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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.

6 Responses to “Kroger Faces Backlash after Paideia Controversy: Alumni Board Director resigns”
  1. Jordan Horowitz says:

    Re: Robert Knapp’s statements

    I think those of us who oppose Kroger’s actions have a pretty good intuitive grasp of what the word “censorship” means, considering we’ve all been competent users of English for decades. It’s something along the lines of what Merriam-Webster offers:

    “to examine in order to suppress or delete anything considered objectionable ; also : to suppress or delete as objectionable ”

    This incident clearly falls under the “suppression” category. I don’t really see how you could argue with that.

    Knapp’s statement creates confusion by implicitly equating what Kroger did to something very different: choosing not to offer a course for any reason whatsoever. Imagine the following: a professor in the German department proposes a new class. The chair of the department says “that’s too similar to a class we already offer” and vetoes it. That’s not censorship: the material wasn’t deemed objectionable, dangerous or unfit to be taught to students; it was deemed redundant and not offered for pragmatic reasons.

    When the decision of “whether [a] course should be on the books or not” comes up, and the material of the course is deemed objectionable by an authority and suppressed on those grounds, that’s censorship. No amount of pedantic hair-splitting is going to change that.

  2. Connie Brand says:

    I understand a journalist needs two sides to a story, but my other comments included:

    “The answer to censorship, or hate speech, for that matter, is always more speech. Transparency and discussion should be paramount values.”

    ” I value Jessica Benjamin ‘s statements and applaud her for speaking up. I regret that we will be losing a valuable volunteer. Again, I have hopes that this can be turned into a valuable dialogue about the Community Constitution, the Honor Principle, what the letter of the law actually states, reduction of harm, and what constitutes a fair policy in a complicated legal environment.”

    Rory Bowman’s efforts to reinstate a Paideian governing structure with robust faculty/alumni support for the student organizers and Paideian instructors within the existing constructs of the Community Constitution should be seriously considered and dare I hope, be in place before next winter break.

  3. Robert Knapp said, “I don’t mean to split hairs, but watch how well I can split hairs.”

  4. Anne Insider says:

    From a purely legal standpoint, Kroger has a right (and one might even claim a responsibility) to prevent per se illegal activities from happening on campus. Speech, however, is never an “illegal activity”. It is perfectly reasonable, however unpopular, to insist that no illegal substances be imbibed, ingested, or inhaled during Paideia classes, but restricting the speech (aka “teaching”) that goes on in them is both unnecessary and unreasonable, and contradicts the ethos of Reed and its community.

    This is not happening by accident. Colin Diver spent much of his tenure carefully eroding the traditional limits on the power of the Reed administration over both the faculty and the student body, and one can expect Kroger to continue that pattern. The Board of Trustees wants Kroger to run an administration that acts “in loco parentis” for Reed students, and one way or another, that is what is going to happen.

  5. I know y’all college kids have quality eyesight, but can we make the text of these articles bigger?

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