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John Drescher, MPP’88

John Drescher, MPP’88, is a Contributing Editor at The Assembly, a digital magazine based in the Triangle. He previously worked at The Washington Post and The News and Observer of Raleigh.  He answered some of our questions about his life and career. 

What are you most proud of in your career to date?

I’m most proud of the public service journalism produced during my time at The News & Observer of Raleigh from 2002 to 2018. During a challenging time for regional newsrooms, The N&O produced some of its best work ever. We doubled down on investigative journalism, and North Carolina benefited from it, as documented by economist James T. Hamilton in his book “Democracy’s Detectives.”

How would you describe Sanford’s contribution to public policy over the past 50 years?

You probably mean the Sanford School, but I want to comment on Terry Sanford himself. At his inauguration as governor in 1961, as southern governors fought integration, Sanford broke rank and called for equal opportunities for all. “No group of our citizens can be denied the right to participate in the opportunities of first-class citizenship,” Sanford said. That took guts. Sanford thought leaders should lead. And he did. That made a difference for North Carolina. If you are interested in Gov. Sanford’s push for civil rights, here’s a link to a piece I wrote when I was at The Washington Post.

What is one highlight memory you have at Duke? At Sanford?

I remember how engaged the professors were with the students. The classes were small and vigorous. I’ve been in the Triangle area for most of the last 20 years, and it’s been great to cross paths with some of my professors from long ago, especially Sunny Ladd and Charlie Clotfelter.

What would you say to a current student at Sanford – a word of advice or something you wish you knew when you were graduating?

Get off campus and out of the office, and see how the policy works (or doesn’t work) at the human level. Get into the schools, the streets, the homes, and the worksites. Data is great – I believe in data-driven decision making, as taught in the Sanford School. But to truly understand how policy works, you also need to get to where the rubber hits the road and see it for yourself.

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