The troubles of being named Dean on a college campus and not actually being a dean

Most Honors College students instantly recognize the name Dean Hebert — after all, they read it in their inboxes each morning in a message detailing the day’s events.

But in the world of academia — where titles like professor, doctor, TA, provost and vice president are used constantly — the Honors College assistant director is quick to make one thing clear: He’s not a dean. That’s just his name.

Hebert is known for including a line at the end of every email to the college listserv: “dean is just my first name; aka ‘dean of destruction.’” The message, he said, attempts to clear up the messy situation of sharing a name with one of the highest-ranking titles in the university.

Hebert said he started adding the disclaimer after parents at student orientations would mistake him for a college dean.

“I tell them right off the bat that it’s just my name, and that sort of evolved,” he said.
Some students have also announced to the Honors College receptionist that they have an appointment with “the dean.” And Hebert said he has a hunch lines get crossed over the phone, too.

“Sometimes when I call a department, I say, ‘Oh, this is Dean over at the Honors College,’ and my call gets put straight through,” he said.

“I haven’t done any scientific studies on it, no double-blind test,” Hebert added. “But I’ve always suspected that every once in a while, someone will hear the name and say, ‘Oh, he must be the dean, he must be somebody important over there.’”

Hebert wasn’t the only member of the university community to face some identity crisis. Dean Chang, director of Maryland Technology Enterprise Institute Venture Programs and the Technology Advancement Program, said when students confuse him for an academic dean, he admits he’s just “lowly staff.”

But, Chang said, one offender in particular stands out — Gov. Martin O’Malley made the mistake twice.
O’Malley visited the campus in 2007 and was met at the door of MTECH by Chang, Mtech Executive Director David Barbe and then-interim Engineering school Dean Herbert Rabin. They introduced themselves, gave O’Malley a tour of the center, and then sat in on a press conference.

“[O’Malley’s] talking to reporters and there’s local news cameras, and he said, ‘I was just talking to the dean,’ and he gestured to me,” Chang said. “The actual dean was on the other side of the room. I was like ‘Oh no.’”

He added he quickly realized O’Malley might be thinking Chang was arrogant for saying his position instead of first and last name alone, as Barbe and Rabin had.

“It was embarrassing,” Chang said. “He was probably was just thinking, ‘Why does this third person feel the need to use his title?’”

Chang had the opportunity to correct O’Malley a year and a half ago when the two met again at a technology advancement conference.

Alumnus Dominic Watkins isn’t even a Dean — the name, this time — but he said he’s often mistaken for one as well. I know because I did it myself when I attempted to send a message to Dean Watkins, assistant director of the Office of Information Technology.

In an email, Dominic Watkins wrote, “I share a last name (Watkins) with one of the Deans at CP and I receive this persons emails all the time.”

— Rebecca Lurye


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