Reed College

From Academic Kids

Reed College is a liberal arts college with 1341 students as of the fall of 2004 (45% men and 55% women), located in Portland, Oregon in the quiet Eastmoreland neighborhood.

Reed College

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Reed Griffin

Established 1908
School type Private Liberal Arts
President Colin Diver
Location Portland, OR, USA
Enrollment 1,300 undergraduate,
30 graduate
Faculty 133
Endowment US$337 million
Campus Suburban, 100 acres (400,000 m²)
Sports teams (no official name)

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The Reed Institute (the entity which owns the College) was founded in 1908, and Reed College held its first classes in 1911. Reed is named for Oregon pioneers Simeon Gannett Reed and Amanda Reed. Simeon had been an entrepreneur in trade on the Columbia River; in his will he suggested that his wife could "devote some portion of my estate to benevolent objects, or to the cultivation, illustration, or development of the fine arts in the city of Portland, or to some other suitable purpose, which shall be of permanent value and contribute to the beauty of the city and to the intelligence, prosperity, and happiness of the inhabitants."

Although holding a well-earned reputation for the anti-authoritarian leanings of its students (and sometimes its faculty), the only connection between Reed College and the journalist John Reed is the similarity of their names.

Distinguishing features

Reed is one of the most unusual institutions of higher learning in the United States. It features a traditional liberal arts curriculum, requiring freshmen to take Humanities 110 - an intensive introduction to the Classics. Hum 110, as most students refer to it, covers ancient Greece and Rome. Its program in the sciences is likewise unusual -- Reed's TRIGA research reactor makes it the only school in the US to have a nuclear reactor operated almost entirely by undergraduates. Reed is also one of the few remaining schools that require all students to complete a thesis (a two-semester-long research project conducted under the guidance of professors) during the senior year as a prerequisite of graduation.

Reed is considered a haven for intense intellectuals and idealists. It promotes its dedication to "the life of the mind" to a greater degree than other liberal-arts colleges, and emphasizes its differences -- in both pedagogy and student life -- from similar institutions. Reed maintains a 10:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and its small classes emphasize a "conference" style, in which the teacher often acts as a mediator for discussion rather than a lecturer. While large lecture-style classes exist, Reed emphasizes its smaller lab and conference sections. Reed's high admissions standards also contribute to the intensity of the environment. Until relatively recently, the college accepted a large percentage of total applicants, due to the school's "self-selecting" nature - typically, only qualified, highly-motivated students submitted an application, leading to an acceptance rate of over 75%. This encourages the blossoming of many scholars inspired by the extremely intense academic experience, but also leads to some attrition even though the five-year graduation rate exceeds the national average. The class of 2009's average SAT score is 1409 and high school GPA was 3.974, with 44 percent of applicants accepted.

Reed has no fraternities, sororities, or NCAA sports teams; all of which, in theory, allows students to concentrate as much of their energies as possible on studies. This has contributed to the stereotypes of Reed students being highly unathletic; but in fact many students are excellent athletes. Reed's ultimate frisbee and rugby teams have recently defeated teams from much more sports-centric schools.

Reed is also one of the few colleges operating under an Honor Principle. First introduced as an agreement to promote ethical academic behavior, the Honor Principle was extended to cover all aspects of student life. There are few codified rules governing behavior; the onus is on students individually and as a community to define which behaviors are acceptable and which are not. "Honor Cases" (or discrete cases of grievance) are adjudicated by the "J-Board" (or Judicial Board), which consists of nine full-time students. There is also an "Honor Council" which consists of students, faculty, and staff, designed to educate the community and mediate conflict between individuals. Currently it only serves in the latter function. Commentators have noted that the only other institute of higher education to employ a student-run Honor Principle as successfully is West Point.

The official mascot of Reed is the griffin (pictured above). In mythology, the griffin often pulled the chariot of the sun, making the griffin the symbolic "protector of knowledge and bane of ignorance". The griffin was featured on the coat-of-arms of founder Simeon Reed and is now on the official seal of Reed College.

The official school color of Reed is called richmond rose, possibly in part because Portland is the City of Roses. Over the years, memory of this fact has faded and the color appearing on the school's publications and merchandise has darkened to a shade of maroon, which many people now consider the de facto school color.

The Reed College Canyon - a natural wilderness area - bisects the campus, separating the academic buildings from many of the dormitories (the so called cross-canyon dorms). A hallmark of the campus, the Blue Bridge, spans the canyon. It appears on almost every viewbook that the college circulates.

Unofficial mottos and folklore

The unofficial motto of Reed is "Atheism, Communism, and Free Love," and can be found in the Reed College Bookstore ( on sweaters, t-shirts, etc. The accuracy of this phrase as a summary of campus culture is debatable, but it is generally uttered with some sense of irony.

Three of the college's dorms are known on campus as "Asylum Block" because the architect responsible for their construction was discovered to also have designed an asylum and a prison, and furthermore because the buildings' architecture is said by many to resemble that of an insane asylum.

Every year's Reed College Student Handbook (a manual on student life written by students, not to be confused with the College Handbook, which is written by college officials) contains a test called the "Reed College Immorality Quotient" that tests an individual's immorality on topics such as sex, theft, and drug use.

One of the unofficial symbols of Reed is the Doyle Owl, a 280-pound concrete statue that has been continuously stolen and re-stolen since 1913. The on-campus folklore of events surrounding the Doyle Owl is sufficiently large that, in 1983, a senior thesis was written on the topic of the Owl's oral history The original Doyle Owl was almost certainly destroyed many years ago, but a number of replicas (of varying degrees of quality) remain in circulation, contributing to the frequency of its appearance.

Other famous on-campus myths (all untrue) claim there exist an intact MG in the concrete foundation of the college library, an underground primate lab working exclusively with snow monkeys under the Psychology building, and a four-story lab/habitation arcology under the Physics building. The placement of a copper time capsule in Eliot Hall is suggested in the blueprints but has not been confirmed.

Reed's reputation

Reed has produced the second-highest number of Rhodes scholars (31), for any liberal arts college, as well as over 50 Fulbright Scholars, over 60 Watson Fellows, and 2 MacArthur ("Genius") Award winners. A very high proportion of Reed graduates go on to earn Ph.D.s, particularly in the sciences, history, political science, and philosophy. Reed is third in percentage of its graduates who go on to earn PhDs in all disciplines, after only Caltech and Harvey Mudd. Reed is first in this percentage in biology.

Reed's debating team, which had existed for only two years at the time, was awarded the first place sweepstakes trophy for Division Two schools at the final tournament of the Northwest Forensics Conference in February, 2004.

Loren Pope, former education editor for The New York Times, called Reed "the most intellectual college in the country."

Reed students over the years have cultivated an image that includes an extreme academic workload, a sink-or-swim social ethic, and a reputation for heavy recreational drug use. While the academic workload for freshmen is daunting (a reputed 500 pages of weekly reading in the first semester Humanities class alone), the basis for the drug use image is now largely historic, if it was ever true. That Reed pursues a drug and alcohol policy focused on internal rather than police intervention is one cause of this, in addition to the notoriety of the college's annual Renn Fayre celebration (see below), and the perceived legacy of the hippie movement (in, e.g., the unofficial motto "Communism, Atheism, and Free Love").

Notable alumni

Reed considers any student who attended a semester or more at the college to be an alum. Reed's notable alumni include:

Steve Jobs (co-founder of Apple Computer) attended Reed for one semester.


During the week before the beginning of second-semester classes, the campus undergoes Paideia (drawn from the Greek). This "festival of learning" takes the form of a week (although originally a whole month) of classes and seminars put on by anyone who wishes to teach, including students, professors, staff members, and outside educators invited on-campus by members of the Reed Community. Many such classes are expicitly silly (one long-running tradition is to hold an "Underwater Basket Weaving" class), while others are trivially educational (such as "Giant Concrete Gnome Construction," a class that, incidentally to building monolithic gnomes, includes some content relating to the construction of pre-Christian monoliths). Genuine classes (such as martial arts seminars and mini-classes on obscure academic topics), tournaments, and film festivals round out the "class" list, which is different every year. The objective of Paideia is not only to learn new (possibly non-useful) things, but to turn the tables on students and encourage them to teach.

Renn Fayre

Renn Fayre is an annual three-day celebration at Reed with a different theme each year. Born in the 1960s as an actual renaissance fair, it has long since lost all connection to anachronism and the Renaissance, although its name has proven invincible.

Renn Fayre commences with Thesis Parade, where graduating seniors make a symbolic march to deliver their theses to the registrar. The Fayre runs from Friday to Sunday, beginning on the last day of classes for the spring semester. The week after Renn Fayre is Reading Week, in which no classes are held; final examinations are held in the following week.

Renn Fayre is often called the metaphorical "explosion" of the student body after a year of intense pressure. Traditions include bizarre art installations, insect-eating contests, occasional motorized couches, naked people painting themselves blue (a vague tribute to the ancient Picts), a Beer Garden, the Glow Opera (performed at night by actors in lightstick-covered suits) and a general sense of mayhem, often fueled by drugs and alcohol. Serious injuries are rare, thanks in part to the presence of vigilant student volunteers (known as "Karma Patrol" and "Border Patrol", who ensure guest wellness and the exclusion of unauthorized visitors respectively) and the non-profit White Bird Clinic [1] (

Student participation is essentially unanimous, and even faculty and staff attend some of the festivities. Alumni and authorized guests may also participate.

The Reed College Co-op

The Reed College Co-op is a theme dorm located on the first floor of the MacNaughton building. This floor usually houses 12 to 14 students who purchase and prepare food together for all meals, and remain independent of the school's board plan, and is the only on-campus group to do this. The Co-op usually has dinner together 5 nights per week, with dinner each night prepared by a different team of two members. All other meals, while individually prepared, come from the communal food supply. Popular dinnertime specialties include "Pan-Asian Stir-Fried Confabulation" and "Baked Cheese-Crust Abomination." At lunch, the infamous "Co-op Burrito" rules over all else. The two-pound Tillamook Cheese loaf, at $5.99, must be the most visible symbol of the Co-op's indulgence. During a normal week, the group often consumes between five and seven of these cheese blocks, in flavors including cheddar, monterey, colby, mozzeralla, and pepper-jack. Other epic purchases include 38-pound boxes of organic bananas and 25-pound boxes of granola. Food is purchased in bulk, at discount warehouses, and from a natural foods co-op on SE 21st. The dorm is a haven for those disenchanted with the corporate food service provided by the College. The contractor, Bon Apetite, tries hard to serve healthy and organic food for many of the 1,200 students, but for some, still comes up lacking. Understandably, creating appealing and satisfying meals for so many is hard, but the Co-op fills the void. Sharing in the family atmosphere of cooking, eating, chores, and socializing is just what some students need to soothe their souls. But, there are costs. Each member of the group must contribute 2-4 hours per week of their time, a precious and guarded commodity at this institution, to cooking, cleaning, shopping, and self government. Godfather Rick, the everpresent MC, "Master of Chill," is on hand to preside over all ceremonies, large and small. The members of the Co-op tend to be exceedingly bright, concerned, and active members of the Reed Community. Some of the positive contributions of this tight-knit dorm to the greater good include Epileptic Hamster Marches, Chocolate Body Painting, Excessive Reggae Playing, Pernicious Skateboard Waxing, African Drum Circles, Hallway Art Installations, The Ko-op Klunker, The Party Shower, The Pissoir Alter, The Bonefire of the Arts, Rick-Ade, and The Randall Problem. Sometime in the near future, members hope that the Co-op tradition will move to a larger, ecologically sustainable building yet to be built on the far side of campus

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