Column: Which administrators drive which cars? Kevin reveals all...

The other day, in a rare free moment, I was driving down an alley between Main Street and Ninth Street.

I saw a small building, obviously owned by Duke, with a sign that reads "Alumni and Development Records." I smirked and leaned over to my buddy next to me and said, "Isn't it funny that the most important building at Duke isn't even on campus?"

He didn't really get the joke - I was mocking the importance Duke places on its fundraising.

The past two years, I've gone through my Duke experience from a perspective that few others have shared.

Every morning in front of the bus stop, the first thing I do is look toward the four reserved parking spots closest to the Allen Building to see which administrators are on campus. John Burness drives the beige Volvo, Trask the silver Audi, Lange the blue BMW and Nan the teal Honda. They park in that order.

I wonder how many undergraduates actually even know who all four of those people are and what they do. I also wonder how many students know the difference between an associate and an assistant professor, that an exceptional teacher isn't nearly as institutionally respected as a decent researcher or even what tenure is.

When I made the jump from sports writer to a news reporter for The Chronicle two years ago, I did so knowing that fewer people - especially fewer students - would read my work. It takes a lot of effort to read the news and to understand what's going on within Duke's walls, more so than reading about last night's game or filling out the crossword.

But undergraduates come and go; the only sure thing is that they will whine about alcohol, classwork and social life. To be honest, as I grew as a reporter, I targeted my stories more toward staff and faculty members. Duke Student Government will have a scandal every year and there will always be a Last Day of Classes band. But every year won't find the University in the midst of no less than 12 construction projects, struggling to define its sciences after years of neglect or defending itself for the number of legacies and athletes it admits.

When you pick up The Chronicle and find a seemingly boring story on page one, know that it is just one piece of a greater contextual story about what this University's leaders are doing. Read the news for a month, cover to cover, and you'll start to see themes emerge. Put together that the University is cutting its endowment spending rate, that it's rethinking the strategic investment plan, that Fuqua is cutting staff positions and you begin to realize that the recession is taking its toll. Put together the fact that Duke libraries are one of few capital campaign areas not to have met their goal and that every other capital project is moving ahead, and realize that the long-planned Perkins renovations could be in serious trouble. Put together the fact that student affairs administrators are trying to make greeks act a little more responsibly, that the merit of Krzyzewskiville is being openly questioned and that housing officials will no longer let sophomores self-segregate onto White West, Black Central and Asian Trent, and realize that Nan & Co. have been thinking for a very long time about how the University is presenting itself and the right balance between "intellectualism" and "fun."

As a reader, you have to seek out what's going on around you by taking all that's out there and synthesizing it into the big picture. You can be happily oblivious or keenly informed. The Chronicle should always strive to - and could sometimes do a better job of - contextualizing its stories, i.e., "How does this story affect me?" But there are truly fascinating things going on at a university still grappling with its identity, things that every student should find engaging.

Four-hundred and fifty bylines at The Chronicle have taught me a lot about Duke, and I could fill a semester's worth of columns with what to look for next year, what departments to keep an eye on, what administrators will go where and what direction the University will take. From my perch at 301 Flowers, The Chronicle has afforded a second college education to a kid whose parents never went to college, and who didn't know a fraternity from Foucault four short years ago. Leadership at The Chronicle has its sacrifices - emotionally, academically and socially. But looking back, I wouldn't trade it for anything.

If there's one piece of advice I could pass on to students, it's simply this - if you care about what's going on around you, if you care about the actual changes Duke's administrators are making to the campus and why, actually read the news before forming an opinion on it. In four semesters of coverage, I haven't seen a lot of groups that haven't had something written about them by a reporter for The Chronicle. Sooner or later, there will be something about you, your group, your department or your identity that will be linked in some way to a greater theme marking the University that semester or that year. That's when it becomes really important to know where the University's headed and what your role in it may be.

As I hear my peers bemoan the lack of intellectual life on campus and the distance between faculty and students, the initiatives and efforts that stem from Duke's leadership are the things that tie us together the most. Although protesters will never convince George W. Bush that a war is right or wrong, students can and have effected change at the University and on a local level - from sweatshop labor to academic direction and social life.

The first key to making a difference is understanding what's going on. Mine has been an often tireless, thankless job, and it's impossible to break every story, uncover every scandal and celebrate every hero. Nevertheless, my core mission for the past two years has been - and as long as The Chronicle is worth anything, its core mission will be first and foremost - to be the central campus authority on what's going on. As readers, you should settle for nothing less.

Kevin Lees is a Trinity senior and managing editor of The Chronicle.


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