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Half A Century (And A Bit More) At Duke

Half A Century (And A Bit More) At Duke

Gerald Wilson has served Duke as dean, administrator and faculty member for 53 years

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Gerald Wilson and his wife Ginger in Egypt.
Gerald Wilson, right, and his wife Ginger enjoy travelling during the summer break from academia. They are pictured here in Egypt. Photo courtesy of Gerald Wilson.

Durham, NC -
Name: 
Gerald Wilson

Position: Senior associate dean of Trinity College

Years at Duke: 53

What I do at Duke: I have a four-fold job. As senior associate dean for Trinity, I'm sort of the chief operating officer for the dean's staff. I'm also an academic dean for political science, history and public policy majors. I teach two history classes each semester. And I spend a lot of time doing pre-law advising with both current students and alumni. About 20 percent of Duke's undergrads apply to law school within two years of graduation. As our alumni spread across the globe, I get two or three international phone calls each week from alums seeking advice on law school applications. My calendar is very full, but I love what I am doing.

I got my job at Duke because: I came to study at the Divinity School in 1958, and in 1959, I became an assistant housemaster - what you would call a Resident Assistant today. Then I became a housemaster, then head housemaster, then the assistant to the Dean of Men (back when all the women lived on East Campus). I didn't plan to become a full time administrator, but that's what I became. Then in the 1980s, after I had completed my Ph.D. at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill in American History, I started teaching history as well. 

To start a conversation with me, someone should ask me about: Politics or the courses I teach. This semester I am teaching "American Dreams, American Realities," where we attempt to define the American character, and a capstone seminar on "Leadership in American History."

When I'm not at work, I like to: Read and travel. My wife Ginger and I tend to go abroad almost every summer. Ginger's favorite place is Vienna. My favorite places are Edinburgh and Greece. 

If I had $5 million I would: Take out a generous portion so we would never have to fly in steerage again and split the remainder between the Duke Libraries, which my wife and I absolutely love, and the Animal Protection Society, which we have been involved with for about 10 years. 

The book I am reading now is: "Civilization" by Niall Ferguson. I usually read about the history of ideas. But in the summer, I love good historical fiction, like Ken Follett's "Fall of Giants".

If I could have one superpower it would be: The ability to remember everything I've read.

A very proud moment for me at Duke was: When I received the Presidential Award for executive leadership last year. 

My first job was: I had part time summer jobs in the 50s for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and the Hanes Knitting Company in Winston-Salem. But I've never had any full time employer except Duke.

What I love about Duke: I absolutely positively love the students. Every time I walk into my upper level seminar, I think, `every one of these students is more intelligent than I am.' I can still teach because I have read more and have more experience, but the students are so incredibly intelligent. 

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