The Quest | The Free Press of Reed College

Exactly Five Minutes With Math Professor Joe Roberts (a.k.a. Joe Bob)

Q: When did you start working at Reed?

JR: 1952.

Q: You teach Number Theory and Analysis, right?

JR: Well, I guess we trade everything around except for Computer Science and Statistics. Over the years most of us teach everything except those two subjects.

Q: And how did you get started at Reed?

JR: The Old Boy Network. Are you familiar with the Old Boy Network?

Q: No.

JR: I had met somebody from Reed a couple of years before and they contacted me to see if I was interested. And that’s how I got here. . . . you know, nowadays you have to have a national search. It used to be that people would get jobs through knowing others. That’s prevented nowadays by enforcing a national search, etcetera. So the Old Boy Network, it wasn’t so good because a lot of people were hired because they were good friends with people, blah blah.

Q: Have you noticed any changes in the students at Reed?

JR: I guess, I wouldn’t say that I do. They’ve always been a very good bunch of students.

Q: What about Reed as in institution?

JR: I think the institution has changed a fair bit. I think in one sense, the demands upon the faculty are much more in the direction of a research orientation rather than in a teaching orientation. It used to be, when I first came, you would find people on the faculty who didn’t have PhDs and weren’t publishing and so on. And that’s much more difficult nowadays.

Q: You have a PhD, right?

JR: Yes, from University of Minnesota.

Q: Is it true that you brought juggling to Reed?

JR: I was involved early on but I think it first started—there were a number of people around the juggling—but I think [former Mathematics Professor] Ray Mayer and I first contacted, many years ago, the PE Department to see if they would accept that as something to get credit for. And so I think it started about then, although there had been juggling around before then, the first official recognition at the college I think was because of Ray and myself talking to the PE Department.

Q: Why was that something you were interested in?

JR: A former member of the department, Joe Buhler, was a keen juggler, so I think he got us all interested in juggling.

Q: Do you think the academics at Reed have gotten easier over the years?

JR: I wouldn’t have said so.

Q: Before the graduation rates were really low.

JR: I think the rate of graduation now is much larger than it was. But I think that’s always been that if you counted up to five years, that rate went up because people didn’t finish in four years, but they did finish in five. I wouldn’t attribute it to being easier, but I don’t know that.

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