"I'm certainly not the best journalist, but Wabash didn't need that two years ago. I'm really more of a publisher than an editor--I'm the guy who gives you the paper, not the story"
Leadership Through Change
by Jim Amidon
Wabash alumni know the drill well. One arrives at Wabash as a cocky rookie, fresh off a high school career in which nothing seemed impossible. When pledgeship begins, the edge is sanded off and you suddenly realize you're swimming in a pond full of big fish. Over the course of the next two or three years, grades improve, confidence is restored, and the edge is back. Embedded in that rebuilding process is a series of obstacles that, once cleared, provide the basis for strength, leadership, and poise in later life.
To see Chris Cotterill walking across campus today, mid-way through his junior year, is evidence of this developmental process-the Wabash phenomenon. Today he's overflowing with confidence and ready to tackle a number of serious challenges as the president of the Wabash Student Senate. If he succeeds as wildly as he has in rebuilding The Bachelor as its editor-in-chief, student life will be improved as much as Cotterill hopes it can be.
"Aside from the creation of the student activities coordinator position, Senate hasn't done much to improve student life in the last three semesters or so," says the Indianapolis native. "We need to look at a number of issues to change that trend. I've only got a year, so we need to get busy looking into these things."
Cotterill's aggressive list includes a better understanding of Senate activities. To accomplish that goal, Cotterill has already begun to establish an interactive listserve that can connect Senate with student groups and living units through the College's computer network. He also wants to look closely at Wabash's tedious registration process that Cotterill says is "simply not in the spirit of Wabash." After that, he'll appoint a committee to look into "dead week"-the week between the end of the term and final exams-a week students would like to use in preparation for finals.
"Right now we need to look at the syllabi and see if there really is a dead week," Cotterill says. "It seems as though there are more things to do that week than at any other time in the semester. We'll talk to faculty and see if there are ways that we can increase the time students have to prepare for finals." Along the same lines, Cotterill says Senate will offer either to staff, or pay for staffing, to keep computer labs open 24 hours a day during pre-finals week crunch time.
"One of the great misunderstandings students have is that they think Senate can change everything. I know that there are no easy answers to these questions, but we have to look into things, talk about them, analyze them, and see if we can find creative solutions to these problems," he says.
Cotterill's parents, Jim and Nancy, helped found Indianapolis Monthly, later worked with the Indianapolis Business Journal, and then founded CEO magazine. They're out of publishing now, but their influence has had an impact on Chris.
"I was a freshman in the Delt house and [John] Deschner '97 asked if I knew anything about layout-that was the way I got involved with The Bachelor," Cotterill recalls. "We were in a state of transition then. John Jefferson '97 had literally saved the paper, Deschner continued his work, and I took over at the start of my sophomore year as editor.
"I can't say enough about those guys. It was so tough and we really just had to start over. We had bad equipment that nobody knew how to use and we pretty much had to change the entire thought process of the contributors."
Few would argue that Cotterill's two-year tenure as The Bachelor's editor has been one of meteoric change for the better. Each issue is at least 16 pages, readers can expect real news stories and not just opinion pieces, and graphically the paper has never looked better.
"It took us a long time to get where we are," says Cotterill. "I had to grow up that sophomore year. But with each issue, we figured out how to do one more thing, how to solve one more problem. And it's been a group project. We've had people who have genuinely cared about what they were doing, and now we're like a family that knows how to work together to put something of quality out each week."
Cotterill's influence has been key to the publication's success. What drives the 21-year old? "My name is on it," he says with a quick smile, leaning back in his chair with a realization most college students don't understand. "What we do is public, it's out there, and people can take shots at it. If our names are on it, we're being judged with the paper. That drives me."
The biggest change in The Bachelor under Cotterill's leadership, aside from consistency and accuracy, has been its on-line presence. The Bachelor web site (accessible from the Wabash home page at www.wabash.edu) allows for back issues to be archived and a powerful search engine makes sifting through back issues a breeze. "It's made our work more timeless, more enduring," says the editor. "I'm certainly not the best journalist, but Wabash didn't need that two years ago. I'm really more of a publisher than an editor-I'm the guy who gives you the paper, not the story."
What's next for Cotterill? Not even he is certain at this point, though he knows he'll be plenty busy in the last three semesters of his Wabash career. Law school looms in the future.
"I don't remember what my goals were when I came here," puzzles Cotterill. "I love American government and my dream job would be to become a U.S. Senator or something like that. I like to be in a position to change, to motivate, and to make things better."
Asked about how ethics play into those goals, Cotterill shrugs off the difficulty of rising in politics without succumbing to political pressures. "It sounds corny, but I've acquired my own sort of Gentleman's Rule that I hope will guide me through life. I honestly believe that each person can guide himself by simply doing the right thing. I know when I'm doing the right thing; I can just feel it."
Cotterill's development as a leader at Wabash certainly isn't complete, but he's not the same person he was as a shy sophomore who asked, "Why would anyone care what I think?" when questioned about writing editorials in The Bachelor.
Look out Wabash-Student Senate may never be the same.