Why the Quest’s coverage of the Paradox deficit is deeply troubling
Edited by Cyana Ruiz
This is a story of forgetting: how Reed has forgotten social and financial justice. (Though you may still dissect its corpse in your conferences.) But forgetting isn’t something passive or inevitable: at Reed, the administration is enforcing forgetfulness about forms of solidarity and resistance against its interests. It seems to be working: the student body seems to be forgetting. This article is an attempt to remember.
THE QUEST AND SENATE’S RESPONSES
We cannot discuss the Paradox’s deficit in good conscience without putting it into perspective:
On Reed’s side — As of June 30, 2021, Reed had $389 million in endowments readily available for operations with board approval.¹ (The Paradox’s projected deficit is 0.005% of that.) Even Reed’s “quasi-endowment” funds, which do not have donor restrictions about allocation and “may be expended at the discretion of the College,” come to around $271 million.² (The deficit is 0.007% of that.) When students want money, the college will typically try to scare them away with bureaucratic whataboutery and financial jargon. But these numbers are plain (and publicly accessible in Reed’s financial statements): notwithstanding the “reduced donations and cash flow” that the senate bemoans in their letter to the Quest ³ if Reed cared about what matters to students (as opposed to board members and investment consultants), and if students cared about their fellow student workers and spaces of resistance and remembrance on campus, the Paradox’s deficit would be water under the bridge. As Paradox manager Cyana remarked in an unpublished part of their response to the Quest, “Audrey could personally pay Paradox’s deficit and still make more this year than mine and my parents’ earnings for the next three years combined.” ⁴
On the Paradox manager’s side — The managers are paid $442 biweekly stipends. During this school year (ignoring the unpaid labor they do every summer and winter), they have had to work full time (or at least 20-30 hours/week) to address the inherited deficit on their own, without any administrative support, and keep a cafe running amidst a pandemic that has seen 36% of the foodservice industry experience government-mandated closure.⁵ That stipend works out to roughly $8-11/hour. (The managers make less than the baristas.) Yes, this is yet another story of student workers getting paid less than minimum wage ($14/hour) to pay back inherited debt. This sort of story is only unfamiliar to the most privileged students at Reed, usually the ones who do not receive any financial aid. What confuses me is that the Paradox situation does not seem to bother or offend even those of you for whom this story mirrors your own relationships to tuition and debt.
The Quest’s coverage of the Paradox’s situation has been disappointing. The majority of their article focuses on the Paradox’s responsibility for their own deficit, the senate’s opinions about the Paradox’s deficit (even though senate’s involvement was forced upon both the Paradox and the senate by admin), and the “variety of ways” the Paradox is trying to pay off its debts. The article says little about the history of the deficit, besides that the cafe “has run on a deficit since at least 2014” (as I’ll discuss, the Paradox paid back a $18,000 deficit more than two decades ago, and was also in the exact same situation more recently in 2014), and most importantly, the Quest chose not to publish remarks made by the managers about admin’s efforts to actively prevent the Paradox from recovering its deficit. (Most of this article is centered around these unpublished quotes.) It is not, as the Quest would have you believe, that “the entire Paradox situation has been mired in miscommunication” ⁶ — rather, as Cyana told the Quest, “admin is pushing us towards options which would require us to surrender any control or autonomy that we currently have.”
The senate’s account of the Paradox’s situation in their “letter to the editors” is also misleading. As mentioned, the senate’s involvement in the Paradox’s situation was a red herring from the start, since (as both the Paradox managers and senate members have clearly expressed) it is the admin that involved the senate against both parties’ wills. The senate clarifies in their letter what everyone but admin seems to have already known about the situation: the Paradox does not (and doesn’t want to) receive funding from the senate, since it is neither an institutional body (like senate) nor a student club (like Beer Nation); it is a nonprofit student business. While in the past the Senate has, despite this fact, offered to help bail out the Paradox from a life-threatening deficit (8 years ago, it offered the Paradox a $1,000 cushion out of generosity⁷), maybe that was because of an intimacy with the Paradox that the senate no longer feels. Tough titties for the Paradox, I guess. But the senate’s portrait of the situation is misleading: they portray the admin as helpless, since “reduced donations and cash flow as a whole have left the school with tighter finances,” and entrust all responsibility for the Paradox’s fate to its managers:
“As the sole proprietors of Paradox, this means that the decision to change Paradox, or seek aid with the deficit that Paradox has accrued within this year, falls on the shoulders of the Paradox management.” ⁸
But the admin is not helpless — not only is the deficit negligible when contextualized within Reed’s financial assets, but the admin has also been actively thwarting the Paradox’s abilities to recover its deficit. Admin’s attitudes towards the Paradox are part of a much broader and insidious process of institutionalization at Reed: a process which, after isolating freshmen and sophomores from upperclassmen in a dorm of their own (the most effective way to prevent institutional memory), has now begun censoring SB Info, erasing political graffiti, and targeting the few remaining campus spaces entirely run by students.
It’s a sad day when both the campus’ only student-run newspaper and the student senate fixate on the responsibility of student workers for their own debt, especially amidst the largest student debt crisis the US has ever witnessed — as opposed to reporting on the political history of this debt, and the admin’s historical irresponsibility when it comes to supporting student finances. Perhaps some of you hesitate when I suggest that Reed could easily forgive the Paradox’s deficit; perhaps you think that such financial matters should be left to admin. Reed history has taught us exactly the opposite.
Reed doesn’t exactly have a history of investing in the ethical or local enterprise — just a few years ago, Reed and its board members reaffirmed their commitment to investing in the prison-industrial complex, despite student protests and sit-ins during which students occupied Eliot Hall’s financial offices demanding divestment, even preventing the president from accessing his office for 21 days.⁹ This is not new either: we learned in the 80s that Reed would rather invest in South African apartheid than its black studies program (as a Quest article published not so long ago reminded us¹⁰). Reed has shown us time and again that if we leave the money matters to the financial offices, the money will only go where it begets more money — not to the places that matter most to Reed students.
If there’s one thing I hope that students learn at Reed, it is that money is always political. Deficits are not just negative numbers, they are histories that are entangled in a local and national economy. And the people who bear the brunt of any deficit, of any economy, and any history, are never the ones who mandate closures or repossess the property. Rather, it is the ones whose ability to pay rent and buy groceries is endangered by the negative numbers — and these are the last people to whom we should turn when assigning blame for debt.
THE PARADOX’S DEFICIT, RETOLD
Admin’s attitudes towards the Paradox this past semester have not just been harsh and unforgiving, but motivated: various administrators have amply shown, in a number of interactions with the Paradox managers, that they do not want the Paradox to exist next year. Cyana even explicitly said this to the Quest. (The Quest decided not to publish this part of their response.)
“I think generally, admin is pushing us towards options which would require us to surrender any control or autonomy that we currently have. […] It really feels important that people know the Paradox is an explicit low-SES POC space this year and admin has decided this is the year they want to threaten our existence.”
Admin’s efforts began with a meeting earlier this semester in which they informed Paradox managers that if they do not produce the projected deficit ($20,000) by the end of the semester, the Paradox will be shut down. But when the managers began planning to crowdfund to help recover the deficit, the Director of Development informed them that they were not allowed to crowdfund — not allowed to accept crowdfunded money from students and alums who want the Paradox to exist — because the Paradox is not one of “the college’s institutional priorities”.¹¹ When the director of development told manager Cyana that there is no “magic bullet” to secure funding, Cyana responded:
“We’re not expecting a magic bullet but rather want to gain some insight as to how Reed decides what its priorities are and exactly why the Paradox has been singled out specifically. […] It’s rather frustrating that getting $20,000 is a priority of Reed’s (enough of a priority to threaten the Paradox’s existence) and yet helping us fund the money that is going right back to Student Life is not.”
(Since then, the development office has allowed the Paradox to fundraise, though with a host of stipulations from the fundraising guidelines¹²: e.g. they are only allowed to fundraise among the “on-campus” community and cannot target the broader Reed alum community; they cannot fundraise through any of Reed’s offices, as this would make it seem like Reed is fundraising for the Paradox, as opposed to the Paradox fundraising for themselves; and they cannot use online crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe or IndieGogo.)
This cold, bureaucratic treatment was not restricted to admin offices: when the managers reached out to the bookstore to communicate that they can’t afford to honor gift cards anymore (supply-side prices have skyrocketed since 3 years ago when the gift cards were purchased), the bookstore would not budge: they insisted that the Paradox either honor them or buy them back for ~$700.¹³ The bookstore manager explained that they didn’t want to let go of the debt because it was an opportunity to earn new customers. It’s incredibly disheartening to hear a “nonprofit” institutionally-owned store being so stubborn about a transaction made 3 years ago at a time when the existence of a space as beloved as the Paradox is at stake — for the sake of “new customers”.
The Paradox has been around since the 80s, and it has had a long history of deficit, crowdfunding, and scraping by — this owes to its status as a nonprofit space by and for students, without any institutional or corporate interests. As long ago as April 2000, for example, the Quest reported that the Paradox finally paid back an $18,000 deficit — adjusted for inflation, that’s around $30,000 today.¹⁴ And again, almost a decade ago, the Paradox was in the same situation: deficit threatened their existence, and they had to crowdfund $5,000 on IndieGogo to stay running.¹⁵ In the campaign description, the managers from back then (2014) express startlingly similar views to the current managers, both in their nonprofit ideals and their commitment to the Paradox’s autonomy from the senate and admin:
“The Paradox’s business model has always been closer to that of a non-profit than that of a conventional cafe. Our goal is not expansion, or even to make a profit, but to be able to pay our employees, order our next batch of beans, and maybe put away a little money in case the espresso machine breaks down. […] Unfortunately, whereas historically the Paradox received support from the administration during instances of financial hardship, we are no longer able to secure the same funding without compromising our autonomy as a student space.” ¹⁶
We must not forget, regardless of whatever personal dislike for its baristas or interior design you may have, how radical the Paradox is as a student space. The Paradox is a cafe that would rather court a $20,000 deficit and keep coffee affordable to poor students ($2.50 for a 16-oz drip after the recent increase) than charge what most other Portland cafes do ($4 at Woodstock Cafe, the newest gentrifier in our neighborhood). (Keeping prices low despite supply-side inflation, alongside Reed not adjusting Federal Work-Study wages to account for increasing minimum wage, are actually some of the causes of the current deficit.) But it goes far beyond financial equity: the Paradox cafe is also the only space in Reed College that has demonstrated in the past semester that it is committed to protecting minorities (in particular women and queers of color) against harassment and predators. During the harassment incidents last semester involving a certain (notorious) individual, not a single other student space or group offered as much as a social media post in solidarity, forget a decision to exclude anyone.
In retrospect, Reed’s admin’s response to these incidents was profoundly hypocritical. Back then, the admin did not allow the Paradox to refuse service to said individual, citing that the Paradox is a Reed College “student space” to which all students (even those who have repeatedly harassed Paradox baristas) have access. But now, when it comes to the deficit, the admin is happy to concede the Paradox’s autonomy (read: liability) as a business. As Cyana told the Quest (which the Quest again decided not to publish):
“When we attempted to invoke our rights as a business to refuse service, we were told those laws do not apply to us as we are a student space. But when it comes to anything that has to do with money, we are a business expected to turn a profit and make business plans. […] We’re on our own when it comes to making money but when it comes to making decisions about keeping ourselves and our space safe admin takes over.”
SOCIAL JUSTICE AT STANFORD NORTH
These are not isolated hypocrisies on the admin’s part; they are part of an increasing institutionalization that has been going on for years at Reed — “Olde Reede” is dead; Reed is becoming “Stanford North”. Sometimes this talk of “Olde Reede” and “Stanford North” is just the complacent nostalgia of older Reedies, but in recent years there has been a very real and dangerous effort to crack down on any radical movements for social justice at Reed.
This is the institution that, just 4 years ago, issued NCOs and J-Board cases against 54+ students for protesting against Reed’s investment in the prison-industrial complex, even threatening expulsion and Portland Police Bureau involvement.¹⁷ This is the institution that, 3 years ago, viciously fought against HAs (who were demanding higher wages and unionization) with lawyers, threats of pay cuts, and other scare tactics.¹⁸ This is the institution whose former Dean of Faculty told BLM protestors that students “deserved the choice of whether or not they would engage” with antiblack atrocities.¹⁹ This is the institution whose response to a black trans woman overdosing is to immediately fire her from her job as HA — an institution where, therefore, the person administering naloxone to her is “faced with a more difficult choice between [her] physical well-being and her financial security.” ²⁰
And the more recent past is (hopefully) familiar. Just last year, Reed let the student body know that even joking about reparations is “entirely antithetical to Reed’s values,” ²¹ after which they began monitoring and censoring SB Info, the sole campus-wide platform for student discourse. And when students express discontentment about this censorship in campus graffiti, facilities will swiftly erase it, alongside any other anti-transphobic or anti-holocaust graffiti.²² It is telling that Reed chose to directly silence and punish a (black, trans woman) president whose “main goal as president is to solidify institutional memory.” ²³ Reed has invested 27 million dollars to architecturally prevent such memory: incoming freshmen and sophomores have been largely relocated to Trillium (“the largest building ever constructed by the college in a single-phase” ²⁴) where they will not, as per ResLife housing policy, be able to room with juniors and seniors and hear from them about the recent history of Reed.²⁵ Who knows, this might lead to “speculation and rumors” about “alleged incidents”, which (as the Vice President of Student Life reminds us) is against our honor principle.²⁶
This increased censorship and surveillance over the student body as a whole took on unprecedented forms at the start of the pandemic, and this is when admin and 28 West began to opportunistically wrest control of the Paradox from the managers. During the summer of 2020, after the Paradox was forced to close at the pandemic’s outset, the Paradox’s access codes were changed and — for the first time in the Paradox’s history, as far as any of us know — Paradox managers had to go through CSOs to enter the Paradox. (If managers wanted to enter during the summer, they had to schedule a time with the OSE and CSOs.) While this was ostensible because of COVID protocol, it also had to do with CSOs finding a sleeping bag in the space and being concerned about someone sleeping in the Paradox. Most recent Paradox alums know whose sleeping bag this was, and know that they were sleeping in the Paradox because of a flood that made their house uninhabitable. But all the same, this provoked much tighter surveillance of the Paradox by the CSOs: now, whenever the managers worked in their office, CSOs would enter unannounced to check if they were allowed to be in the space.
I hope it’s clearer now what we mean when we talk about Reed becoming “Stanford North”. The term came from a satirical poster last distributed on campus a few years ago, whose tone is more tongue-in-cheek:
“[At Stanford North,] you will be sure to find ample opportunity to mobilize your liberal arts education in the exciting fields of computer science (imagine your new life in the Bay!), administrative tasks like union-busting at neighboring institutions, or any synergistic intersection of bureaucracy and innovation. Facing the world with a Stanford North degree in hand, you’ll feel confident in your solid foundation of academic small talk and ‘politically neutral’ bureaucratic capabilities of evasion.” ²⁷
If the recent past at Reed wasn’t as upsetting and infuriating as it’s been for the Reedies I know, maybe we’d be able to joke about it in this way. But I don’t think the jokes would land anymore.
I am writing this as a Reed alumna, whose problems and concerns have very little to do with Reed at this point; I’m fighting against employers that don’t even pretend to care about education and social justice. I’m writing this because I still have friends and people I love at Reed, and these past two semesters I’ve watched them struggle to stay afloat academically, emotionally, and financially. I’m writing this because regardless of how much it has cost them, they are still fighting for what matters at Reed: for spaces that protect minorities against predators and chauvinists, and poor students against debt and employers. They are fighting for memory, to remember and uphold our traditions of resistance and strength.
I am writing this because I remember being a freshman in 2017 and watching this institution brutally isolate, J-board, and crush a movement for racial justice, and then take credit for the changes to the Hum syllabus that many of those students traded their degree for.
It is in Reed’s best interests to create a campus where amnesia is the rule, and where we blame students for problems they inherited upon being admitted into this 116 acre, privately-owned campus. Perhaps it’s hard to recognize injustice when you’re surrounded by pleasant greenery and studious silence.
I am writing to remind you that Reed’s best interests are not your own.
From Reed’s Financial Statements 2020-2021, publicly accessible here.
Financial Statements 2020-2021, p. 28. (Link above.)
Reed College Student Body Senate and Treasury, “Letter To The Editor: Concerning Paradox,” the Quest. February 25, 2022.
While Audrey’s salary is not publicly disclosed, as far as I can tell, Kroger’s yearly salary was somewhere around $450,000-500,000, of which the Paradox deficit is ~4%. (See Mike Rogoway, “Reed College says President John Kroger will step down,” the Oregonian, February 9, 2018; and Nigel Jaquiss, “The Smartest Guy in the Room,” Willamette Week, June 5, 2012.)
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Businesses and Employees by Industry.” July 2021.
Sabrina Blasik, “Paradox Lost For Good?,” the Quest. February 25, 2022. My emphases.
See the “Updates” section in the Paradox’ closed IndieGogo campaign, “Financial Stability for the Paradox,” from 2014.
Reed College Student Body Senate and Treasury, “Letter To The Editor: Concerning Paradox,” the Quest. February 25, 2022.
“Investment Committee Issues Statement on Wells Fargo,” Reed Magazine. December 19, 2017. See also Fiona Battistoni, “A Short History of Divestment at Reed,” the Quest. September 13, 2019. For a brief history of the protests and links to media by the protestors themselves, see the community document, “resistance at reed,” last ed. February 15, 2022.
Fiona Battistoni, “A Short History of Divestment at Reed,” the Quest. September 13, 2019.
Email correspondence between Paradox managers and Director of Development, on Feb 14, 2022.
See the Office for Student Engagement’s “Fundraising Guidelines”. These guidelines were initially adopted in Summer 2012, before the Paradox last crowdfunded on IndieGogo to keep itself alive. (Discussed above.)
Email correspondence between Paradox managers and bookstore staff on Feb 14, 2022.
Front page of the Quest, issue CLXXX.10, published April 18, 2000, currently hanging in the Paradox’s managers office.
See “Financial Stability for the Paradox”, the closed IndieGogo campaign from 2014.
From IndieGogo campaign description.
“At Reed College, students are unionizing,” Northwest Labor Press. March 23, 2018.
See RAR’s post about the Hum lecture disruptions.
Ben Read, “Reed Administration Fires House Adviser, Mishandles Student Support,” the Quest, November 20, 2020.
From “SB Info Follow Up” email sent by Student Life (signed Karnell McConnell-Black and Mary B. James) to the student body after Aziz’s first SB info mail.
Nina Gopaldas, “Graffiti Removal on Campus,” the Quest. February 18, 2022.
Albert Kerelis, “Aziz Ouedraogo Assumes the Position of Student Body President,” the Quest. March 12, 2021.
Randall Barton, “Trillium Goes Platinum,” Reed Magazine. February 4, 2020.
For cost of building Trillium, see Chris Lydgate, “New Dorm Gets Name,” Reed Magazine. March 27, 2019.
From Karnell McConnell-Black’s email to the student body following the roofie incident (“Important communication regarding allegations of tampering with a drink at an off-campus party and reports of doxing and bullying”), September 5, 2021.
From satirical “Stanford North” poster last distributed at Reed c. 2017-2018. Scanned image hosted here: https://imgur.com/a/6k2bYH0