Elliott Wolf has never been much of a take-what-The-Man-tells-you-as-absolute-truth kind of guy. And now that he is The Man, the Duke Student Government president-elect doesn't expect you to, either.
"I've never been cool with being told what to do," he says. "It's not a question of respect, it's just that I don't defer to other people's judgment automatically."
Made famous by his now-defunct movie server and made infamous by his conspiracy-ridden columns for The Chronicle, Wolf maintains that he is nothing out of the ordinary. He still has to tidy his room and do his homework like the rest of us. He even falls off his bike once in a while. But like everything else he does, Wolf takes it to the extreme-he broke his collarbone in the bike accident just days after his server was taken off the hook.
The sophomore says he's just a nice guy at heart, but there's something about his 6-foot-4 frame and deep-set eyes that makes him a force to fear-especially if you're the one hiding something.
"Where the conspiracies come in is when there's an absence of information," he says. "If I come out with a column about ARAMARK, and the administration can prove that there are no conflicts of interest at play, then great! That means my universe is not corrupt. And that's cool with me. That's the point."
The Angier B. Duke scholar and math major has no problem creating those worst-case-scenario connections, filling in the holes with what he deems logical explanations. Wolf has a brilliant mind with a penchant for standing up to authority-in short, he walks the line between an administrator's dream come true and worst nightmare. And he has seen both sides of it, claiming there are two ways administrators tend to think: the academic way and the corporate way.
It's the latter Wolf refuses to accept.
"There's a big difference between respect and deference," he says. Acknowledging he doesn't have all the answers, Wolf does expect them when he asks because it's every person's inherent right to know-whatever knowing entails.
He envisions a Duke that is more socially open, a place that can diversify not just culturally and racially, but economically. If it weren't for the scholarship the University offered him, he'd probably be at Maryland, but rest assured that he'd still be doing much the same thing-raising hell and wanting answers because in his mind, that's what education is all about.
"It's not that you have a set of things in your head at the end of it, but that you understand why," he says. "And that's what's emphasized at Duke."
But Wolf isn't one of those idealistic, hippy-dippy types who imagines change, spouting "if only"s and "it'd be great, but"s-instead, he beelines it to the practical. When professors weren't posting their course evaluations online, he opened his own site that currently hosts 829 unofficial evaluations. It's not meant to be the ultimate teacher-review guide, he says, but rather to show professors what students want, what they need. And it's safe to say that Wolf is quite attuned to what students want and need, but only in part because he is a student himself.
Ideas are great, but to Wolf, actions are even better. And it's his action that puts him among Duke's top achievers for this academic year.
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Wolf's server, or "Elliott's" as it was colloquially called, ironically began as a personal convenience tool, and overnight it seemingly turned into something he'd never expected. More and more people discovered his cache of movies, with a peak 3,548 computers accessing his files-that's 67 percent of the 5,285 residential computers on campus.
Wolf put in his own time and money (a total of $600) to keep his server alive and running for nothing more than the faceless thanks of thousands on campus. And why? Because he says he was filling a student need.
Even when it all began to get out of hand, Wolf never thought about shutting down. "To be honest, I was afraid that I'd have 3,000 angry students breaking down my door if I stopped," he says.
It is for his peers that he advocates most, and he doesn't plan on withholding any truths from them-his column's tagline, after all, is "Transparency." Wolf may be next year's DSG president, but he is in no way working for The Man.
He's in it for us.