Citing misgivings against Former President John Kroger and Reed College under his guidance, students offered their input at open forum on the presidential search in place of Tuesday’s regularly-scheduled Senate meeting.
This forum, hosted by the Presidential Search Committee in Vollum, invited students to ask questions about Reed’s presidential search and express their wishes for Reed’s next president. Alex Martinez, a trustee and the committee chair, hosted the event. A larger panel representing others in the search committee — students, faculty, staff, and “head-hunters” hired by Reed — stood by to give their perspectives. The objective, according to Martinez, was to synthesize students’ views later this year, along with those given by staff, faculty, alumni, and donors at similar forums, into a “position paper” describing Reed’s identity, goals, and desires for potential presidential candidates.
Below, we summarise some of the questions and concerns presented by students alongside the panelists’ responses. A full recording of the event will later be posted online. Martinez also welcomes further input from students like you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What’s a president supposed to do, anyway? Representatives of Reed’s “head-hunting” firm emphasised that half a president’s time is spent fundraising. This came from their extensive experience with other leadership searches for liberal arts colleges. “There is no downtime for a president,” they argued, claiming that a president’s day begins early and ends “in a dorm at ten at night meeting students.” The rest of the time, these consultants argued, a president spends hiring and coordinating Reed’s upper-level administration. Martinez noted in particular that Reed faculty has great autonomy over academic policy, which requires the president to continually observe faculty meetings as well.
Kroger’s lack of commitment. In response to this description of a president’s duties, many students raised the failures of John Kroger, Reed’s former president, as a leader. A president, noted one student, should be a “figurehead” for Reed’s many student services, and should be willing to continuously engage with students. Yet Kroger had many personal failures, and Reed did, too, as an institution.
Students in particular pointed out how Kroger began his tenure at Reed hosting Paideia classes and participating in dunk tank at Activities Fair, but then “gave up” on Reed as pressures mounted. In his last years, students raised the concerns of his serially-cancelled office hours, his lack of engagement with student protests, and further claims of lack of respect by staff. Martinez concurred, and said that the search committee was indeed looking for commitment or “grit” — or rather, lived experience, one student clarified. This need for lived experience, students added, calls for a minority president, and one with more experience in academia than John Kroger.
In response to claims that John Kroger was specifically hired to address concerns over Reed’s reputation for drug use, trustee Peter Stockman said that he “[could] assure” students that John Kroger was hired solely for his track record, and his support for the ideals of a liberal arts college as expressed to trustees.
Reed’s institutional failings. A major failing of Reed as an institution, as uncovered in a public presentation by consultants hired by Reed, was that Reed “knows itself poorly.” Its many student services offices, reported these consultants, did not communicate with each other, and the only holistic form of support comes from academic advisors. Others highlighted that many of the concerns that led to the 2016 and 2017 boycotts still remain, including low retention rates among minority students and a perception that minorities graduated “despite” Reed.
How, students asked, would these findings feed into the presidential search? Some argued that Reed’s future president should also be committed to critically examining Reed’s policies and changing it for the better. Such a president would have experience with community organizing, and will be open to Reed’s grassroots — collaboration, feedback, and engagement with students. This quality was again compared to Kroger’s lack of involvement with student life: his lack of participation in Reed committees (save Sustainability Committee), and office hours promised but never delivered.
Reed’s hostility to student values and social justice. Students further argued that Reed’s failings extended beyond apathy, into actions hostile to student values. Examples included forcing the Student Workers Coalition (representing House Advisorss) to disband in face of a legal challenge; and Kroger’s involvement in overturning a student’s successful Title IX appeal. Martinez responded by first noting that a president would necessarily abide by the “principles and regulations that [bind] Reed”, but nevertheless understood students’ interest in social justice. Concerns like these, added President Nikhita Airi, were why students were involved in the search committee as voting members.
Students concluded that a future president should be “courageous and authentic” and truly engaged, in a spirit of humility, with the student body’s values and wishes on its own terms. A panelist contrasted this with Kroger, who could, at times, be a “stoic, emotionless lawyer” — and at this, everyone laughed.