It’s 9pm and I’m alone in my lab. I’m writing not because I don’t have other things to do that are more important right now, though I do, or because I’m bored, though I am, but because my thoughts seem to have sufficiently reduced to a point where they’re expressible.  Like port.  I don’t particularly like port.  Sure, I’ll drink it when it comes around, but I’d never buy it when it’s sitting next to a perfectly good six-to-eight-dollar bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.  If, say, that port is reduced with short ribs and some choice spices, now I’m game.  That’s where we are right now; game.

I’ve been thinking a fair bit about Reed College recently.  There are two reasons: first, I’m about to graduate, or at least, that’s what my parents think, and second, there’s been a fair bit of trouble around here recently with students dying and all.  Heroin overdoses, mysterious, unexplainable deaths, the whole nine yards.  Normally, I wouldn’t concern myself with it too much, but it’s come time for me to process my feelings about Reed College, to summarize my experience, so that I can move on in a way that many don’t seem to be able to.

Don’t worry reader, I’m not about to do that right now.  I’ve simply had a thought that I think is worth sharing, that’s all.  The other day I was reading some unofficial materials coming out of the Harvard business school.  One was about a basketball game, and the other was about the Toyota meltdown.  The thesis of each, and what they held in common, was their distillation of what makes an organization great.  What separates the men from the boys is culture. Culture makes a good company a great one, and an athletic team a great team.  Culture is about a commonly held set of ideals and a general zeitgeist within a group, and it’s what produces the most pervasive and long-lasting results.

Naturally, I started thinking about culture, and the culture at Reed specifically.  We have this whole Napoleon complex towards the Ivies, wherein we like to pretend that we’re actually better than they are.  I even subscribed to this notion for a couple of years.  But we don’t have the culture.  Sure, we have the sweatshop mentality that drives our athletic performance through the roof, and we certainly work harder in that regard.  But as they say, work smarter, not harder.

It’s my understanding that the liberal arts education was essentially a renaissance idea– to produce well-rounded people armed to deal with high society.  This education included not only the core academic disciplines that we stubbornly maintain and keep separate in this house of learning, but a whole host of other skills as well.  It turns out that a human is not just a brain, and it well entertained with music, art, manners, and society.  At Reed, this is a forgotten notion.  We accept academics as the full manifestation of the original ideal.  Just as Toyota used to focus on improving their supply and manufacturing rather than their bottom line, and dove head-first into trouble when they began to focus on the latter, so too have we trained our blindered eyes on what we take to be the bottom line.

It’s false growth.  It’s 200% per quarter false.  The shareholders were happy when we broke into the “new Ivy” list, but some may be starting to feel a little uneasy about their investment.  It turns out that one can’t ignore all of the factors that make up a person and just demand extreme performance from one aspect.  The machine will fail, one way or another.

You can see it in the faces of students on campus.  The winning culture isn’t there.  Instead, we’ve got a culture of whining.  We do a lot of work, sure, but how we approach our challenges is the real crux, and the one that will stay with us long after our thesis has been burned.  I have limited insight into Ivy culture, but from what I gather about the Harvard business school, it fosters a culture of calm intelligence that is trained to overcome a problem, rather than submit to it with the stoicism of a cow standing in the rain.  That’s what we really need.

We can’t claim the success of a few when so many fail.  In the words of the fine ‘blog’ shit my dad says: “A parent’s only as good as their dumbest kid. If one wins a Nobel Prize but the other gets robbed by a hooker, you failed.”  Reedies are renowned for not getting jobs.  That would, I think, be an excellent gauge of success if we want to change.  So much goes into finding a job that we might measure the success of the education by how many students get jobs out of college, and what jobs.  Moreover, are the students happy? I don’t see any smiles.  Are the students healthy? We’ve got a lot of smokers. Are we producing people empowered to be successful?  I can’t tell, because no one will look me in the eye.

The ball’s in your erudite court, Colin Diver.

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