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By Nadine Fiedler '89

At the end of this year two longtime professors in the division of literature and languages will be retiring: Doris Desclais Berkvam, after 26 years in Reed's French department, and Thomas Gillcrist, after 39 years in the English department. Both have been notable and beloved teachers at Reed.


Doris Desclais Berkvam, a native of Paris, France, came to Reed in 1975. She had studied at the Sorbonne in Paris, at C.E.L.G., at the University of Wisconsin­ Madison, where she earned an M.A. in French, and at Indiana University­ Bloomington, where she earned a Ph.D. in 1978. A specialist in medieval French literature and society, she is the author of Enfance et maternité dans la littérature française des XIIe et XIIe siècles (Librarie Honore Champion, 1981).

Before coming to Reed, Berkvam taught at École St. Marcel, in Paris, and at St. Olaf College, in Minnesota. She came to the U.S. after marrying an American, but when the couple divorced in 1979, Berkvam had to choose whether to stay in the U.S. or return to France. Although everything pushed her to go back home, and she had handed in an official letter of resignation, Berkvam finally decided to stay. She received a vote of confidence from Reed president Paul Bragdon, who urged her to remain. But she mostly stayed because she realized that she had made a strong commitment to her students and that teaching was deeply important to her.

Berkvam has spent her summers and sabbaticals in France, which she says has given her two completely different lives. But when she's at Reed, she's passionate about teaching, giving all of herself to her profession and her students. "Reed is exceptional," she said. "I've taught in other places, where you have to pull, carry, and prod students to get them to think. With Reed students all you have to do is say something that awakens their curiosity. Reed students are more open minded, more curious, more tolerant."

Her students have been inspired by her as well. Graham Jones '98, now a graduate student at New York University, wrote that "Along with William Ray and Sam Danon, Doris Berkvam was a pillar of one of the most extraordinary departments Reed has assembled. She added an earthy wisdom that harmonized with Ray's unassuming genius and Danon's jaunty wit. Her indomitable, irreverent laugh endeared her to countless students."

Amy Suzanne Heneveld '00 was one of Berkvam's thesis students last year. She wrote,"I could write a book of the good advice she gave me about writing a thesis. I pass it on to my friends who are still at Reed because not everyone is blessed with such a wise adviser. She also gave me good words about life in general; some of my best memories of Reed are laughing with her in her office. I owe her thanks for more things than I can say."

Berkvam intends to return to France after retirement, where she will spend time with her family, including her two grandchildren.    


"It's been an exciting time to be in the profession," says Thomas Gillcrist, speaking of the many changes in the teaching of English literature since he arrived at Reed in 1962. Although the decades brought many changes to the English curriculum, including a multicultural spectrum, Gillcrist notes that this has happened at Reed in a collegial department with "remarkably little friction or disagreement."

Gillcrist, who earned a B.A. from Duke University and an M.A. from Harvard University, was attracted to Reed largely because of the humanities program. He has taught humanities for all those 38 years in addition to teaching courses in English. His favorite courses to teach, in addition to Humanities 110, were courses on William Faulkner and Toni Morrison, on colonial and postcolonial novels, and on the Bloomsbury group.

"I've enjoyed three things about working at Reed," he said. "Good books, good students, and good colleagues. In a larger sense that means other professors, but it also means the whole community of people who work at Reed. It's been a privilege to work with the talented and dedicated people here at Reed for a common cause."

In the course of his career, Gillcrist earned many national honors, including the Arnold and Lois P. Graves Award in 1970; he used the award at Stanford University to study literary criticism and its role in contemporary liberal education. He was awarded a Fulbright fellowship in 1973 and taught that year in Kyung-Hee University in Seoul, Korea. In 1984 he was elected to the executive committee of the Association of Departments of English, the national professional organization for English department chairs; during that time he wrote a seminal paper on the history and future of English departments. He has also served on the executive committees of the Western Humanities Conference and the Oregon International Council.

Kimberly Oldenburg '99, a graduate student at Princeton University and one of Gillcrist's advisees, said, "I learned from Tom that academic life need not be a high-stress race for ideas, but can be whatever you wanted it to be. For me, as I pursue an academic career myself, this is something I return to daily. I could never thank him enough."

Gillcrist will spend time after retirement learning digital photography, traveling, and finding meaningful volunteer work. He also plans to spend time with his two grandchildren. "Having grandchildren is the one thing in life that's not overrated," he says.


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