Cliff Doerksen did not belong to the Northwestern community for long, but he left a mark. The Harvey Kapnick Business Institutions Program and School of Continuing Studies professor died unexpectedly at age 47 in late December, leaving behind a wife, daughter and other friends and family members.
The Chicago Tribune reported that he was found dead in his home Dec. 17. An autopsy will determine the cause of death.
“He wasn’t widely known, but the people that did know him knew that he was a very special guy,” said Bruce Carruthers, a Northwestern sociology professor and Doerksen’s brother-in-law. “Part of what made him a good person in the classroom also made him a very fun guy to be around. He was the kind of person that if you were just kind of kidding around, he often could just come up with a one liner or a zinger that cracked up the room.”
Doerksen had a Ph.D. in history from Princeton University. He was a well-known journalist whose work appeared in such publications as the Chicago Reader, Time Out Chicago, The New York Times and WBEZ Chicago’s This American Life. He also published scholarly essays on history. He began teaching at Northwestern last school year.
Mark Witte, economics professor and BIP director, emphasized the wide variety of knowledge Doerksen brought to Northwestern with him, including history, journalism, cinema, cooking and marketing.
“He can draw on his historical background and bring in aspects of contemporary life and show relevance,” Witte said. “He was certainly a popular guy.”
Carruthers seconded Witte’s assertion about his wide breadth of knowledge, referring to Doerksen as “culturally omnivorous.” He added that Doerksen’s constant desire to learn more enriched his research and his teaching style.
“Chicago has lost a wonderful cultural critic, and we in journalism have lost a friend and colleague,” Sartin wrote. “Cliff wrote with razor-sharp wit and deep intelligence about film and culture.”
Students in Doerksen’s BIP class, “Marketing Management,” were informed of his death over break. Economics professor Peter Sattler will replace him.
“It was an amazing stroke of luck that he came to us and it was just terrible that he went away,” Witte said.