“This Changes the Face of Our Nation:” Faculty Discussion Admission, Affirmative Action, and New Courses

By Declan Bradley and Henry Kendrick

President Audrey Bilger began the first faculty meeting of the 2023/24 academic year — which took place on September 11 — with a statement of remembrance for those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, calling it a “solemn event.” President Bilger also expressed her admiration for the students who shared their presentations during the summer research poster session, remarking that “[the Reed community’s] love of learning is at the center of what we do.” 

President Bilger then shared the areas of focus she is hoping to work on this year: Anti-racism and DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion), staff concerns, and improving communication among students, staff, and the greater community. She explained that another priority is a further expansion of the endowment for need-based financial aid, and also briefly mentioned the college’s efforts to shift its admissions strategy in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision striking down race-conscious admissions in U.S. colleges and universities. 

President Bilger called for greater investment in the physical plant, studio art, and science facilities, and revealed that 30% of the college’s operating budget is coming from the school’s endowment. She called for greater fundraising for the school, explaining that the more money the school can raise, the more they can rely on the endowment for operating costs.

She addressed the presence of significant staff concerns that have continued since last semester, stating, “I am continuing to process the feedback that I’ve received from staff teams.” She added that, “I also want to address the questions raised by staff of color, … and to increase the numbers of staff leaders of color.” She also suggested that future all-staff meetings will follow a more informal format that would include time for a more conversational atmosphere where staff can voice their opinions. 

President Bilger acknowledged that faculty have continued to raise questions about the administration’s pay grade review project, but announced that they have paused work on that project for the rest of this calendar year. However, other work has been continuing, such as the development of job descriptions, and career and experience pay reviews. She added that they will first be looking into compensation for faculty and administrative coordinators and that this review will be taking seniority and experience, both at Reed and at previous institutions, into account. Finally, President Bilger announced that supervisor meetings and supervisor training will be brought back after a considerable pandemic-related pause.

Following the President’s introduction, Vice President for Student Life Dr. Karnell McConnell-Black confirmed that the college’s overall policy regarding COVID-19 is to treat the virus as an endemic illness. The college will continue to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and also pointed out that the Reed website will continue to have a COVID-19 policies banner. Masks will still be available for students in the mailroom, and if students or staff do get infected, they should contact the HCC for advice and protocols. When asked whether professors can require masks in class, Dr. McConnell-Black said that it was up to each individual professor. COVID tests and vaccines are also available at the HCC.

Dean of the Faculty Kathy Oleson gave her report, explaining that she wants to spend more time walking around campus and learn more about what’s happening in the community. Oleson said she was inspired by Reed Research Reactor Director Jerry Newhouse, who shared the idea of “field presence,” which aims to “create a safer culture” through openness and transparency. Oleson listed several of the fruitful encounters she has already had with faculty and students, including attending the zine library open house. She requested that staff reach out to her with any information they think she should be aware of.

History professor Mary Ashburn Miller spoke about her “vision and goals.” She sees Reed as, “a place where pedagogical solitude goes to die,” emphasizing her passion for Reed’s interdisciplinary requirements and ethos. Miller announced a ChatGPT workshop for faculty to discuss strategies for dealing with generative AI being used to complete assignments. She also expressed interest in thinking about “trauma-informed teaching.”

Professor Meg Scharle shared her report from the Committee on Academic Policy and Planning (CAPP) as the new committee chair. She shared a list of new class proposals, which are explained in detail in Introducing Reed’s (Potential) Newest Courses.

A representative from the Economics Department revealed that the department wishes to withdraw from the International and Comparative Policy Studies (ICPS) program. They explained that very few ICPS students chose economics as their home department. However, the Economics Department will continue to contribute courses to the program.

Professor Scharle responded to a professor in attendance who asked about granting credits for student internships. She explained that some students who take Reed’s nuclear reactor training course will now have that noted on their transcripts, but do not receive course credit and that the training only appears on transcripts because it involves regular meetings, study, and training, and functions more like an extra class.

Anthropology professor Paul Silverstein reported his work on the Committee of Advancement and Tenure (CAT). Professor Silverstein explained that CAT has restarted its classroom visitation and observation program. He felt that the committee needed additional information alongside the usual evaluation forms filled out by students at the end of each semester. He said that CAT is focused on evaluating faculty who are in their third or fourth year at Reed and pre-tenured. Professor Silverstein continued, explaining that the second-year review is the most important when determining a faculty member’s tenure timeline. Both he and President Bilger emphasized the importance of recommendation letters in the evaluation process.

Milyon Trulove, Vice President and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, then gave his report from the Admission and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC). Trulove began by addressing the recent Supreme Court decision striking down the use of race-based affirmative action in the college admissions process. “This summer the Supreme Court overturned years of precedent in regard to how college admission offices make decisions about admission. The term affirmative action is thrown around a lot, but what we’re really talking about is race-conscious admission in a holistic admissions process,” said Trulove. He continued: “Some folks believe that this is a process that might benefit some students that might be less qualified for college. I think there’s a bit of a misnomer in how folks have approached this topic. Reed is a prime example that’s become academically stronger, more selective, and more diverse in the last nine years.” Trulove stressed the massive significance of the SCOTUS decision, saying that it, “changes the face of our nation.” He confirmed that the decision will not affect Reed’s values, saying that it, “doesn’t change our optimism, we value ethnic diversity … this doesn’t mean we cannot talk about diversity as a value, that we cannot continue to say that we want to have diverse classrooms.”

Trulove then proceeded to give a comprehensive update on the demographic data of the newly convocated class of 2027. Reed enrolled 351 new students for this fall semester, the smallest class that Trulove has seen in the past nine years. In addition, this year had the lowest admission rate in the college’s history, 27%. As usual, a large portion of these new students were from California, but the total number from the state went down by 20%. Trulove mentioned price resistance as a contributing factor to the small class size, explaining that some prospective students simply could not afford to accept their admission offer. Trulove also revealed that a large class will be graduating this spring, and with such a small class coming in, the college will “need to have a very large class next year.” “We will have aggressive admissions goals this year,” Trulove said.

With regard to the class of 2027’s demographics, 38% are domestic students of color, 28% are from California, and 11% are from Oregon. 17 are transfer students. International students make up 8% of the admitted class. The most popular confirmed majors among the new class are as follows: 31 psychology, 28 environmental studies, 27 undecided, 23 English, 22 computer science, 19 physics, 19 history and history-literature, 16 neuroscience, 15 philosophy, 14 biology, 13 linguistics, 9 mathematics, and 9 art. Linguistics more than doubled in popularity and is now in the top 12 most popular majors. 

The chair of the Admission and Financial Aid Committee (AFAC) laid out the committee’s priorities for the year as follows: 1) considering the impact of the SCOTUS decision on race-conscious admission, 2) keeping the strain off of popular first-year courses, 3) improving faculty engagement in recruitment processes, and 4) studying how incoming students’ math preparation affects their major selection. The last point was expanded upon, as she explained that many incoming students are being advised to take statistics instead of pre-calculus, leaving some majors closed to them. 

Psychology Professor Kris Anderson raised the topic of a recent article in the New York Times on colleges that have pursued “affirmative action for men” in an attempt to close the growing gender gap in higher education in the United States. Trulove dismissed the idea that a usually high percentage of Reed’s student body identifies as female, saying “That’s not new, that’s just super old.” He suggested that many liberal arts colleges have similar gender distributions in their student bodies, and said that “Reed is one of the first places where we don’t even think a lot about it.” 

Another faculty person asked whether there is an ongoing discussion about the role of the SAT and other standardized tests in admissions, which Trulove did not answer definitively. However, when asked about whether standardized tests are a barrier to applicants of color, to which he replied, “Only if you let them be.”

Spanish professor Elizabeth Drumm asked whether the 80 students studying abroad this fall affect the admission rate. Trulove confirmed that those students are fully considered in the college’s headcount.

Linguistics professor Kara Becker asked Trulove about the so-called “demographic cliff.” Trulove said that while there are signs that many young people, especially young men, are choosing not to go to college, both large and small colleges and universities have not felt a significant impact yet. The sociology professor previously mentioned, pointed out that the US has seen 1.5 million fewer enrolled college students than in 2011, and that this will be a problem Reed will have to cope with soon. Trulove pointed out that much of Reed’s growth has come from international students.

Art professor Akihito Miyoshi asked how many international students are from China, and if that student pool is in danger of becoming unreliable due to geopolitical pressures. Trulove revealed that the vast majority of international students in the US come from China, but that Reed is looking to invest more heavily in attracting students from Vietnam, India, and South America.                  

Trulove and chemistry professor Nicole James discussed the importance of making sure prospective students have a good understanding of what Reed will actually be like when they arrive, in order to create stable classes with good retention rates.

Finally, Phyllis Esposito, Vice President and Dean for Institutional Diversity discussed the OID’s mission grant, which includes “promoting equity,” “embracing diversity,” “advancing antiracism,” “cultivating inclusion,” and “empowering transformation.”

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