Submitted on 20 November 2019
Letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Quest or the Editorial Board.
The “Associate Dean of Students for Student Health and Wellbeing” is a new position which was created to oversee a cluster in Reed’s Student Life Division. The associate dean’s responsibilities will be to oversee all the different departments within the cluster: Athletics, Fitness, and Outdoor Programs (AFOP), the Health and Counseling Center (HCC), Sexual Health, Advocacy, and Relationship Education (SHARE), and the up-and-coming Wellness coordinator. Because of the current situation at the HCC and shift in administrative priorities, the associate dean will also be responsible for hiring the permanent HCC Counseling Director as well as the Wellness coordinator and will have a central role in determining the new direction of the cluster she oversees. The administration (righty, in my opinion) hopes to shift campus culture to one that prioritizes student wellbeing. As such, the person in this associate dean position has the potential to substantially alter campus life by managing the combined efforts and programming of AFOP, the HCC, and SHARE. This is why I am concerned.
Naturopathic Medicine is a form of complementary or alternative medicine whose physicians (NDs) “are licensed in the state of Oregon and recognized as primary care providers who specialize in identifying the underlying causes of illness and disease, and treating patients through natural and scientific means to restore and maintain health and well-being” — according to the NUNM website (the institution from which Carrie hails). Some of you familiar with naturopathy find their employment of the word “scientific” to be puzzling, as do I. At the core of naturopathic practice are the beliefs: 1) Nature heals (“The healing process is ordered and intelligent; nature heals through the response of the life force.”), 2) Illness does not occur without cause, 3) Do no harm (“The process of healing includes the generation of symptoms, which are, in fact, expressions of the life force attempting to heal itself. Therapeutic actions should be complementary to and synergistic with this healing process.”), 4) Treat the whole person, 5) The physician as teacher, and 6) Prevention — again with quotes from the NUNM. Of course, no reasonable non-ND clinician would dispute that addressing symptoms is not the full picture and that a broader understanding of wellness is always in order; naturopaths do not own holistic health and prevention. What is troubling, however, is the vitalistic and un-scientific elements of the practice which are unique to naturopaths.
Let us thus examine naturopathic modalities. The NUNM’s scope of practice includes: botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, homeopathic medicine, hydrotherapy, mind-body medicine, minor surgery, nature cure, natural childbirth, pharmaceutical medicine, physical medicine, and parental therapy. I could fill an entire other op-ed investigating the dubious evidence for any number of those modalities, but I will focus on the most offensive of them all: homeopathy. The NUNM states, “Homeopathic medicine is the treatment of disease/symptoms using correctly prescribed, minimal doses of natural substances (plant, animal, mineral), which, if taken in larger doses, would cause disease/symptoms—the acting principle being ‘like cures like.’ It promotes the return to health on physical, mental and spiritual levels.” This naturopathic treatment CANNOT work in principle and is the quintessence of pseudoscience. As it has been summarized by Harriet Hall, MD: “The things naturopaths do that are good are not special and the things that they do that are special are not good.”
And here is how we get back to Carrie. I had the chance to ask about how her background and what she thinks about homeopathy – and unfortunately due to the confidential nature of the discussion, I can only say that her answer was unsatisfactory. I am of the conviction that a person whose experience is in pseudoscience has no place at a college with serious science degree programs. Hiring someone with a background in naturopathy gives credibility to a pseudoscientific field of study to the detriment of real science practiced at Reed College. (I interject that NDs cannot get a license in all US states and have faced challenges in numerous other countries.) Further, I believe hiring Carrie, whose background is in naturopathy and could not label homeopathy as un-science, jeopardizes student wellbeing by demonstrating that our new hire does not listen to facts. Given that the associate dean’s role will be to shape student wellbeing, we need someone who can listen to evidence and chose only the course of action which has been proven most effective. Lastly, I believe most of all that what we need right now is an administrator who is uncontroversial. I think many students and faculty will rightly distrust a naturopath — and this will only prologue the possibility of real progress. We do not need to settle on an administrator who is not a good fit for Reed — especially one who tarnishes our commitment to genuine scholarship, does not wholly disavow pseudoscience in her area of expertise, and will only contribute to campus distrust.
P.S. I am aware that Rachel Neuendorf, the mental health provider at the HCC responsible for providing psychiatric medication, is also an ND from NUNM. That irks me too, maybe even more so. Unfortunately, that hiring occurred without student input.
At this point some of you may retort, “Wow, I bet you’re fun at parties…” I’m not — and I’ll be damned if my college continues to hire quacks.