Jonathan Reed takes the reins at University of La Verne
by Alejandra Aguilar
photography by Helen Arase
You can almost taste the fresh tomatoes in his garden. You can almost feel his heart melt as he speaks about his wife. You can almost see him on his knees as he unearths the past. You can almost hear his dynamic words as he teaches students about religion. He is a father, a scholar, an author and an archeologist. This man of many passions, Jonathan Reed, is now the new interim provost at the University of La Verne. Jonathan began his journey at the University as a professor of religion more than two decades ago, and was later named interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. Then, in November of 2013, he was offered the position of interim provost. He accepted the challenge.
His interest in learning sparks
Looking back at his life, Jonathan says, his love of learning and academia came during his first year of college at Southern California College. Before that, he says, he was a marginal student. He got into college on an ice hockey scholarship, and that is when everything changed. “I had a real transformative experience. I really enjoyed learning,” Reed says. “Unlike high school, college was a freeing experience.” He took political science, music and literature. He read Homer, listened to Beethoven and read about Watergate. “My freshman year, my eyes opened up to the power of education, and I fell in love with learning.”
In his sophomore year, he says, he began to get good grades. “It was the passion of the professors. Every class I walked into, each professor acted as if their subject was the most important subject in the world, and how could I possibly understand how the world worked without knowing music or political science.” Jonathan says it was infectious—so infectious that he wanted to become a professor himself and do the same thing for the next generation of students. “I think that’s the absolute key to good education—to have passionate teachers that are experts in their field and love teaching what they teach,” he says.
Jonathan’s career begins
Jonathan graduated in 1985 and went on to get his master’s degree at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1987, followed by his Ph.D. at Claremont Graduate School in 1993. Then he set out to get a teaching position. “Not everyone who wants to be a professor gets a job. I was worried that if I didn’t become a professor, I’d be delivering pizza or driving a taxi because a Ph.D. in religious studies isn’t really that marketable. I was concerned. La Verne was my first job, and I felt very lucky to be hired here.“
He taught religion at ULV for the next 20 years. During that time, he traveled to Israel, Germany, Rome and Greece. Jonathan has always been a fan of travel, and was naturally attracted to archaeology. He has been to many archaeological digs internationally and has written five books about religion. He was named Interim Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2009. While he has worn many hats in academia, the one he likes most is that of professor. “I think a good teacher is, at their core, a motivator, and I think part of that means you have to help students become confident,” he says.
When President Devorah Lieberman set out to find an interim provost, she said she did not have to look very far for a replacement. “The right person was sitting right in front of me, and it was Jonathan Reed,” she says. She was impressed with his national involvement in higher education, his leadership in the College of Arts and Sciences, and his relationship with students.
Steering La Verne as interim provost
Jonathan’s goal as interim provost is to enhance academic quality and improve student learning. That means keeping curriculums up-to-date, making sure faculty are dynamic teachers and supporting teacher scholarship. One of his specific goals is to integrate advising, athletics and student life with academics. He wants students to see sports, community service and other extra curriculars as an extension of the classroom. He wants these departments to mesh with academics so students have a cohesive experience at ULV regardless of the activities they are involved in.
To do this, he says, he needs to support faculty so the faculty can support the students. “The most important (aspect) is having passionate faculty who care deeply about their disciplines, but who also care deeply about student learning. You need to make sure you have faculty who challenge students. Students respond if a high bar is set for them. They want to be better, and so a passionate and challenging faculty is the key.” To support faculty, his office wants to make sure there is a place where professors can refine their pedagogical techniques, exchange ideas, find outside speakers and integrate technology into the classroom. This place already exists and is known as the Center for the Advancement of Faculty Excellence. Jonathan wants more of ULV’s faculty to use this office. “That’s the chief way that the provost’s office serves the students, by making sure the faculty is well-supported.” He says it is also important to create places on campus where students and faculty can connect outside of the classroom. He believes interactions in and out of the classroom complement one another. With an increase in students, it is a challenge. “When you grow students, it takes a while to grow the facilities and faculty. It takes a while to catch up with growth.”
Jonathan also wants to create more community engagement opportunities. ULV requires students to do community service to give them a greater sense of the outside world. He realizes that some students might view this requirement as something they need to check off before they graduate, so he is hopeful that more community engagement events will make this community service more meaningful. Jonathan is also working to simplify the current general education requirements. “That means creating a general education that connects with initiatives related to the La Verne Experience, designed to help students reflect on the University’s values, integrate all the learning they are doing in different classes, but not adding to the requirements so they can still graduate in four years. It’s in progress,” he says.
Jonathan’s goals as interim provost all come back to his greatest passion—teaching. He taught religion until he was named interim provost, which has been an adjustment. “Student contact is what I enjoy the most, and I miss that. You can impact more students as provost, but you’re not directly impacting them, and you don’t see it as you would in a classroom,” he says. “If I come up with a policy that supports faculty, it supports thousands of students but I don’t directly see it. Whereas in the classroom, you see immediate reactions and receive immediate feedback, and that’s rewarding.”
Life outside of La Verne
Throughout his busy career, Jonathan’s wife, Annette, has always been by his side. They met in college and married before they graduated. “We were so poor. We never had any money, but we didn’t notice, because all of our friends in graduate school were also poor. We didn’t know any better. Those were actually really happy times. We could have been unhappy, but we weren’t,” he says.
In 1996, the Reeds, along with their children who were toddlers, lived in Germany while he led the Brethren Colleges Abroad program. “We lived in Germany, and I loved it,” Levi Reed, his son, says. “We lived by this huge forest, and it seemed normal because I was 4, but now I think it’s something really cool. It’s not something most people can experience.” Levi enjoyed traveling with his dad and going on adventures with him. And others did too. “The enduring joke between my colleagues and I was that Dr. Reed was a real-life Indiana Jones,” says Aaron Colby, a former student and family friend. Colby witnessed this firsthand when he took a trip with Jonathan and Levi to see the Nevada Falls at Yosemite National Park. “They were by far the most adventurous and enduring of the group, hiking out in front on a steep and slippery trail,” he says. “There was nothing quite like the sense of accomplishment achieved from reaching the top, and once we got there, I felt like I understood where a lot of his characteristic adventurousness came from.”
Annette has been part of many of those adventures and shares his love of travel. She also shares his love for teaching and is a kindergarten teacher. The look on his face changes completely when he begins speaking about her. It softens, and a smile appears when he talks about his 30th wedding anniversary, which they recently celebrated. Despite his hectic schedule, Jonathan cooks and gardens on the weekends with Annette. He says she cooks better than he, but quickly winks. “Can I brag? I’m pretty good at barbecuing. I have a smoker, and I make a mean pulled-pork once or twice a month,” he says. Some nights, Jonathan and Annette find themselves talking about their experiences with teaching. “Teaching is teaching, so whether you’re teaching kindergarteners, teaching high school students or teaching traditional college students, all the principles are the same,” he says. “People need confidence, they need motivation, and they need to be challenged. They need to be mentored, and it doesn’t matter where you are. There are some nights that you would not know she is the kindergarten teacher, the way we’re talking about our classes.” And with that, you can imagine the conversations they have had over the years. You can almost taste the pulled pork and feel the hiking trails under their feet. You can see the readiness in his eyes as he turns back to ULV, about to tackle the next mountain.