Between the Lines: November-December 2002

November 30, 2002

 

Class-notes sections don't exactly provide the weightiest matter in university magazines. But they do provide a vital link among alumni, and between individual alumni and alma mater. Illustrating as they do the life stories of graduates, they also contribute to telling an institution's life story.

And every once in a while, class notes are indicative of something more concrete than the success stories they typically showcase. (When university editors get together, we sometimes fantasize about publishing a different class note--say, the alumnus who happily reports that after that ill-planned jailbreak effort and the little flare-up with the British Secret Service, he's been released into American custody and is returning to his longtime role of officiating at jousting tournaments in medieval theme parks.) In this issue, there's a singular class-notes theme: Duke alumni populate higher education.

In just a few pages, there are class notes from a retired vice president at Kean University, the dean of Southern Methodist University's theology school, the dean of Santa Clara University's engineering school, an award-winning electrical and computer engineering professor, the chair of Western Washington University's communication department, the chair of the University of Arkansas' English department, the chair of general surgery at Southern Illinois University's medical school, and a new University of Pennsylvania professor with a new book.

Of course, the issue has corporate-executive and lawyerly success stories. But accounts of alumni talent in academe point to a passion for learning that was nurtured at Duke and persisted from there.

The annual college-rankings story is part of this issue's news pages. But all those vice presidents and deans and department chairs in the alumni body are more telling and more interesting than artfully constructed hierarchies of institutions. All those Duke alumni aren't in the business of ranking higher education; they're doing the work of renewing higher education.