Dean Dad unmasked

November 20, 2012

Matt Reed at his deskMatt Reed, vice president of Academic Affairs

By day, Matt Reed is a mild-mannered community college administrator. By night, and on weekends, he is a mild-mannered, married suburban father of two. When he sits down at his computer to write his blog, however, he becomes . . . Dean Dad.

Or, at least, he used to.

While not exactly a caped crusader, Reed is definitely a sort of crusader. His mission -- improve higher education. Since 2004, Reed, HCC's vice president of Academic Affairs, has been writing a blog called "Confessions of a Community College Dean" under the pseudonym "Dean Dad." Earlier this month, to coordinate with the upcoming release of a new book, he finally revealed his true identity to readers in the online magazine, Inside Higher Ed.

Reed's book, "Confessions of a Community College Administrator," published by Jossey-Bass, will be released in January.

"With my own name out there," Reed wrote in his Nov. 13 column "Hi," in which he introduced himself, "I hope to be able to participate more fully in the public conversation about higher education and its future."

Reed started writing the blog while he was liberal arts dean at the County College of Morris in New Jersey in 2004. Blogs were starting to catch on. He found, though, that most blogs about higher education were written by grad students or young faculty members who seemed to subscribe to the idea that college administrators were all "money-grubbing, parasitic, greedy robber barons."

"I thought, I can see what they're getting at, but that doesn't describe me," Reed says, looking back. "It doesn't describe anyone I know and it doesn't describe the way decisions get made in any place I've ever been, so I decided, you know, I have something to contribute to this discussion."

So, he created his alter ego and began posting columns to "Confessions of a Community College Dean" caught the attention of Inside Higher Ed, which started running it in 2007. He's been writing ever since.

The use of "Dean Dad" as his pseudonym was a very deliberate choice, Reed says, to bring attention to the idea that balancing a full-time job as a college administrator and a home life was not just a women's issue. "Men, my age and younger, have wives who expect us to be fully present at home and be active parents," said Reed, who is 44. "We can't get away with the kinds of things our dads did. Workplaces still assume there's a full-time person at home, and I think that blind spot needs to be addressed. In perhaps a clumsy way it was an attempt to sort of make a political statement that we're all three dimensional and parents have complicated lives, not just mothers."

Now, however, the alias has outlived its usefulness.  Over the years, Dean Dad has turned down invitations to speak at higher education conferences because there was no practical way to go and maintain his anonymity. Once, though, he did participate by speaker phone, feeling a little, he wrote in one column, "like Charlie from Charlie's Angels."

"That was both cool and ridiculous," Reed says.

He didn't want his book to be discredited based on the anonymity of the author, so the time was right for the big reveal.

In the blog, Reed has always co-mingled discussions about higher education with anecdotes from family life. Frequently occurring characters are The Wife, a.k.a., TW, The Boy (TB) and The Girl (TG), otherwise known in their Agawam home as Carolyn, Kyle, 11 and Jessica, 8. Though he has given up his own anonymity, he plans to continue the pseudonyms for his family.  

"When they grow up, I don't want the first results of an employer's internet searches to be cute stories I wrote about them in elementary school," Reed wrote.

The scene of one of his favorite columns was the locker room of the Bartley Center (unidentified, of course), about the awkwardness when someone came in to talk business while he was getting dressed. "A lot of readers wrote in and said, 'yea, it is awkward when I see my college president or my dean in the gym.' That's part of the experience."

Reed describes the upcoming book as sort of field guide for new college administrators, who, like him, have moved up from faculty into an administrator's role. Reed taught political science (he holds a PhD from Rutgers) at both County College of Morris and DeVry University. He came to HCC in 2008. "Let's say a faculty member moves into a dean's role. What should they expect to see and how should they handle it? Here's what I've seen. If you can find something useful in that and avoid some of the rookie mistakes, then great."

"Confessions of a Community College Administrator" (176 pages, $36) by Matthew Reed can be preordered from Jossey-Bass.

"I wanted it to be short and cheap," Reed said. "It is short and I hope the Kindle version will make it cheap."

Photos: Matt Reed, the blogger formerly known as Dean Dad, in his office at HCC.


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