An incredibly close reading of Dirks’ and Napolitano’s emails

Chancellor Dirks at Uncharted 2013 in October.

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With our emails piling up, it’s pretty easy to miss campus announcements by our chancellor and the UC president. We’re happy our schedules are starting to slow down, however, and we decided to do a close reading of their announcements — because no one really reads them anyway.

Has one of your professors ever asked you to do a close reading, get up close and personal with a primary text and analyze the living heck out of it? No? Well, we guess we couldn’t assume you all were English majors.

We compared Nicholas Dirks’ “Announcing the New Cycle for the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Fund 2014-15,” dated Sept. 25 (his latest email before the Sept. 30 explosion), and Janet Napolitano’s latest in a series called “A Note to My Colleagues,” dated Nov. 4. We would like to think these messages feed right into the picture we have in our minds of Dirks and Napolitano, but after reading through our analyses, your assumptions about their personalities may (or may not) be confirmed.

Let’s start with their salutations. Dirks typically addresses us as the “Campus Community,” whereas Napolitano seems to prefer calling us her “Colleagues.” The Oxford English Dictionary’s first definition for “colleague” (dating back to the 16th century!) is “one who is associated with another (or others) in office, or special employment.”

Napolitano’s background as a government bureaucrat explains this general naming of everyone from a UC campus chancellor to a first-year undergrad student as a “colleague.” Now we know it’s definitely the most appropriate word to hear from the business side of the University of California.

Dirks, as an academic who’s closer to the teaching that goes on at a university, sees us for what we are: students existing (not living, just existing, particularly during midterms) on a college campus. We must remember, however, that although the word “community” (the OED: “the generality of people,” dating way back to the 14th century!) may sound more friendly than the implications of business associated with “colleagues,” we will point out that in Dirks’ eyes, we are a community on campus — which is where we work.

So basically, either way, we’re a bunch of people who work together, whether our chancellor or president is addressing us. We should all feel super special.

Now, getting into the actual content of the emails, we felt it was necessary to read these emails paragraph by paragraph to understand their full essence.


Overall, we found that Dirks’ emails are much more straightforward, particularly for an academic professional. But maybe his emails are just a little too straightforward, considering that we always thought our chancellor gave off a more laid-back vibe than this piece of prose suggests.

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Interestingly enough, Dirks and Napolitano have some shared vocabulary. Dirks uses the phrase “environmental stewardship,” while Napolitano, as you will see later in our analysis, calls on us to take on “our job as stewards to make sure (the relationship between California and the University) never changes.”

We love our newly inaugurated chancellor. He’s adorable, if you haven’t seen his latest photo shoot in all his happy, umbrella-wielding, bespectacled glory. However, we think his emails could be much more adventurously written with added artistic license.

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Constructing an analogy between bridge building and community building excites everyone with its originality.

Moving on to Napolitano:

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Napolitano’s first paragraph is one whirlwind sentence that runs on for a whole line — and three-quarters of the next line — filled with a flurry of qualifiers such as “warm,” “insightful” and “wondrous” that almost submerge us in awe at our university. We’re grateful for the breath of fresh air introduced by her em dashes.

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Napolitano ends her email by describing the overwhelmingly saccharine buddy-buddy relationship between the state and the university. Also of note here is that Napolitano breaks from her long, comma-beleaguered prose to short, choppy sentences we could paraphrase to “We need you. You need us. And now let’s get back to work.” This only further emphasizes how Napolitano’s background involves top-down government officials and contrasts with Dirks’ grounding in academia.

Dirks signs all of his emails “Sincerely,” which ends his message on a professional note. On the other hand, Napolitano ends with the ever-so-charming “Yours very truly,” sounding more like our elementary school pen pal than our university president.

So the next time you give your professor a blank stare when she asks you to read something closely (and you get kicked out of class because you mimed holding the text extremely close to your eyes), you can look to our example to help you. But at the end of the day, you really can only learn so much about a person from his or her emails.

Image source: Daniel Parks under Creative Commons

Contact Jessica Rogness at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jessarogness.