PECK, PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY
As a specialist in German philosophy ensconced at Reed College for four
decades, William Peck has long occupied a unique place in the universe
of higher education. Its a point he illustrates with the following
joke, a supposed conversation between two Reed students:
Student A: Now that were
friends, I have some things I want to tell you.
Student B: Oh?
Student A: First, Im gay.
Student B: Okay.
Student A: Second, I havent read Hegel.
Student B: Oh, my GOD!!
For Peck, the comical exchange speaks volumes
about the intellectual hunger of Reed students. Its one of the many
aspects of Reed including the ease of collaborating with faculty
across the college and a campuswide commitment to scholarship that
the retiring Peck treasures most.
I was the luckiest guy in the world to get this job, says
Peck, whose Reed tenure began in 1961. Its fitted me like
a glove since the day I arrived.
Peck is a self-described old-fashioned Great Books type with
wide-ranging interests in the humanities. Reeds intimate size, intellectual
curiosity, and broad liberal arts focus allowed him to indulge those interests.
For example, he co-taught several courses that melded philosophy with
subjects such as anthropology and music.
Pecks versatility and broad-gauge interest in liberal arts
will be missed, says Gail Kelly 55, emerita professor of anthropology,
who taught several courses with Peck, including ones on universities and
relativism. Even within his department, Peck has been a voice for
teaching philosophy as part of a broader liberal arts education, not simply
as pre-paration for graduate school, notes philosophy professor
Mark Hinchliff 81, a colleague and former student. He also
has been a strong proponent and practitioner of the conference style of
Over the years, Peck has taught many courses on his specialty, German
philosophy. To focus on such a defined and somewhat underappreciated topic
is rare for a small-college faculty member. But Reed boasts twice as many
philosophy majors per capita than the national average, he notes, and
its students are pining for challenges. Taking on big ideas, confronting
them and struggling with them, is what a lot of Reed students think college
Pecks remembers his first decade at Reed as a boom time for
teachers and a turbulent one for higher education. Enrollments continued
to rise as the civil rights, antiwar, and counterculture movements pervaded
As the 1960s began, Peck, a recent Yale alumnus, sought out a good, small
liberal arts college out West. One of his former graduate school professors
They are intensely intellectual people who want to read good books,
he explains, who admire professors and want to be around them. Reed
is a terrific place to be a professor.
Peck, who has taught part time the last two years, will take next semester
off before returning to campus to teach, advise, and write. I want
to keep my mind fresh, he says. He aims to spend more time traveling,
although he admits that he hopes some of his trips will be to academic
conferences: Thats just my milieu.