Updated: Jan 10
Benjamin D. Cox is the esteemed Dean of Ambrose College's Faculty of Law. Before he became the Dean, he was a Professor who taught various Ethics courses at Ambrose.
The Dean sees Sam as a nail that needs to be hammered down, while Sam finds the Dean to be beyond irritating and a control freak, especially with how the Dean is concerned with more than just getting him to pass his classes.
The Dean is a “moralist” who wants to “help” Sam by moulding him into what he thinks a “normal” student should be. He wants him to join the football team (although Sam is not athletic and doesn’t want to), go to church and join a Protestant Bible study group (although he knows Sam’s an atheist from a Jewish family), etc. The Dean subconsciously sees his beliefs and preferences as the “law” the students should obey.
What angers Sam the most is that Dean Cox has an an implicit bias against non-Anglo immigrants and their second-generation children. Dean Cox represents the how law school was at the time (during the 1920s) an “old boy network” dominated by rich Anglo-descended families who have been in the USA for at least 5 generations. Dean Cox’s family has been in the US since the Mayflower and he can trace his ancestry back to the original settlers and colonies of the 17th century.
Sam, as we know, is a second generation American with Yiddish-speaking, atheist, left-leaning Russian-Jewish immigrant parents. He grew up in a mixed class neighbourhood dominated by Jewish and Italian (mostly Sicilian) immigrants. He is proud of his Russian-Jewish-American identity and his Yiddish language.
Dean Cox, however, is someone who implicitly thinks most immigrants should totally assimilate and leave non-English languages and cultures behind to “become true Americans.” This is in spite of the Dean's claims that he is open-minded towards all cultures.
Scroll to the bottom of this post to read more about the Dean's family life and why he is the way he is.
Watch this podcast episode to learn more about his background and psyche:
The Dean's Family Life
The Dean - or Ben, as he was known before he became the Dean - grew up in a cold and unloving home. His father was a Presbyterian pastor who was a part of the "Third Great Awakening." A social conservative who preached against social and moral "ills" such as alcoholism, gambling, and lust, Ben's father was well known for his "fire and brimstone" lectures about salvation, sin, and Godliness. He was a part of the Social Gospel movement as well, which applied Christian ethics to social problems, such as crime, racial tensions, slums, lack of unionization, fatherless homes, poor schools and economic inequality. A postmillennialist who was obsessed with the Second Coming, Ben's father often talked about the perils of sin.
Despite his strictness, however, Ben's father secretly struggled with alcoholism. Severely depressed and anxious, Ben's father eventually committed suicide when Ben was 16 years old, a year before Ben suffered a life-altering spinal injury from horseback riding. Ben was able to walk again (albeit with a slight limp) within a year or so, but he never regained his potency, something that haunts him to this very day.
Ben became interested in the intersection between morality, religion, and ethics, and thus, went to law school to further his studies in this area. Unlike Sam and other law students, Ben always wanted to be an academic, not a lawyer. After he got his Bachelor of Laws, he went on to do a Master's Degree and then a PhD in morality, religion and ethics. While doing his Master's, he met his future wife, Doris, during a Bible study session at his church.
Doris and her family were impressed by Benjamin. He appeared to be the perfect suitor for Doris - religious, extremely well-read, and dedicated to his interpretation of Christian ethics and morality. Because he was ashamed of his impotency, Ben decided to double down on appearing like the perfect suitor - he told Doris and her parents that he had sworn not to kiss her until they were married, and that he was open to her parents chaperoning their dates, to make sure they would not be lead down the path of temptation.
Once Doris and Ben were wed, however, disappointment began to set in. Doris eventually figured out that not only was Ben impotent, but he was also not the best communicator. He would often lash out and argue with her when he didn't get his way, and tried to compensate for their lack of emotional and physical intimacy with church events and private Bible study.
Doris and Ben were not able to have any children. As such, Ben tends to see the students at Ambrose as his children. This is one of the reasons he tends to be nosy and ask too many questions about the students' personal life, at times (much to Sam's chagrin).