Reed College is one of those schools that can cause a lot of damage to an impressionable kid like myself. I got their mailing late in my junior year of high school and decided, "Well, this would be the best school in the world if they even live up to half of what they say..."

I went and visited and they sorta kinda DO...not good, not falling in love with the girl you can never have because she has to marry the rich Harvard guy and you're just a public school tool with a scholarship that might get you two weeks at Reed.

That said, I think Reed is a really excellent school that suffers from all the minor ailments most small liberal arts schools suffer from: a lack of diversity, a surplus of people who don't want to be social (and are paying 32,000 so they don't have to be), and the omnipresent pot presence.

I think Reed benefits from an unusually devoted student body (reed seems to inspire fanaticism, at least in its 'prospies' (prospective students)) and an unusually rigorous academic program which, at least in the sciences, is second to none. of course I'm not a science major, so why would I go there...? see: fanaticism

There are numerous myths connected with Reed College, most notably that the beat movement gained much of its impetus from reed grads who lived in a house off-campus. the college loves to perpetuate these myths as part of 'old reed'...this is from Reed Magazine, Feburary 99 (

"It was the late 1940s and a group of impoverished Reed students decided to commingle resources and rent a house together near campus. Thus begins the tale of the first "Reed house" and the unique people who inhabited it.

Among the students were Gary Snyder '51, who would become one of the original Beat poets and later win a Pulitzer Prize for literature; Philip Whalen '51, who would also become a Beat poet and later a Buddhist monk; poet Lew Welch '50, whose thesis on Gertrude Stein would later be published with a foreword by William Carlos Williams; Don Berry '53, who would become perhaps this century's greatest writer on Oregon history; and William Dickey '51, who would also become an accomplished, award-winning poet.

The group drank cheap wine, wrote poetry, and had all-night discussions and arguments on wide-ranging topics. Berry later recalled, "It was probably the birth canal for the Beat Generation--classic postwar Bohemianism and also one of the richest experiences of my life. The quality of minds involved was extraordinary."

The 'quality of minds' is what attracted me to reed in the first place, but there is also (supposedly) a rich and free social culture on campus that enables you to be anyone you want to be. You'd better get social, because there aren't any sports to play except rugby (and that only because someone once said it impressed judges for the Rhodes Scholarship)

Ultimately the thing that kept Reed in my brain was the admissions-office propaganda, which forced anyone reading their mailings to become intimately acquainted with the college's folkloric history. The Doyle Owl, a statue that "everybody goes apeshit over" is the centerpiece of their reed mythos. Supposedly there is a car buried under the Hauser Library. I don't even attend the school, and I know all this and more.

The Princeton Review awards reed the honor of being a community of 'birkenstock-wearing, clove-smoking hippies.' That's not totally accurate, but it's a decent stereotype to take with you if you go to visit this Portland, Oregon liberal arts school.

Quite apart from the fine academic institution that it is, Reed College's campus, which covers almost fifty square blocks of southeast Portland, OR, is full of both beautiful scenery and interesting architecture. Although it is not a public park, relatively unobtrusive people often treat it like one. It is perhaps one of the largest and most scenic places in inner southeast Portland.

The campus is split pretty neatly down the middle by the Reed Canyon, a shallow pond that drains into a stream that exits the campus. This canyon is fairly marshy and perhaps has a pollution problem of some sort. It is not the kind of water you would want to get your body in, but it does provide a wild scenic element in an otherwise well ordered, staid campus. The canyon is bridged by a gracefully curving concrete footbridge.

On the north side of the canyon lies some dormitory and Reed's atheletic fields and running track. Since Reed is not known for being a high profile athletic powerhouse, these fields are mostly used for ultimate frisbee, and for neighborhood people to walk their dogs.

The south side of the canyon has all of Reed's important, and beautiful looking buidlings, including the campus library, the gargoyle covered old dorm block, the main administration building, and some slighty more modern buildings, such as the dining hall. It also has a gigantic open yard, spotted with elm trees, as well as Portland's largest Ginko Biloba trees.

So, for those who happen to be in SE Portland and want to pretend they are in the beautiful yard of an ancient castle, or what have you, then Reed College is the place to do it. Just remember that Reed is private property, and if the security guards feel that you are disturbing the students, they will boot you. Reed's reputation for wildness is not totally deserved, many of the students are, after all, rather sheltered and naive.


Reed College was founded in 1911 by Thomas Eliot and Simeon and Amanda Reed. The original class, enrolled before the campus was completed, was composed of 46 students - 23 women and 23 men. A.E Doyle was enlisted to design the new campus, to be established on the grounds of Crystal Springs Farm in Portland, Oregon. Construction began immediately on the dormitories that would become A-G blocks, each later renamed for important members of the Reed community and collectively known as Old Dorm Block, and classrooms in the Arts & Scienes Building, later to be renamed Eliot Hall.

Both ODB and Elliot Hall were built in the gothic style of Harvard and Yale, ivy and brick and gargoyles. It was intended for Reed to echo these institutions by being arranged in a series of quadrangles formed by buildings in this style. The original sketch for this plan is still hanging in Eliot Hall as a source of amusement based on how greatly the actual development has deviated from that first vision.

Several other buildings were quickly erected, and notably in 1930 the Eric V. Hauser Library was completed, establishing the core of the Reed campus that exists today. Over the next 90 years, several new dormitories were constructed, as well as more classroom and lecture halls, a theatre, a studio arts building, a nuclear reactor, several expansions to the library, and most recently a technology building. Since this construction spanned several decades, each period of development has its own contemporary style of architecture. This created an eclectic feeling of a campus that matches the nature of the student body far better than gothic quandrangles ever could, while still being considered one of the most beautiful campuses in the country.

The Campus

The Reed College campus sits on over 100 acres of land in Southeast Portland. Running through the middle of the campus is the Reed Canyon, a 21 acre protected wildlife area that is "the only naturally occurring pond (or lake) remaining in the inner-city area." The canyon is host to many native plants and animals, including beavers and nutria. There has recently been an effort to eliminate all non-native plant species from the canyon in an effort to restore it to its natural state. Recent development also includes a fish ladder at the end opposite from the source of the canyon, in the hopes that salmon released into the canyon will return there to spawn.

The main part of campus is built to the south of the canyon, while north of the canyon are dorms and sports fields, along with a recently purchased plot of land that was formerly the Eastmoreland Hospital. Official plans for this new land have not been announced, but it is widely speculated that among the options being circulated, new dorms will take precedence given the current housing shortage forcing students to live off campus.

The Reactor

No description of Reed College could be complete without mentioning that is does in fact house a nuclear reactor. It is both the only liberal arts school to have a reactor, as well as the only school in the country at all to have a reactor that is run primarily by undergraduates, with only the Director and Assistant Director beign non-students, and the Assistant Director is traditionally a recent alumni.

The reactor is a small research reactor, a General Atomics TRIGA Mark I with a maximum safe power level of 250kW to be specific, and is located at the bottom of a 25 foot pool of water in a bunker like building underneath the former chemistry building, now the psychology building. It is used mainly for neturon activation analysis, wherein a substance is bombared by neutrons, turning it's composite elements into unstable isotopes of themselves that can then be identified by their decay.

Becoming a licensed reactor operator is a one year process, free of charge but also unpaid, during which the student learns fundamentals of reactor physics as well as the day to day operations of the reactor. At the end of the year, the prospective operators have been reduced down to a group of 6-12 who take an exam administered by the NRC and if they pass they become full paid licensed operators of a nuclear reactor. Almost all who take the test pass it, as the director is very serious about only putting up for test those who are ready, and those who do not pass typically fail at most one part of written exam and can apply to only retake that one part. The license is only valid for the Reed reactor, but nonetheless makes a great line item on a resume.

There is no major requirement to become an operator, and many operators are neither math nor science majors. It is also notable that as of 2002 there were more female operators than male, quite unusual in the industry, but reflective of the general population of Reed.

The Academics

The academic process at Reed is extremely rigorous, and it is not uncommon to take time off in the middle of the process, as only 45% of students graduate in four uninterupted years. The difficulty has its rewards however, as a greater percentage of Reed graduates receive Ph.D.s than almost any school in the country. The difficulty of graduation, and the resulting non-continuity of attendence leads to a rather unusual system of labeling students, wherein a student's year is determined by various landmark actions, rather than simply the number of years the student has been in attendence. For example, I knew one sophomore who was in the midst of his fourth year in attendence.

Graduation from Reed requires completing certain group requirements that are intended to distribute a student's learning across all major areas of knowledge, a classical liberal arts education. The system is rather complicated and under nearly constant revision, but at its heart, requires students to take two semesters each in the arts, humanities, sciences, and maths or languages, in addition to any requirements of the student's major. In practice the system is far from perfect, but does result in the average Reedie does have a much broader base of knowledege than the average student at almost any other school.

Academics at Reed begins with Hum 110, a year long course including a lecture and small conference component (10-15 people) that is officially titled "Greece and Rome: A History of Western Civilization". Before arriving in the fall (or at least, before the first day of class), students read the Illiad in its entirety. They then proceed to read most other major works of Greece and Rome, including selections from Euripides, Aristotle, Plato, Josephus, Vergil, and more. Freshman typically take 3 other classes, often including an intro science and/or math that will either apply to their major or to the group requirements. Completion of Hum 110 graduates the student from freshman status to that of sophomore.

The second year at Reed is mainly concerned with fulfilling the group requirements, as well as taking any intro courses not taken freshman year that will be required to take upper level courses in the student's major. By the end of the second year, the student should be ready to declare his/her major. The act of declaring one's major includes mapping out a rough estimation of the next two years of courses, and changes the status of the student to that of a junior.

Junior year is marked by increasingly difficult classes, and preparation for the Qualifying Exam. A student cannot take the Qual until he/she has declared a major, but there is no requirement for how long before the Qual this declaration must be made. Thus it is not uncommon for lazy Reedies to exist as juniors for only a few days while the Qual is graded. The Qual is typically administered sometime in the middle of spring semester and varies from department to department. Most humanities departments have Quals that involve several days or weeks of analyzing works, while the Mathematics and Physics departments have 6 hour exams that are taken on one Saturday. Failure rates also vary among departments, from the Psychology department where nearly everyone passes unconditionally, to the Physics department where upwards of 70% of students are required to retake at least one part of the exam.

The commencement of senior year is a bit less clear, as it psychologically begins with the passing of the Qual, but the gravity of the situation does not truly sink in until the student sits down to begin The Thesis. The senior thesis is a year long process during which the first semester is spent researching the relevant literature and consulting with the thesis advisor to determine a topic, and the second semester contains more specific research, including experiments for experimental theses and the writing of the thesis itself. Upon completion, senior theses are bound and kept in the library in the Thesis Tower where theses from the beginning of the college to present day can be found. The level of writing in the senior thesis is typically quite high, often at a level comparable to that of a Master's thesis, and many are published in the relevant journals.

The day that the theses are due marks the beginning of Renn Fayre, a three day campus-wide celebration that has been ranked by Rolling Stone as the third best party in the world after Mardi Gras and Carnival. Sorry, Reedies and their guests only.

Following Renn Fayre is Reading Week, a week of recovery and studying for the week after, Finals Week. The Monday after Finals Week is commencement, and marks the end of the Reed year.

The Students

Students at Reed are notoriously hard to categorize and proud of it. They generally lean towards liberal or libertarian but their intellectual streak leads them to not fit in typical political boxes, often possessing views that do not fit their overall political leanings. Some are very politically active, while others prefer to focus on their studies. Some partake in any and all activities imaginable, while others abstain entirely. Most are either passively or actively anti-religious, but there are non-negligible groups of devout students of almost all faiths.

The one thing Reedies do have in common is their answer to the question of "Why did you come to Reed?". Invariably, mixed in with the answers mentioning the academics or the activism or the parties is the phrase "It just seemed like the right place." This theme of belonging runs through the student body, in part because almost those who do not share the sentiment simply leave for greener pastures, but also because Reedies are passionate about being Reedies, no matter what their personal conception of being a Reedie is.


Reed lore is an oral tradition handed down from class to class. Although pieces of the lore have been written down, the lack of an offical cannon means the lore is constantly changing by small amounts, and being added to by each successive class. Olde Reed is defined as always having come to end at the completion of the speaker's freshman year, and all great Reed lore has occurred at Olde Reed. The following three pieces of lore all occurred at varrying degrees of Olde Reed: the first nearly a century ago, the second a few decades ago, and the third in the final year of Olde Reed, my freshman year. As with any oral tradition, these stories are truly meant to be spoken, and no written version can capture the proper delivery that makes these stories come alive. If you wish to hear them told as they should be told, look me up a the next Portland noder meet and I shall regale you with tales of Reed.

The Doyle Owl

The year is 1917, and, as most Reed lore begins, a group of Reedies were bored. This particular group of Reedies were all residents of D block, later to be renamed Doyle. And, as is often the solution to Reedies' boredom, they decided that somewhere in the greater Portland area, there was a piece of property that should rightfully be in their posession. And in this particular instance, that object was a large cement owl decorating a house in Eastmoreland.

The Reedies were so pleased with their acquisition that they decided to feature it at a party hosted by their dorm. Another group of Reedies, upon seeing the glory of the owl, decided that it would be better served by being located in their dorm rather than its current location. A brief tussle ensued, but soon the owl was repatriated to its new home.

And so it begins.

From that point to present day, the owl has been the most coveted item on the Reed campus. It's value is considered so great that normally quiet and intellectual Reedies will become more ruthless than a Cornell med-student, more stupider than a state school frat boy, all in the quest to posess a 300 pound piece of concrete. The owl has travelled around the world being photographed with its owners of the time, but it always returns to Reed. Notable recent showings have included being spotlighted outside the window at the $100 million dollar fundraising celebration, thereby emptying the ballroom of both students and alumni, and at Renn Fayre, encased in more concrete ala Han Solo, bringing its total weight to approximately one ton. The latter is the showing that led to my possession of the owl, incidentally.

The 40 minute twist is that the current owl is in fact not even the original owl. several points in history, a mould of the owl has been made, and duplicates produced. This is quite fortunate, since the original owl is generally agreed upon to be resting at the bottom of the Willamette River, the victim of an ill fated struggle on the Steele Bridge.

The struggle persists, however, because the actual value of the owl lays not in its physical form, but in it's inherent timé. The honor gained from possession of the owl is two-fold. Firstly, it shows a dedication above and beyond the call, fighting off dozens or even hundreds of other Reedies to take capture the own, and then inevitably betraying the very allies who aided in its capture to take sole possession of the owl. Secondly, that possession allows the Reedie to present the owl at a moment that shows creativity and insight to the Reedie mind: the better the presentation, the greater the struggle, and the greater the timé that is acquired.

And that is the story of the Doyle Owl

The MG under the Library

The Hauser Library is showing its age, and an addition is being grafted onto the side to allow for more room for books and desks. As with all construction, the addition begins with a foundation. And until a building is built on top of it, a foundation is just a large pit. And once again, Reedies are bored.

A group of Reedies have a friend who has disappeared from Reed, not as uncommon as a non-Reedie might think. When asked for statistics on graduation rate, the department of the registrar places things in the best terms they can by stating that 75% of Reedies graduate within 7 years of the time they enter. So while a Reedie disappearing for a while is not uncommon, a Reedie disappearing while leaving behind his rundown old MG in the parking lot while there is a large open pit not more than a 100 feet from it is an opportunity not to be missed.

Late at night the Reedies come to the parking lot armed with shovels and quickly start excavting a hole within the hole for the foundation. The roll the MG over into the pit and lever it into the second hole. Dawn is approaching, so they quickly shovel the gravel around the car, smoothing it over until there is no evidence of their night time shenanigans.

The next day the construction crews show up with their cement mixers and fill in the hole, burying the MG for some archeologist of the future to base his thesis on. No one knows what the reaction of the owner was when he was informed of his car's new parking space, though if he was a true Reedie, he would have realized the timé of having his car be part of the Reed lore was worth more than any piece of metal.

Dormies Married in Vegas

First a bit of background for those not familiar with the cast of characters. Bragdon is a dorm at Reed which is built into the side of a hill, giving it three floors where the first is very small and really only part of a large three-story social room that has earned the nickname "The Ski Lodge". The second and third floors are identical (except for one being below the other), and both have nooks half way along their length with couches. Rachel is an H.A. (a student who lives in the dorm and helps things run smoothly) of part of the dorm, and Ivor is a British foreign student living in another part of Bragdon who happens to have a girlfriend back in England who is named Rachel and looks quite a bit like H.A. Rachel. All other characters can be assumed to be residents of Bragdon, along with myself. Now then, on with the show.

So it's a Sunday night in the spring of 2001. I'm sitting in the third floor nook of Bragdon with a few friends, generally avoiding doing our reading for Monday's classes. Suddenly we hear screaming coming from the large social room. This in itself is not a particularly noteworth event in Bragdon, so we continue with our lack of work.

Edie comes running down the hall from the balcony that overlooks the social room screaming "Ivor and Rachel got married!". We pause. We look at each other. We look at Edie. We say "Say what?". She responds "Ivor and Rachel got married in Vegas!". We inquire for more detail: "What the fuck?". "Ivor and Rachel drove to Vegas this weekend and got married!". We pause. We look at each other. I say, "Now that you mention it, I haven't seen Rachel or Ivor all weekend. What the fuck?"

We walk over to the balcony and look down, and there are Rachel and Ivor looking very married, drinking champagne and being showed with rice. We walk back to the nook, muttering, "What the fuck?", and sit there, all thought of reading gone, simply muttering, "What the fuck?"

The next day, several of us walk into the class we share and explain the situation to Betsy, our prof. She had had Rachel in her conference the previous year, and responded "What the fuck?"

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

  • Location: Portland, Oregon
  • Website:
  • Current Students: 1340 (54% female/46% male)
  • Student to faculty ratio: 10 to 1
  • Average class size: 13

1Historical information taken from the Reed Student Handbook and A History of the Reed College Campus by Richard E. Ritz. Statistics are from Canyon information from All other information is from personal experience and oral communications while at Reed.

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