by Ryan Guerrero
photography by Megan Peralez
“The title provost is from old Latin—the guardian of the monks or the guardian of the prisoners. In modern terminology, the provost means the person responsible for the faculty,” explains Jonathan L. Reed, provost of the University of La Verne, with his almost always present smile. “The provost is also the vice-president for academic and student affairs. Everything that has to do with the student’s education, be it academic college classroom, or the co-curricular student affairs and athletics, all of that is ultimately what I’m responsible for and responsible for supporting so that we have student success.” Aside from working closely with President Devorah Lieberman on ensuring the morals, values and traditions of the University keep progressing, Jonathan is responsible for overseeing the University’s strategic plan, called 2020 Vision, and supporting student success as La Verne continues to thrive as a Hispanic serving institution. Having served as a professor, author and religious scholar, he fills the qualities of a leader to continue shaping the academic excellence and success at the
University of La Verne.
Jonathan was born 1963 to Janice Reed and X.B. Reed from east Texas, then Switzerland when his father gained a science lab job in Europe. The family returned to Rolla, Missouri, where Jonathan finished high school. He says his family held to Christian values, but the local churches in the South were heavily anti-civil rights, prompting the Reeds to stop attending. Once back in Missouri, the Reed family once again connected with organized religion, and Jonathan sought meaning, becoming curious as to what people said in the Bible, and why people become religious. It was also during this time that he also struggled with the English language since he was accustomed to Swiss German. He says he was more interested in athletics, joining cross country and track, as well as playing ice hockey, soccer and football. Ice hockey was his favorite sport to play, and he preferred the position of goalie. He focused on hockey as he found school to be “rote and boring.” “I loved ice hockey. It’s probably what I was best at. As a goalie, on a good day, I could take control of the game. On a bad day, I could lose it for the team,” he now jokes. He continued playing ice hockey on a hockey scholarship through his first year at a mid-west college. His major was engineering. Religion was a strong interest, but he did not want to pursue it professionally. “I started off in engineering, and I became fascinated with a couple of religion classes such as History of Christianity. That’s when I realized you can study religion, not philosophically or theologically, but from a historical perspective using anthropology and sociology. Then, archeology could be used to understand people,” he says. “My perspective, in a social history context, is not like ‘is this true or not?’ but why would this little group form in first century Palestine and say these things. Not, is it true or not, but who are they arguing with, what do other people think of them, and what do they think they are doing—which is a very different kind of question.”
Jonathan says he realized how difficult it would be to pursue ice hockey professionally. He changed academic and career direction and transferred to Southern California College in 1983 (now known as Vanguard University of Southern California) and ultimately earned his bachelor of arts degree in religion. He become fascinated with the study of religion during his time at Vanguard; however, he knew he did not want to become a minister or a missionary, positions typically associated with the field. For him, it ultimately came down to becoming a professor or giving up studying religion, since he wanted to enter the field through an academic setting. Jonathan decided to pursue his ambition of becoming a religion professor and planned to attend graduate school to further enhance his learning. While in California, he met his wife Annette. The two married after a few years of dating, then briefly moved in 1987 to Philadelphia where Jonathan gained his master’s degree in religion from Eastern University. The two moved back to California where he earned, in 1993, his Ph.D. in religion from Claremont Graduate University. Graduate school prompted him to author articles and become curious toward “finding things out.” “After graduating and earning my doctorate, I started writing articles and books, which is something I never aspired to do. I never aspired to write a book. I would say I aspired to ask questions and to be a good scholar.” To date, he has authored four books. Becoming a good scholar was never an easy task, though, in his eyes. During his early high school academic years, he says he frequently struggled with English. “I was not a good student. I barely got in. I didn’t know I was smart. Nobody ever told me I was smart. I was just a dumb jock. I had a Swiss accent and got made fun of for it, and I never felt I could write because my papers were always the worst in the class. Of course, they were, though, because I never learned English in school. Then, I had a couple of teachers who really encouraged me, and suddenly I started getting A’s.” That lesson learned is not lost on current students. It led Jonathan to develop his personal academic ideologies that he promotes as provost. Keen to him is emphasizing access to education. “I really believe that access to higher education, coupled with transformative learning experiences, leads to success for individuals and their families. It creates social mobility for individuals as it did for myself. I was a PELL Grant kid. It returns people back to their communities and,in turn, they are better citizens—not just better U.S. citizens, but better global citizens. They are more sensitive to environmental issues and issues of social justice and equity.”
Sitting in his book filled office, Jonathan reflects on his career. In college, he held side jobs that included working in construction, woodworking and as a union warehouse forklift driver. While completing his doctorate, he served as the associate director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at Claremont Graduate University. In 1992, he joined the University of La Verne as assistant professor of religion, teaching Introduction to Religion, New Testament, and Archaeology and the Bible. He worked closely with professors Dan Campana and Richard Rose (who arrived in 1996) and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences John Gingrich. In 1996, with his family, he spent two years in Marburg, Germany, leading the Brethren Colleges Abroad program at Philipps University. For many summers, he took students to Israel to work on archaeological excavations during five-week periods. There, he served on the staff of excavations in Galilee, Israel. Students worked at a site with Jonathan as they dug, found, and recorded data on artifacts and ecofacts. He chaired La Verne’s Department of Religion and Philosophy twice before being named interim dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2009, with a clear title coming in 2012.
Jonathan is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Presidential Research Fellowship in 1999, 2000 and 2004 as well as earning Teacher of the Year during the 2002-2003 academic year. “Jonathan has embodied the ideal of the scholar/teacher model long before that language became fashionable,” says Dan Campana, ULV Professor of Philosophy and Religion. “He is well respected in his field as a scholar and author, but for as long as I have known him, Jonathan’s real joy and inspiration comes from the personal interaction shared with students in the classroom; and the comradery of fellow faculty members involved in the same process. His presence in our department raised the bar of scholarship, and, most importantly, teaching.” Jonathan says he misses the classroom experience. “I think that’s my biggest regret about being provost. While I was dean, I had opportunities to teach some, but as provost I haven’t been teaching, and that’s probably what I miss the most.”
After being named interim provost in 2014, Jonathan’s position became permanent in December of the same year. ULV President Devorah Lieberman says that Jonathan’s “academic achievements, understanding of the academic and student support needs at La Verne and vision for the future success of the institution” won him the position, as well as having the support of more than 90 percent of the faculty. Now three years in the job, Jonathan and his Provost Council are ensuring that the University continues to thrive as they articulate the strategic plan: 2020 Vision. “That’s why what’s important when you become provost is that you make decisions that always adhere to the mission, vision and values of the University because those decisions are part of a history and future that doesn’t belong to you. It’s bigger than you.” He says his key responsibilities include “ensuring that the faculty are supported and held accountable through a promotion and tenure process” and “assessing student learning, and promoting, when appropriate, new academic programs and curriculum. The higher quality the faculty, the more students are engaged, and the more passionate they are, which leads to more success with our graduates. One of the key items I’ve been working on is ensuring that we have a workload policy that supports a teacher-scholar model. Teachers come in and teach what they learned once in college, but I want them to come into the classroom and teach and are actively engaged as scholars, artists or as professionals in whatever field they teach. We want to make sure students, when they go into the classroom, know that they are being taught by world-class experts. That gives the degree more gravitas and more value.”
He works with Beatriz Gonzalez, vice provost, and the five deans of the University “in trying to create a sense of belonging at the University of La Verne for all students.” He continues to expand on the question of what it means for La Verne to be a Hispanic serving institution with the focus on serving rather than just enrolling. “I want to make sure no matter what background you’re from, you feel that La Verne is your home, and that you belong here. That can create a vibrant learning experience. We must ensure that we diversify the faculty, staff and administration. Ensuring that we weave cultural competence and awareness into the curriculum is essential, as well as working with faculty to ensure that there is appropriate training and resources to help them work this into their classes.” Among many of the new programs implemented to help implement cultural diversity and inclusivity is the La Verne Experience, a program implemented in 2013 and revamped in 2015 that focuses on the institution’s values and fosters a sense of community. Students join a fall FLEX (Freshman La Verne Experience) group and take three courses together. They also participate in the Community Engagement Day. As part of FLEX, students also participate in the sophomore La Verne experience, a community engagement class, and a senior reflection seminar.
Jonathan has embodied a lovable persona on campus that allows faculty to view him favorably, but also as a dear friend to many. “I appreciate Jonathan’s no-drama approach to work and life. He’s a regular guy—it’s like working with my brother,” says Beatriz. “He cares about ‘the work,’ but he also cares about individuals and about building a sense of community. For example, if a group of colleagues who don’t know each other too well are gathered for a professional retreat or conference, he often plays the ‘What Would You Bring’ game where each person tells what single piece of work in music, literature and cinema she would wish to have along if stranded on a deserted island. It’s an effort to have folks get to know each other, to see each other as authentic, real human beings and, hopefully, grow in appreciation of each other. If you’re wondering about the collection available to you if you were stranded with Provost Reed, be ready to cozy up with some Led Zeppelin, anything by Kurt Vonnegut and “Lawrence of Arabia.”
Jonathan’s personality is visible not only in his work ethic, but also in his approach to bringing in students. “La Verne is not a place that picks elite students in hopes to send them to other elite places,” says Jonathan. “We’re a place that works with the community to take people from the community and add value to their skills and competence, as well as to open their minds to become good thinkers before returning them back to the community.” He has partnered with a dozen school districts including Pomona, Alhambra, Covina and Duarte to guarantee admission and waive some tuition and fees if students meet entry requirements. “It fits into our notion of access,” says Jonathan. “We want students in school districts in our region. Many of them are heavily economically challenged with under represented minorities. We want to make sure that they see La Verne, a private education, as an option. And maybe the state schools are good for them, maybe the UCs, or community college; but we want to make La Verne affordable to them and help them see us as an option.”
Under the guidance of both President Devorah Lieberman and Provost Reed, the University of La Verne has strived to steady tuition and offer high financial aid. “It makes us much more affordable,” says Jonathan. “That’s critical because right now our average debt when students graduate is just over $25,000. For a lot of our students and their families, that’s a very big challenge. It’s important that they get good jobs so that they can pay that off. It’s up to all of us that the debt they go into is worth it.” He views La Verne’s diversity as having the upper edge over other institutions. “I think what we can offer is a student body that is remarkably diverse. If you can learn how to be a leader and work as part of a team with cultural competence, and you are accustomed to working with people different from you—socially, economically, ethnically, sexual orientation and political orientation—that is a skill that is going to catapult our graduates above others.”
From a student who viewed himself as average, to a provost helping La Verne advance into national prominence, Jonathan Reed is an inspiring scholar to follow. He is a man who is awake to learning and enjoys helping those around him to better themselves. Whether it be students or co-workers, Jonathan embodies the heart and soul of what it means to be good-natured and humane. As the American writer Kurt Vonnegut says, “A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” This is a quality found in Jonathan. Although his next chapter is yet to be written, the passion of the Provost continues strong.