that’s never the case … so, participating in the [presidential search] process … is about understanding where our values align, and where those differences are. That’s the big opportunity of this year.”

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