Letter to the Editors: David Comfort (’71)

Editor’s note: As with all Letters to the Editor submitted to the Reed College Quest, this letter does not reflect the views or positions of the Quest, its writers, or its editors. We understand the journalistic pitfalls of sensationalism, and our intentions are not to provoke a response, especially around such a serious and painful matter. We believe that, regardless of personal opinion, newspapers have a responsibility to publish submissions that they receive, and that editors should strive to adhere to publication policies regardless of their personal beliefs on an issue. In light of that, we have made the decision to publish this letter, which was written and sent to the Quest unsolicited by Reed alumnus David Comfort (‘71), as it is compliant with our current bylaws and policies as outlined on our website. These bylaws may be updated in the future.

We recognize that this letter may be upsetting to some readers, and are choosing to run it under a trigger warning for the following subjects: discussion of Paul Currie; racial insensitivity.

Dear Quest editors,

Last March, a video was posted on TikTok and Twitter showing Reed Professor Paul Currie at a fast-food restaurant window asking whether two employees, whom he called “rude,” were born in the US.

The 28-second clip shows no rants, racist or otherwise. Also missing is the alleged rude employee behavior which may have triggered the incident. Absent too is the confrontation climax. According to the Willamette News: “The video captures only part of what appears to be a longer exchange…. [It] ends just as another person comes to Currie’s passenger window and threatens to “break all of your motherf*cking windows.”

Based on a video with the beginning and end redacted, Reed’s YDSA chapter stated: “Paul’s actions uphold white supremacy and American chauvinism by insinuating that someone’s immigration status determines their value as a worker and as a human being.” YDSA led other students on a march on the President’s office, chanting: “Fire Currie! Fuck Curie!” Meanwhile, on 4/2/22, The Quest claimed Currie had “hurled racial epithets”; then it condemned the administration for “insufficient response” to the professor’s nonexistent “despicable and racist statements.”

In fact, Reed launched an immediate investigation. Afterward, President Bilger announced that “no violation of college policy” had been found. Moreover, 112 faculty members (of 162) refused to sign a termination-demand letter from complainants. [Editor’s note: This is, at best, a misinterpretation: as reported by the Quest last April, the letter was described as “spontaneous” by those who wrote it, and at least some interested faculty were not made aware of its existence until after it had already been submitted.] Currie released his own statement to the student body, expressing his “commitment to diversity,” and confessing his “intense shame and regret.” He concluded: “I understand that I must work hard to restore your faith in me.”

Though never once in his Reed tenure had a complaint – racial or otherwise — been lodged against Currie, his critics seemed to regard him as no different than a David Duke. Thus: no second chances, no forgiveness. No censure, no probation. Since the professor expressed hope of staying on and regaining student faith, one can only conclude that the administration demanded his resignation to appease his accusers enraged by a misleading, edited video. The Scarlet Letter “R” now erases his PhD: his professional life may be ruined.

In 1954, Reed fired tenured Philosophy professor, Stanley Moore, for refusing to confess his alleged Marxist sympathies to the McCarthy UnAmerican Activity Committee. In 1981, thanks to the efforts of two students, the board of trustees apologized and welcomed “him into the company of former faculty members on the same basis as if his departure had been entirely voluntary.”

(https://www.nytimes.com/1981/05/31/us/college-apologizes-to-professor-for-1954-dismissal.html)

One of the students, Michael Munk (later a Rutgers prof, now deceased), called Moore’s firing “a black mark on Reed’s record.” But, after the board’s reversal, he celebrated: “A black mark has been erased… McCarthyism has ended!”

When I attended Reed, it was all about open dialog, diverse opinion, and above all Reason — not distortion of facts and suppression of debate in the service of vindictive emotion. I am as vehement an opponent of Racism as anyone. But, in my wildest dreams, I never thought Reed would violate its commitment to impartial reason and fair play by surrendering to punitive political fanaticism.

Sincerely,
David Comfort (Reed Class of ’71)

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments