|Type||Private liberal arts college|
|Endowment||$569.3 million (2020)|
|Students||1,385 (Fall 2020)|
|Undergraduates||1,338 (Fall 2020)|
|Postgraduates||19 (Fall 2020)|
|Campus||Suburban, 116 acres (470,000 m²)|
Reed College is a private liberal arts college in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1908, Reed is a residential college with a campus in the Eastmoreland neighborhood, with Tudor-Gothic style architecture, and a forested canyon nature preserve at its center.
Reed is known for its mandatory first-year humanities program, senior thesis, progressive politics, de-emphasis on grades, and unusually high proportion of graduates who go on to earn doctorates and other postgraduate degrees. The college has many prominent alumni, including over a hundred Fulbright Scholars, 67 Watson Fellows, and three Churchill Scholars; its 32 Rhodes Scholars are the second-highest count for a liberal arts college. Reed is ranked fourth in the United States for all postsecondary institutions for the percentage of its graduates who go on to earn a Ph.D.
The Reed Institute (the legal name of the college) was founded in 1908 and held its first classes in 1911. Reed is named for Oregon pioneers Simeon Gannett Reed (1830–1895) and Amanda Reed (died 1904). Simeon was an entrepreneur involved in several enterprises, including trade on the Willamette and Columbia Rivers with his close friend and associate, former Portland Mayor William S. Ladd (for whom Ladd's Addition is named). Unitarian minister Thomas Lamb Eliot, who knew the Reeds from the church choir, is credited with convincing Reed of the need for "a lasting legacy, a 'Reed Institute of Lectures,' and joked it would 'need a mine to run it.'" Reed's will suggested 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". Ladd's son, William Mead Ladd, donated 40 acres from the Ladd Estate Company to build the new college. Reed's first president (1910–1919) was William Trufant Foster, a former professor at Bates College and Bowdoin College in Maine.
Contrary to popular belief, the college did not grow out of student revolts and experimentation, but out of a desire to provide a "more flexible, individualized approach to a rigorous liberal arts education". Founded explicitly in reaction to the "prevailing model of East Coast, Ivy League education", the college's lack of varsity athletics, fraternities, and exclusive social clubs – as well as its coeducational, nonsectarian, and egalitarian status—gave way to an intensely academic and intellectual college whose purpose was to devote itself to "the life of the mind", that life being understood primarily as the academic life.
During the 1930s, President Dexter Keezer became very concerned about what he considered to be dishonorable behavior at Reed. Foremost among these behaviors was fraternization among male and female students but the consumption of alcohol was also an issue. A large portion of the Student Council even took the position that Oregon's liquor laws did not apply to Reed's campus. Policies restricting the ability of students from visiting the dormitories of the opposite sex were fiercely resisted.
After World War II the college saw its enrollment numbers dramatically increase as veterans began enrolling in the college.
The college has developed a reputation for progressive politics.
According to sociologist Burton Clark, Reed is one of the most unusual institutions of higher learning in the United States, featuring a traditional liberal arts and natural sciences curriculum. It requires freshmen to take Humanities 110, an intensive introduction to multidisciplinary inquiry, covering ancient Greece and Rome, the Hebrew Bible and ancient Jewish history, and as of 2019 Tenochtitlan/Mexico City and the Harlem Renaissance. Its program in the sciences is likewise unusual with its TRIGA research reactor making it the only school in the United States to have a nuclear reactor operated primarily by undergraduates. Reed also requires 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 with successful completion of a junior qualifying exam at the end of the junior year a prerequisite to beginning the thesis. Upon completion of the senior thesis, students must also pass an oral exam that may encompass questions not only about the thesis but also about any course previously taken.
Reed maintains a 9:1 student-to-faculty ratio, and its small classes emphasize a "conference" style where 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.
Although letter grades are given to students, grades are de-emphasized at Reed and focus is placed on a narrative evaluation. According to the school, "A conventional letter grade for each course is recorded for every student, but the registrar's office does not distribute grades to students, provided that work continues at satisfactory (C or higher) levels. Unsatisfactory grades are reported directly to the student and the student's adviser. Papers and exams are generally returned to students with lengthy comments but without grades affixed." There is no dean's list or honor roll per se, but students who maintain a GPA of 3.5 or above for an academic year receive academic commendations at the end of the spring semester which are noted on their transcripts. Many Reed students graduate without knowing their cumulative GPA or their grades in individual classes. Reed also claims to have experienced very little grade inflation over the years, noting, for example, that only ten students graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA in the period from 1983 to 2012. (Transcripts are accompanied by a card explaining Reed's relatively tough grading system so as not to penalize students applying to graduate schools.) Although Reed does not award Latin honors to graduates, it confers several awards for academic achievement at commencement, including naming students to Phi Beta Kappa.
Reed has no fraternities or sororities and few NCAA sports teams although physical education classes (which range from kayaking to juggling to capoeira) are required for graduation. Reed also has several intercollegiate athletic clubs, most notably the basketball, rugby, Ultimate Frisbee, and soccer teams.
What this means is that a community governed by an honor principle is a community not of rules and procedures but of virtue. As such, it is a community of unfreedom. There is no protected realm; one can never take refuge in, seek protection from, or hide behind a doctrine of rights. Anything that anyone does is, in principle, subject to evaluation. Was it a virtuous thing to do? Was it consistent with notions of honorableness? Does it contribute to the well-being of the community? Is it the kind of behavior that we value and wish to encourage? In the absence of rights, behavior that we do not wish to value and do not wish to encourage has absolutely no protection.
Peter J. Steinberger, Former Dean of the Faculty
Reed's ethical code is known as "The Honor Principle". First introduced as an agreement to promote ethical academic behavior with the explicit end of relieving the faculty of policing student behavior, the Honor Principle was extended to cover all aspects of student life. While inspired by traditional honor systems, Reed's Honor Principle differs from these in that it is a guide for ethical standards themselves and not just their enforcement. Under the Honor Principle, there are no codified rules governing behavior. Rather, the onus is on students individually and as a community to define which behaviors are acceptable and which are not.
Discrete cases of grievance, known as "Honor Cases," are adjudicated by a Judicial Board of twelve full-time students. There is also an "Honor Council" of students, faculty, and staff who educate the community on the Honor Principle and mediate conflict between individuals.
Reed categorizes its academic program into five Divisions and the Humanities program. Overall, Reed offers five Humanities courses, twenty-six department majors, twelve interdisciplinary majors, six dual-degree programs with other colleges and universities, and programs for pre-medical and pre-veterinary students.
Reed President Richard Scholz in 1922 called the educational program as a whole "an honest effort to disregard old historic rivalries and hostilities between the sciences and the arts, between professional and cultural subjects, and, ... the formal chronological cleavage between the graduate and the undergraduate attitude of mind". The Humanities program, which came into being in 1943 (as the union of two year-long courses, one in "world" literature, the other in "world" history) is one manifestation of this effort. One change to the program was the addition of a course in Chinese Civilization in 1995. The faculty has also recently approved several significant changes to the introductory syllabus. These changes include expanding the parameters of the course to include more material regarding urban and cultural environments.
Reed's Humanities program includes the mandatory freshman course Introduction to Western Humanities covering ancient Greek and Roman literature, history, art, religion, and philosophy. Sophomores, juniors, and seniors may take Early Modern Europe covering Renaissance thought and literature; Modern Humanities covering the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and Modernism, and/or Foundations of Chinese Civilization. There is also a Humanities Senior Symposium.
Reed also offers interdisciplinary programs in American studies, Environmental Studies, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Chemistry-Physics, Classics-Religion, Dance/Theatre, History-Literature, International and Comparative Policy Studies (ICPS), Literature-Theatre, Mathematics-Economics, and Mathematics-Physics.
Reed offers dual-degree programs in Computer Science (with University of Washington), Engineering (with Caltech, Columbia University, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute), Forestry or Environmental Management (with Duke University), and Fine Art (with the Pacific Northwest College of Art).
|Liberal arts colleges|
|U.S. News & World Report||63|
In 1995, Reed College refused to participate in the U.S. News & World Report "best colleges" rankings, making it the first educational institution in the United States to refuse to participate in college rankings. According to Reed's Office of Admissions the school's refusal to participate is based in 1994 disclosures by the Wall Street Journal about institutions flagrantly manipulating data in order to move up in the rankings in U.S. News and other popular college guides. U.S. News maintains that their rankings are "a very legitimate tool for getting at a certain level of knowledge about colleges." In 2019, a team of statistics students recreated the formula used by U.S. News and were able to identify and quantify the penalty imposed on Reed, and found the college to be ranked an estimated 52 places below an unbiased application of the U.S. News scoring rubric.
Money magazine ranked Reed 551st in the U.S. out of 739 schools evaluated for its 2020 "Best Colleges for Your Money" edition.
Reed is ranked as tied for the 63rd best liberal arts college by U.S. News & World Report in its 2021 rankings, and tied for 16th in "Best Undergraduate Teaching", tied for 18th in "Most Innovative Schools", and tied for 199th in "Top Performers on Social Mobility".
In 2006, Newsweek magazine named Reed as one of twenty-five "New Ivies", listing it among "the nation's elite colleges." In 2012, Newsweek ranked Reed the 15th "most rigorous" college in the nation.
Reed College ranked in the bottom 6% of four year colleges nationwide in the Brookings Institute's rating of U.S. colleges by incremental impact on alumni earnings 10 years post-enrollment.
For Fall 2016, the freshman class had 357 students. 10% were valedictorians of their high school classes and another 2% were salutatorians. 32% ranked in the top 5% of their class. The median scores on their SAT tests were 680 math, 710 verbal, and 680 writing, which puts them at the 96th percentile. The class was drawn from the largest pool ever—5,705 applicants—and was the most selective in Reed's history, with an admittance rate of 31%. As of 2018[update], to increase student enrollment from historically underrepresented minorities, Reed encourages they apply for the college's "Discover Reed Fly-In Program", which is an all-inclusive, all-expenses-paid, multi-day campus tour and is open to all high school seniors who are US citizens or permanent residents, regardless of their race or ethnicity.
The total direct cost for the 2018–19 academic year, including tuition, fees and room-and-board, is $70,550. Indirect costs (books, supplies, transportation, personal expenses) can tack on another $3,950. For the 2017–18 academic year, the average financial aid package – including grants, loans, and work opportunities – was approximately $45,325". In 2017–18 about half of students received financial aid from the college. In 2004 (the most recent data available), 1.4% of Reed graduates defaulted on their student loans – below the national Cohort Default Rate average of 5.1%.
Reed's endowment as of June 30, 2014, was $543 million. In the economic downturn that began in late 2007, Reed's total endowment had declined from $455 million in June 2007 to $311 million in June 2009. By the end of 2013, however, the endowment surpassed the $500 million mark.
Reed has produced the second-highest number of Rhodes scholars for any liberal arts college—32—as well as over fifty Fulbright Scholars, over sixty Watson Fellows, and two MacArthur ("Genius") Award winners. A very high proportion of Reed graduates go on to earn PhDs, 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. In 1961, Scientific American declared that second only to Caltech, "This small college in Oregon has been far and away more productive of future scientists than any other institution in the U.S." Reed is first in this percentage in biology, second in chemistry and humanities, third in history, foreign languages, and political science, fourth in science and mathematics, fifth in physics and social sciences, sixth in anthropology, seventh in area and ethnic studies and linguistics, and eighth in English literature and medicine.
Reed's debating team, which had existed for only two years at the time, was awarded the first place sweepstakes trophy for Division II schools at the final tournament of the Northwest Forensics Conference in February 2004.
Loren Pope, former education editor for The New York Times, writes about Reed in Colleges That Change Lives, saying, "If you're a genuine intellectual, live the life of the mind, and want to learn for the sake of learning, the place most likely to empower you is not Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, or Stanford. It is the most intellectual college in the country—Reed in Portland, Oregon."
Since the 1960s, Reed has had a reputation for tolerating open drug use among its students. The Insider's Guide to the Colleges, written by the staff of Yale Daily News, notes an impression among students of institutional permissiveness: "According to students, the school does not bust students for drug or alcohol use unless they cause harm or embarrassment to another student."
In April 2008, student Alex Lluch died of a heroin overdose in his on-campus dorm room. His death prompted revelations of several previous incidents, including the near-death heroin overdose of another student only months earlier. College President Colin Diver said "I don't honestly know" whether the drug death was an isolated incident or part of a larger problem. "When you say Reed," Diver said, "two words often come to mind. One is brains. One is drugs." Local reporter James Pitkin of the newspaper Willamette Week editorialized that "Reed College, a private school with one of the most prestigious academic programs in the U.S., is one of the last schools in the country where students enjoy almost unlimited freedom to experiment openly with drugs, with little or no hassles from authorities," though Willamette Week stated the following week concerning Pitkin's editorial: "As of press time, almost 500 responses, many expressing harsh criticism of Willamette Week, had been posted on our website."
In March 2010, another student died of drug-related causes in his off-campus residence. This led The New York Times to conclude that "Reed…has long been known almost as much for its unusually permissive atmosphere as for its impressively rigorous academics." Law enforcement authorities promised to take action, including sending undercover agents to Reed's annual Renn Fayre celebration.
In February 2012, the Reed administration chose to call the police following the discovery of "two to three pounds of marijuana and a small amount of ecstasy and LSD in the on-campus apartment of two juniors." Following campus debate, Reed's president at the time, Colin Diver, issued a letter to students and staff, saying the college would not tolerate illegal drug use on campus: "Such behavior endangers the health and welfare of the entire community, attracts potentially dangerous criminal activity on campus, undermines the academic mission of the college, and violates the college's obligations under state and federal law."
See also: List of Reed College buildings
The Reed College campus was established on a tract of land in southeast Portland known in 1910 as Crystal Springs Farm, a part of the Ladd Estate, formed in the 1870s from original land claims. The college's grounds include 116 acres (0.47 km2) of contiguous land, including a wooded wetland known as Reed Canyon.
Portland architect A. E. Doyle developed a plan, never implemented in full, modeled on the University of Oxford's St. John's College. The original campus buildings (including the Library, the Old Dorm Block, and what is now the primary administration building, Eliot Hall) are brick Tudor Gothic buildings in a style similar to Ivy League campuses. In contrast, the science section of campus, including the physics, biology, and psychology (originally chemistry) buildings, were designed in the Modernist style. The Psychology Building, completed in 1949, was designed by Modernist architect Pietro Belluschi at the same time as his celebrated Equitable Building in downtown Portland.
The campus and buildings have undergone several phases of growth, and there are now 21 academic and administrative buildings and 18 residence halls. Since 2004, Reed's campus has expanded to include adjacent properties beyond its historic boundaries, such as the Birchwood Apartments complex and former medical administrative offices on either side of SE 28th Avenue, and the Parker House, across SE Woodstock from Prexy. At the same time the Willard House (donated to Reed in 1964), across from the college's main entrance at SE Woodstock and SE Reed College Place, was converted from faculty housing to administrative use. Reed announced on July 13, 2007, that it had purchased the Rivelli farm, a 1.5-acre (0.61 ha) tract of land south of the Garden House and west of Botsford Drive. Reed's "immediate plans for the acquired property include housing a small number of students in the former Rivelli home during the 2007–08 academic year. Longer term, the college anticipates that it may seek to develop the northern portion of the property for additional student housing".
Reed houses 946 students in 18 residence halls on campus and several college-owned houses and apartment buildings on or adjacent to campus. Residence halls on campus range from the traditional (i.e., Gothic Old Dorm Block, referred to as "ODB") to the eclectic (e.g., Anna Mann, a Tudor-style cottage built in the 1920s by Reed's founding architect A. E. Doyle, originally used as a women's hall), language houses (Spanish, Russian, French, German, and Chinese), "temporary" housing, built in the 1960s (Cross Canyon – Chittick, Woodbridge, McKinley, Griffin), to more recently built dorms (Bragdon, Naito, Sullivan). There are also theme residence halls including everything from substance-free living to Japanese culture to music to a dorm for students interested in outdoors activities (hiking, climbing, bicycling, kayaking, skiing, etc.). The college's least-loved complex (as measured by applications to the college's housing lottery), MacNaughton and Foster-Scholz, is known on campus as "Asylum Block" because of its post-World War II modernist architecture and interior spaces dominated by long, straight corridors lined with identical doors, said by students to resemble that of an insane asylum. Until 2006, it was thought that these residence halls had been designed by architect Pietro Belluschi.
Under the 10-year Campus Master Plan adopted in 2006, Foster-Scholz is scheduled to be demolished and replaced, and MacNaughton to be remodeled. According to the master plan, "The College's goal is to provide housing on or adjacent to the campus that accommodates 75% of the [full-time] student population. At present, the College provides on-campus housing for 838 students".
In Spring 2007, the college broke ground on the construction of a new quadrangle called the Grove with four new Leed certified residence halls (Aspen, Sequoia, Sitka, Bidwell) on the northwest side of the campus, which opened in Fall 2008. A new Spanish House residence was completed. Together, the five new residences added 142 new beds.
Reed also has off-campus housing. Many houses in the Woodstock and Eastmoreland Portland neighborhoods are traditionally rented to Reed students.
On February 21, 2018, Reed announced the construction of the "largest residence hall in its history." Set to be complete by Fall 2019, it will house an additional 180 students, boosting Reed's housing capacity to nearly 80% of the student body, up from 68%. This will guarantee housing for both freshman and sophomores, as students were formerly subjected to a housing lottery after freshman year. The new building is also designed to meet "LEED Platinum standards," and Reed is currently evaluating proposals to put solar panels on the roof.
The Reed College Canyon, a natural area and national wildlife preserve, bisects the campus, separating the academic buildings from many of the residence halls (the so-called cross-canyon halls). The canyon is filled by Crystal Creek Springs, a natural spring that drains into Johnson Creek.
Canyon Day, a tradition dating back to 1915, is held twice a year. On Canyon Day students and Reed neighbors join canyon crew workers to spend a day helping with restoration efforts.
A landmark of the campus, the Blue Bridge, spans the canyon. This bridge replaced the unique cantilevered bridge that served in that spot between 1959 and 1991, which "featured stressed plywood girders – the first time this construction had been used on a span of this size: a straight bridge 132 feet (40 m) long and 15 feet (4.6 m) high. It attracted great architectural interest during its lifetime".
A new pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning the canyon was opened in Fall 2008. This bridge, dubbed the "Bouncy Bridge", "Orange Bridge", and in some cases the "Amber Bridge" by students, is 370 feet (110 m) long, about a third longer than the Blue Bridge, and "connect[s] the new north campus quad to Gray Campus Center, the student union, the library, and academic buildings on the south side of campus".
Reed's Cooley Gallery is an internationally recognized contemporary art space located at the entrance to the Eric V. Hauser Memorial Library. It was established in 1988 as the result of a gift from Susan and Edward Cooley in honor of their late son. The Cooley Gallery has exhibited international artists such as Mona Hatoum, Al Held, David Reed and Gregory Crewdson as well as the contemporary art collection of Michael Ovitz. In pursuit of its mission to support the curriculum of the art, art history, and humanities programs at Reed, the gallery produces three or four exhibitions each year, along with lectures, colloquia, and artist visits. The gallery is currently under the directorship of Stephanie Snyder, who succeeded founding director Susan Fillin-Yeh in 2004.
The cafeteria, known simply as "Commons," has a reputation for ecologically sustainable food services. The commons dining hall is operated by Bon Appétit, and food is purchased on an item-by-item basis. Suiting the student body, vegan and vegetarian dishes feature heavily on the menu. It is currently the only cafeteria on the small campus, with the exception of Caffe Circo (formerly Caffe Paradiso), a small cafe on the other side of campus which also operated by board points. Scrounging is a long tradition at Reed College allowing students to offer unfinished Commons' food to students without board points from their trays as they are returned to be washed.
The Reed College Co-ops are a theme community that reside in the Farm and Garden Houses, after many years on the first floor of MacNaughton Hall. These are the only campus dorms that are independent of the school's board plan. They traditionally throw an alternative "Thanksgiving" celebration that has sometimes included a square-dance. The Co-ops house students who purchase and prepare food together, sharing chores and conducting weekly, consensus-based meetings. It is a close community valuing sustainability, organic food, consensus-based decisions, self-government, music, and plants.
The Paradox ("Est. in the 80s") is a student-run coffee shop located on campus. In 2003 the Paradox opened a second coffee shop, dubbing it the "Paradox Lost" (an allusion to John Milton's Paradise Lost,) at the southern end of the biology building, in the space commonly called the "Bio Fishbowl." The new north-campus dorms, which opened in Fall 2008, feature yet another small cafe, originally dubbed "Cafe Paradiso," thereby providing three coffee shops within a 116-acre (0.47 km2) campus. The recent addition of a circus-themed mural to the cafe prompted a name change, and it now operates as Caffe Circo. This third shop is not student-run, but is operated by Bon Appétit. Bon Appétit has a monopoly on the food services at Reed as they are the only ones who accept board points; written into their contract is the prohibition of food carts on campus.
On February 15, 2021, the Aubrey R. Watzek Sports Center, collapsed during Winter Storm Uri. Both gyms that were part of the sports center collapsed. The collapse was attributed to excess snow piling up on the roof of the building causing a support truss to fracture, and strained several others, causing the roof to collapse. The sports center was serving as a COVID-19 testing center, and the destruction of the testing center resulted in the loss of several testing kits and other medical supplies needed for COVID-19 testing.
The official mascot of Reed is the griffin. In mythology, the griffin often pulled the chariot of the sun; in canto 32 of Dante's Commedia the griffin is associated with the Tree of Knowledge. 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 Richmond Rose. Over the years, institutional memory of this fact has faded and the color appearing on the school's publications and merchandise has darkened to a shade of maroon. The most common examples of "Richmond Rose" are the satin tapes securing the degree certificate inside a Reed College diploma.
The school song, "Fair Reed," is sung to the tune of the 1912 popular song "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms." It may be imitative of the Harvard anthem "Fair Harvard," which is also sung to the tune of "Believe Me, if All Those Endearing Young Charms." It was composed by former president William Trufant Foster shortly after Reed's founding, and is rarely heard today.
An unofficial Reed Alma Mater, "Epistemology Forever," sung to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," has been sung by Reed students since the 1950s.
Reed students and alumni referred to themselves as "Reedites" in the early years of the college. This term faded out in favor of the now ubiquitous "Reedie" after World War II. Around campus, prospective students are called "prospies."
An unofficial motto of Reed is "Communism, Atheism, Free Love," and can be found in the Reed College Bookstore on sweaters, T-shirts, etc. It was a label that the Reed community claimed from critics during the 1920s as a "tongue-in-cheek slogan" in reference to Reed's nonconformism. Reed's founding president William T. Foster's outspoken opposition against the entrance of the United States into World War I, as well as the college's support for feminism, its adherence to academic freedom (i.e., inviting a leader of the Socialist Party of America to speak on campus about the Russian Revolution’s potential effect on militarism, emancipation of women, and ending the persecution of Jews), and its nonsectarian status made the college a natural target for what was originally meant to be a pejorative slur.
The faux Reed Seal has changed over the years. In its original form the griffin was holding a hammer and sickle in its paws. Later versions had the griffin wearing boxing gloves.
One of the unofficial symbols of Reed is the Doyle Owl, a roughly 280-pound (130 kg) concrete statue that has been continuously stolen and re-stolen since about 1919. The original Doyle Owl (originally "House F Owl" after the dormitory named House F that later became Doyle dormitory) was a garden sculpture from the neighborhood stolen by House F residents as a prank (there is a photo of House F residents around the original owl that has been made into a T-shirt). 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 destroyed many years ago; the current avatar is Doyle Owl number 13, plus or minus 11. At the present time only one Owl is being shown.
Each January, before the beginning of second-semester classes, the campus holds an interim period called Paideia (drawn from the Greek, meaning 'education'). Originally conceived and approved by the faculty in 1968 for unstructured independent study or "UIS," Paideia ran for the full month of January from 1969 to 1981, supervised by a committee of faculty, staff and students. This festival of learning takes the form 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. The classes are intended to be informal, yet intellectual activities free of the usual academic pressure endemic to Reed. Many such classes are explicitly trivial (one long-running tradition is to hold an underwater basket weaving class), while others are trivially academic (such as "Giant Concrete Gnome Construction," a class that, incidental to building monolithic gnomes, includes some content relating to the construction of pre-Christian monoliths). More structured classes (such as martial arts seminars and mini-classes on obscure academic topics), tournaments, and film festivals round out the schedule, 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.
In his 2005 Stanford commencement lecture, Apple Inc. founder and Reed dropout Steve Jobs credited a Reed calligraphy class taught by Robert Palladino for his focus on choosing quality typefaces for the Macintosh. While the full calligraphy course is no longer taught at Reed, Paideia usually features a short course on the subject in addition to the informal, weekly gatherings (currently held every Thursday night) of aspiring calligraphy enthusiasts.
Main article: Renn Fayre
Renn Fayre is an annual three-day celebration 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 persisted. The event is initiated by a procession of seniors throwing their thesis notes in a large bonfire after the completed theses are submitted.
Main article: Reed Arts Week
Reed Arts Week is a week-long celebration of the arts at Reed. It features music, dance, film, creative writing, and the visual arts.
According to Reed's website, each semester, a $130 student body fee "is collected from each full-time student by the business office, acting as agent for the student senate. The fee underwrites publication of the student newspaper and extracurricular activities, and partially supports the student union and ski cabin." Student body funds (totaling roughly $370,000 annually) are distributed each semester to groups that place among the top 40 organizations in the semester's funding poll. The funding poll uses a voting system in which each organization provides a description that is ranked by each member of the student body with either 'top six,' 'approve,' 'no opinion,' 'disapprove.' A former 'deep six' was eliminated from the system in 2019. These ranks are then tabulated by assigning numbers to each rank and summing across all voters. Afterwards, the top forty organizations present their budgets to the student body senate during Funding Circus. The following day the senate makes decisions about each budget in a process called Funding Hell.
The school's student-run newspaper, The Reed College Quest or simply the Quest, has been published since 1913, and its radio station KRRC had been broadcasting, with a few interruptions, from 1955 The station now broadcasts online only at krrc.fm.
Although some that partner with outside groups such as Oxfam or Planned Parenthood are more structured, most organizations are highly informal. There is no formal process for forming a student organization at Reed; a group of students (or a single student) announcing themselves as or just considering themselves a student organization is enough. Groups that want funding from the school's Student Activities office or Student Body Fees, however, must register with Student Activities or through the Student Senate. The Reed archive of comic books and graphic novels, the MLLL (Comic Book Reading Room), is well into its fourth decade, and Beer Nation, the student group that organizes and manages various beer gardens throughout the year and during Renn Fayre, has existed for many years. Some organizations, such as the Motorized Couch Collective – dedicated to installing motors and wheels into furniture – have become more Reed myth than reality in recent years.
Reed has ample recreational facilities on campus, a ski cabin on Mount Hood, recreational clubs such as the Reed Outing Club (ROC), and Club Sports (with college-paid coaches), including ultimate frisbee, co-ed soccer, rugby, basketball, and squash.
According to a Washington Post analysis of federal campus safety data from 2014, Reed College had 12.9 reports of rape per 1,000 students, the "highest total of reports of rape" per 1,000 students of any college in the nation on its main campus.
In 2012, Reed College had the third highest reported sexual assault rate among U.S. colleges and universities. It is unclear whether this high reporting rate arises from an environment that is more supportive of reporting by crime victims or due to a higher underlying rate of sexual assault. in 2013 there were 19 reported forcible sexual offenses among the approximately 1,400 students at the college. In 2011 a student member of Reed's Judicial Board resigned over the college's handling of sexual assault cases. An investigation by the Center for Public Integrity found that those found responsible in cases of sexual assault frequently faced few consequences, while the lives of the victims were left in turmoil.
Main article: List of Reed College people
Notable Reed alumni include Tektronix co-founder Howard Vollum (1936), businessman John Sperling (1948), Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder (1951), fantasy author David Eddings (1954), distance learning pioneer John Bear (1959), socialist and feminist activist and author Barbara Ehrenreich (1963), radio personality Dr. Demento (1963), programmer, software publisher, author, and philanthropist Peter Norton (1965), former U.S. Secretary of the Navy Richard Danzig (1965), alpinist and biophysical chemist Arlene Blum (1966), chemist Mary Jo Ondrechen (1974), computer engineer Daniel Kottke (1976), and Wikipedia co-founder Larry Sanger (1991).
Among those who attended but did not graduate from Reed are Academy Award-nominated actress Hope Lange, chef James Beard, horse rancher and autodidact Christopher Langan (known for his high IQ score), and Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs.
Notable Reed faculty of the past and present include former U.S. Senator from Illinois Paul Douglas, and physicists Richard Crandall and David Griffiths.
Reed College has been featured prominently in several books and movies. It is often presented as an enigmatic, eccentric institution at which people who do not fit into mainstream society come together to learn.
The Reed College campus has been the set of several motion pictures since 1977.