Kroger Faces Backlash after Paideia Controversy: Alumni Board Director resigns
The Reed community has reacted en masse to Reed President John Kroger’s cancellation of two Paideia classes and the alteration of another.
Last Friday, The Quest published an article revealing Kroger’s censorship of the classes. A day after the article’s publication, Kroger issued a statement saying he “learned about these classes right before Paideia began and felt [he] could not responsibly let them go forward without real risk of harm to community members.” Landon Goldberg ’07, who was supposed to have taught a cancelled class called “Adroit Anticipation of Awesome Altered Adventures,” published the “(mostly) non-controversial material from [his] class” on the Quest website. On Wednesday, Director of Strategic Communications Kevin Myers confirmed that Kroger would be speaking at the Senate meeting on Friday.
Meanwhile, comments on the original article have been extensive, with some comments accusing Kroger of violating the Community Constitution. An alumni board meeting over Working Weekend was mostly consumed by a discussion of Kroger’s decision to censor the Paideia classes. The story was even picked up locally by Portland’s Willamette Week and nationally by news website The Daily Caller.
Clearly, the story is not going to disappear just yet.
In the comments section of the article published last Friday, one commenter brought up the possibility that Kroger violated Article VI Section I of Reed’s Community Constitution, part of which reads “Publications, exhibitions, public lectures, and public performances under the sponsorship of the College or of recognized organizations within the Reed Community shall not be subject to institutional censorship.”
Another commenter, Greg Lawrence ’12, pointed out that Reed’s first Operating Principle states, “The educational mission of the college requires the freest exchange and most open discussion of ideas. The use of censorship or intimidation is intolerable in such a community.”
Over the weekend, alumni gathered at Reed for a meeting to discuss various issues. According to Paul Levy ’72, a representative on the alumni board, Vice President and Dean of Student Services Mike Brody came to talk to alumni about Student Services. “I said ‘I’d like to hear about the recent controversy’ and he knew exactly what I was talking about,” said Levy. More of the meeting was devoted to the issue than any other topic, with most alumni expressing concerns after Brody presented the administration’s position, Levy explained.
In an email to The Quest, Alumni Board President Chantal Sudbrack ’97 stated, “The Alumni Association leadership has heard from many alumni on this issue, and although the opinion on President Kroger’s actions is divided, I believe it is fair to report widespread concern about the process undertaken in this policy decision.”
Indeed, some alumni have taken serious issue with Kroger’s decision, including Jessica Benjamin ’93, who resigned on Wednesday from the Alumni Association’s Boston Chapter, the Alumni Board of Directors, and the Media Committee. Benjamin expressed doubt about Kroger’s commitment to discussing the issue with all members of the Reed community. “When Kroger cancelled the Paideia classes with no communication or willingness to look at alternative proposals from the teachers, I really felt like it was a student issue to deal with as they saw fit, not an alumni issue,” Benjamin said. “But since Kroger has refused to engage with alumni on this and other issues, I can’t see how he will be a fit with the college moving forward.”
In response to Benjamin’s resignation, President Kroger said, “We value Jessica’s many contributions to the college and appreciate her passion for Reed.”
Not every alumnus feels strong disapproval of Kroger’s position at Reed. “I like John Kroger very much, [I] think he is a very good choice for the Presidency, and [I] think the situation has gotten out of hand very quickly,” said Constance Brand ’78, the chair of the San Francisco Bay Area Alumni Steering Committee. Brand added, “Going forward I hope we can use this as an opportunity for the college to craft a true working policy should a real crisis come along.”
Alumni and students aren’t the only part of the Reed community that has shown apprehension about Kroger’s decision. On Reed’s Alumni Facebook page, English Professor Robert Knapp commented, “I don’t mean to split hairs, but deciding whether or not a course should be offered (even a non-credit course during Paideia) isn’t quite the same thing as deciding whether or not to censor something. Once a course is on the books, no one has a right to demand that some writing or topic be scratched; whether the course should be on the books or not is a prior question, having to do with what’s ‘appropriate,’ what’s ‘sound,’ what ‘should be’ part of the program.”
The Senate meeting will be held at 4PM Friday in the SU.
The article has been updated to reflect the following correction: More of the Working Weekend Alumni Board meeting was devoted to discussion of the Paideia controversy than any other single topic, but not the majority of the meeting.