(VIDEO) After 54 years, Bill Dean is officially retired from Texas Tech – but he’s not done yet.
When Bill Dean started teaching, students took notes in their Big Chief writing tablets as he lectured. Then, in turn, came the advent of the chalkboard, overhead projector and PowerPoint. Last year, he taught his first fully online course.
A Texas Tech University alumnus, Dean has taught journalism and mass communications at his alma mater for 54 years. Through that time, he's educated the children and even grandchildren of his own former students. Outside the classroom, Dean served 40 years as executive director of the Texas Tech Alumni Association, 35 years as an adviser for the Phi Delta Theta fraternity – “that's why I don't have any hair,” he jokes – and nearly 25 years as a sponsor for Saddle Tramps.
Over nearly six decades, Dean has become an institution within the institution. But now, he says, it's time to step back.
Yesterday, Dean was an associate professor in the College of Media & Communication. Today, he's a retiree – at least on paper – but that doesn't mean he's walking away entirely.
“I'm not the type that's gonna sit on the front porch and rock,” he chuckles.
Raised to be a Raider
Throughout Dean's life, he's had three distinct interests: journalism, baseball and history. So, perhaps it's fitting that he's had the opportunity to participate so directly in all three, their threads weaving into one another all the way through his story.
Dean was born Dec. 18, 1937, in St. Mary's of the Plains Hospital – Café J today. It might go without saying that he grew up in a very different Lubbock. At that time, 34th Street marked the city limit to the south. The world seemed smaller, then, and many parents allowed their children more freedom than children know today.
Dean was used to traveling around town on his own. When he wasn't in school, he worked mornings at his father's car lot on Avenue J, went home for lunch, then caught a bus to spend his afternoons playing baseball at the Lubbock Boys Club.
“The rest is kind of history,” he says.
He played in American Legion leagues and for Lubbock High School. But, while baseball was his first love, it wasn't his only passion.
The Dean family lived on 20th Street within plain sight of Texas Tech – known then as Texas Technological College. Their next door neighbor was Charles Guy, the longtime editor of the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal newspaper. The hours he spent listening to Guy, Dean says, shaped his early interest in journalism. As a junior at Lubbock High School, he began writing for the school newspaper.
Dean was a natural leader. He served as sophomore class president, student council vice president his junior year and president as a senior. Along the way, he became acquainted with a fellow Lubbock High student, a slightly nerdy-looking young man who performed country music in every school assembly. Dean, who was one year behind him in school, was not a close friend, but knew him as a nice guy. That young man's name, albeit misspelled, would become internationally recognized only a few short years later: Buddy Holly.
Upon winning a college scholarship sponsored by the Avalanche-Journal, Dean decided to major in journalism in college. And then he was given a baseball scholarship to boot, so after graduating from Lubbock High in 1956, Dean headed to Texas Tech.
Having grown up across the street from campus, Dean was already pretty familiar with the university – in a town Lubbock's size, most people were. And, like many Lubbockites, his parents were Red Raider Club members and avid sports fans.
And still, Dean arrived at Texas Tech more familiar with the college than many people, thanks to one particular friend. Allen Jones was the son of Edward Newlon Jones, better known as “E.N.,” the president of Texas Tech from 1952-1959. Notably, E.N. Jones was the last university administrator to live on campus in the President's Home.
“I got the rare opportunity to come into the President's Home and pal around there,” Dean recalls. “To most, it was kind of like a castle with a moat around it.”
Dean settled into college life. He lived at home, since it was so close, but he spent most of his time on campus. He played baseball; pledged the Phi Delta Theta fraternity, quickly rising to an officer position; and joined the student council. He signed onto the campus newspaper staff and became the Toreador's sports editor.
Campus was very different then. The total student enrollment that fall was 8,566. Many of the buildings we know today didn't exist, and others had different purposes. Today's Maddox Engineering Research Center had not yet been built. The smaller building behind it, which houses the National Wind Institute, used to be the Journalism building. That's where Dean attended journalism classes until switching to a major in the College of Business, which was in the Administration building.
He continued adding to his resume as a member of the Press Club, Delta Sigma Pi, the Newman Club, All-College Recognition Service and Sigma Delta Chi. He was selected for Who's Who Among American Colleges and Universities and voted Senior Favorite. As student body president, Dean crowned the 1960 Homecoming queen and was one of a half-dozen campus representatives to flip the switch for the very first Carol of Lights.
“I did pretty well academically except for the sciences,” Dean remembers. “I struggled in biology – I was so glad to get out of there with a C, but I also had to take zoology, and that was a disaster. I said, ‘If I ever get out of this class with a passing grade, I will never go into the Science building again.'”
Learning to teach
After graduating in 1961 with his bachelor's degree in marketing and a minor in journalism, Dean joined the U.S. Army Reserve. It required a six-year commitment, but only six months on active duty, so it was a better alternative than joining the Army outright or waiting to be drafted – both of which likely meant a ticket to Vietnam.
After completing active duty, Dean returned to Texas Tech intending to work on a master's degree in secondary education. Then, out of the blue, the Lubbock Independent School District came calling. The journalism teacher at Lubbock High had resigned, and they wanted Dean to take over – after all, he'd been class president and on the newspaper staff only five years earlier. But taking the job required him to get a teaching certificate, so, in the fall of 1962, he began teaching by day and taking classes by night to get first his certificate and then his master's degree.
For the next four years, he taught journalism and directed the newspaper and yearbook. Even then, he stayed close to Texas Tech, taking his students to the workshop offered each year through the Department of Journalism.
“I look back on those days as some of the greatest times I've ever had,” he says. “I wasn't married, so I devoted an enormous amount of time to that job, and of course, when you're dealing with a school newspaper and a yearbook, there's a lot of extra hours involved in that, but I loved it. I had great students, and we had really good publications.”
Outside of school, Dean was still involved in baseball. After two summers playing in semi-professional leagues, he opted for coaching younger players in the Colt Leagues. But one of those players had a scheme to shake up Dean's bachelor life. One day, the teenager pointed out his older sister in the stands. Peggy Clark was a huge baseball fan who attended all their games, and, as the boy told Dean, “She makes really good ice cream.”
The Clarks invited Dean to their home and, “one thing led to another.”
A legacy begins
While Dean loved his job at Lubbock High, he had his heart set on coaching high school baseball, too, so when the brand new Coronado High School opened in 1966, he applied. Coronado, it turned out, wasn't looking for a baseball coach who could also coach football – they preferred the other way around – but Coronado's principal wanted to hire Dean anyway, as student activities director. So in April 1966, he started a new job at Coronado.
It was a whirlwind few months. Coronado, which had been open since September, did not yet have a school song, fight song or school constitution. Dean teamed up with the band and choir director to create them, laying the groundwork for much of the school's identity.
That summer, he and Peggy tied the knot. Newly married and in a new job, it seemed like he might settle in at Coronado for the long haul. But halfway through the following school year, another unexpected opportunity dropped in his lap.
Texas Tech's Director of Student Publications took another job. With Dean's background, not only in the journalism department but also teaching student publications, he was offered the job.
“Sure,” the department chair told him. “You can teach this course called Introduction to Journalism.”
“It was a tough decision, because I loved Coronado, and I didn't want to leave,” Dean explains, “but there was a little difference in the salary. It wouldn't look like much today, but in those days, it was a huge difference. And you have to think about your future – I was married, so I took the job, and moved forward from there.”
Another factor weighed into his decision as well: Dean wanted to teach students.
Dean has been teaching that course – later renamed Introduction to Mass Communications, and now Foundations of Media and Communication – for 54 years straight.
After 11 years leading student publications, Dean joined the Ex-Students Association, now known as the Texas Tech Alumni Association, as its executive director. Nearly a decade earlier, the Ex-Students Association had begun officing out of the former President's Home. So, Dean returned to one of his childhood hangouts to find a second-floor bedroom transformed into his office.
As Dean explains, the Alumni Association's main job is like that of a farmer: planting seeds with alumni by keeping them connected to Texas Tech once they leave, and helping those seeds grow.
“We're friend raisers for the university,” he says. “We go all over the place and have chapter meetings, we publish a magazine, we have a big social media presence. We give 500 scholarships a year. So, we promote the university and try to connect our alumni to the university and keep them informed about what's going on.”
The results of those seeds are eventually cultivated by Institutional Advancement, when alumni give back to Texas Tech.
“It's just trying to promote the growth of Texas Tech, pure and simple,” Dean says.
And he did.
The President's Home was expanded into the Merket Alumni Center in 1997 and again in 2008 to become the McKenzie-Merket Alumni Center. Dean had made such a difference during those years that the Alumni Association's national board named part of the expansion the Peggy and Bill Dean Grand Reception Hall.
A decade later, Dean retired from the Alumni Association as its president and CEO after 40 years of service.
Through it all, he kept teaching – although that's an understatement. He received the President's Teaching Award for Excellence twice and the Faculty Distinguished Leadership Award. By a student poll, he was awarded Best Teacher at Texas Tech 14 times.
He witnessed the Department of Journalism, with its four professors, grow into the School of Mass Communications and now the College of Media & Communication. He's moved buildings twice to accommodate that growth. In 2017, he was given the college's first Lifetime Service Award.
But the passing years also have shown growth in a different way.
“I've had lots of legacies in class,” Dean laughs. “It started a while back. A student would say, ‘My mother told me to tell you to give me an A in this class.' I'd ask, ‘Who's your mother?' and they'd reply, ‘She had you.' And now, even ‘My grandfather had your class.' You know, 54 years, that's kind of logical.
“It makes me feel old, but it is a neat connection.”
His 35-year coaching career is long past now, but Dean is still a regular at Texas Tech baseball games. Fellow fans often take selfies with him.
He's continued to serve as adviser for the Saddle Tramps and Phi Delta Theta throughout the years. He suspects that one of those two groups – he's not sure which – is responsible for the spoof social media account in his name.
As he's had to explain to many people over the last decade, “Do you think I have a Twitter account called ‘Dr. Dean, Sex Machine?' No.
“This has been going on about 10 years, so obviously, it's being passed on,” he adds. “I thought about getting it stopped, or trying to get it stopped, but from what I'm told, it's funny, they don't cross the line, and people seem to enjoy it.”
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Then and now
Dean's office on the fourth floor of the Media & Communication building highlights pieces of his life and career. Baseball bobble heads wait expectantly on the bookshelf beside volumes on communications and public relations. Framed diplomas and recognitions hang on the wall, along with a framed Saddle Tramps shirt. A Bible rests on his desk within an easy arm's reach.
His large picture window overlooks a campus that looks nothing, today, like when he first set eyes on it.
“People come back from my period and think, ‘Good grief, where am I? Where are all the buildings I used to go to?'” he chuckles.
The 8,500 students of his first year now number more than 40,000. Technology wise, the campus is light years ahead of where it was when he began teaching.
But one thing has never changed.
“We have students with a very strong work ethic,” Dean says. “I think our graduates are taught while they're here that they don't know it all – it's not all in the book, it's not all in the lecture. When you get on the job, if your workday starts at 8, get there at 7:30 and stay until 5:30, and apply yourself to the task – and don't think you're going to be asked to run the company the first week you're there. The indications we get are that our students are very employable, they're very adaptable and they have a strong work ethic. And that has never changed. This is West Texas. This is Texas Tech.”
While Dean attributes part of that spirit to the students from rural communities who are raised on a strong work ethic, he also recognizes that ability in students from big cities and suburbs, alike, who come to Texas Tech and assimilate into the culture.
“I think this is the best university in the state to get an education, because the faculty cares and they instill strong work habits,” Dean says. “Students come out of here with a very solid education, prepared to go forward, and they're accomplishing some great things, as we all know.”
‘54 years is probably long enough'
Dean, for his part, knows a little bit about caring faculty members.
“I had an education professor named Dr. Cary Southall – he said something that resonated with me and has for forever,” he says. “Don't forget: you're teaching students. You're teaching subject matter, yes, but you're also teaching students. And that's important.”
It's also one reason he's taught a full load of classes for so long. But after nearly five and a half decades, he's ready to lighten that load. He's officially retired, as of today, but he's not going anywhere yet. He's not packing up his things or moving out of his office, because he'll be back in the fall to teach Foundations of Media and Communication, just as he's done every year since 1967.
It's not only Dean's age that prompted his decision to retire – the challenges of COVID-19 certainly played a role, as did the sheer volume of paperwork involved in teaching four classes. Plus, now five years after undergoing major back surgery, Dean doesn't get around as easily as he once did.
“I'm not getting any younger,” he says. “And 54 years is probably long enough.”
But he's also not ready to leave education entirely – in part because it's had just as much of an impact on his life as he's had on others'.
“It's been a great joy to me; I've enjoyed every minute of it,” he says, his voice momentarily constricted with emotion. “Yes, I've had to deal with some problems. I've had some jugheads to deal with from time to time, but most of it's been very, very rewarding.”
During his 54 years, he estimates he's taught close to 40,000 students, many of whom went on to become pillars of their community – state and national legislators, actors, performers, television stars, professional athletes, bank presidents and even fellow educators.
But asked what his legacy will be, Dean shakes his head.
“I'll leave that to someone else to figure out,” he says.