If you didn’t stay around Portland after graduation, you may have forgotten just
how wet this place can get during a really good autumn rainstorm, though in truth, to call
the five days of torrential downpours we suffered in early November a mere “rainstorm” is
an insult to meteorology’s rich lexicon. In TV
weatherperson-speak it was a “pineapple express,” a tropical storm from Hawaii
that dumped more than six inches of rain, turned Reed’s gravel pathways into cataracts,
and transformed our lush green lawns into shallow fishing holes.
But the point of this weather report is not to remind you of fall semester, freshman
year, when you came to the realization that the caressing summer breezes of late September
in Portland were a cruel lie, and that what lay in store instead were months of damp darkness
during which one might just as well hole oneself up in the library and catch up on some
Rather, the great deluge of November 3–7, 2006, sets the stage for the story that
leads off this magazine—about why professors teach at Reed.
As background for the article, we conducted interviews with more than a dozen professors
over the course of two semesters; the last of these interviews, with classics professor
Ellen Millender, was to take place on the rainy morning of Tuesday, November 7 (as the
country was preparing to send a flood of Democrats to Washington, as it happens). I was
working late on Monday night and got a call from Millender around midnight, saying that
her backyard was flooded, water was pouring into her basement through the window wells,
and she didn’t know if she’d make the interview.
When I got in on Tuesday morning, there was a voicemail from Millender: “It’s
8 o’clock,” she said, “and we’re still bailing.” As I settled
down to work, the phone rang. It was Millender again, apologizing for missing our interview—she
and her husband had been up all night doing flood control—and asking if we could
please meet later that day instead.
“Stay home,” I said, “go to sleep. We’ll do the interview tomorrow.”
“I’m coming in anyway,” she replied. “I teach.”
You can read
the inspiring results of that interview. Following our discussion,
and still bleary-eyed from her bedraggling all-nighter, Millender went on to teach three
classes—Latin 110, Greek 210 (the speeches of Lysias), and Rise of the Roman Empire.
Why do Reed professors teach? Because they can’t not teach.
—Mitchell Hartman, editor