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Jenny Franchot, Renowned English Department Associate Professor, Dies at 45

by Mary Elizabeth Berry, History Department
posted October 21, 1998

Jenny FranchotJenny Franchot, associate professor of English, died suddenly at her home in Berkeley Oct. 14. She was 45.

One of the most renowned scholars of 19th-century American literature in her generation, Professor Franchot was also the chair of the university committee that formulated a groundbreaking admissions policy in response to the banning of affirmative action criteria in selecting students.

Franchot was born April 6, 1953, in Providence, R.I. Reared in Detroit and New York City and educated at Miss Hall's School in Pittsfield, Mass., she entered Radcliffe College in 1971 but then decided to move -- and stay -- west.

She completed her bachelor's degree at Berkeley in 1975 and received her doctorate from Stanford University in 1986, when she joined the Berkeley faculty. Her daughter, Lillian Dashiell Franchot, was born in Berkeley in 1983.

A serious pianist and painter, Jenny Franchot is the author of "Roads to Rome: The Antebellum Protestant Encounter with Catholicism" (University of California Press, 1994). The book explores the Protestant obsession with Catholicism, which was indispensable to Protestants' understanding of themselves in the 19th century.

In this work of intellectual history, Franchot examines an encyclopedic range of novels, sermons, philosophical texts, travel accounts and popular narratives of Protestants held captive in Catholic monasteries.

Her teaching, always ardent, surveyed American and British literature as well as issues of race, religion, ethics and illness.

She became chair of Berkeley's Academic Senate Committee on Admissions, Enrollment and Preparatory Education in 1995, a time of turmoil over affirmative action. Responding to Regents Resolution SP-1 and the passage in 1996 of Proposition 209, Franchot observed that "Clearly a new era is upon us."

Franchot seized the opportunity for change with what Professor Gene Rochlin describes as "a dedication that was total -- total. "She sought a policy that, in her words, 'can find the best students -- ones who react to their contexts, privileged or underprivileged, in intellectually impressive ways.'"

Her solution was to forego any purely statistical or formulaic evaluation of applicants and thus radically personalize the review process. She insisted on multiple individual assessments of all segments of each application to identify students who, in meeting diverse challenges, displayed promise of academic excellence and leadership. This approach has been hailed by many as a model for highly selective public universities.

Calling Jenny Franchot a "brilliant and caring member of our community," Chancellor Berdahl praised her "enormous contributions to the university through her teaching, her outstanding scholarly work, and her service to the campus, particularly in the area of admissions policy. We will miss her greatly and our hearts go out to her family, especially her daughter, Lily."

For Carol Christ, the Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost, Franchot was "a charismatic teacher and a visionary leader" with a "broad, humanistic understanding of the values that should inform university admissions."

In addition to her daughter, Jenny Franchot is survived by her mother, Janet Kerr Howell, and her step-father, Arthur Howell, of Atlanta; her father, Douglas Franchot, of Cleveland; her brothers, Douglas Franchot III of Minneapolis, Peter Franchot of Tacoma Park, Md., and Michael Franchot of Atlanta; and her former husband, Thomas Dashiell of Berkeley.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Oct. 24, at St. Clement's Episcopal Church in Berkeley.

Contributions in the name of Jenny Franchot, made out to the Regents of UC, may be sent to Professor Jeffrey Knapp, Department of English, University of California, Berkeley, CA, 94720. Funds will support the Jenny Franchot Berkeley Prize, to be awarded for exceptionally fine writing to high school juniors from local public schools who will thus be encouraged in the highest intellectual aspirations.


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