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"Marge, somebody's sucked all of the life out of these kids! And unless TV has lied to me, it was a crusty, bitter old Dean!"
A Sadist Teacher
in charge of an entire educational institution. This guy hates the protagonist and his friends with a passion. He has the entire institution with its long history and dignified reputation on his side. Its arbitrary and ancient rules exist chiefly for him to abuse in his vendetta.
Dean Bitterman is a pompous and sour old killjoy who is opposed to the merest hint of fun. He believes that it cheapens the good name of the institution. However, don't expect this disdain to be evenly applied; he'll suck up shamelessly to wealthly parents
. He favors the children of alumni and big donors. He has no problem with letting them
get away with murder. He is quite blind to their obnoxiousness and malevolence
— and the fact they are much worse than the heroes would ever be. In lay terms, Double Standard
is on full display on his watch.
If you don't come from old money or have a trust fund, or even if you just happen to be in a fraternity that he disapproves of, then heaven help you.
The Dean Bitterman is the ideological nemesis of the High School Hustler
, who will make it a life mission to irritate the Dean and subvert his authority at every opportunity. Expect the Hustler
and his friends to be expelled at some point, only to take their elaborate revenge in the climax.
If Dean Bitterman is temporarily taking the place of a more likable character, then he is starring in a Tyrant Takes the Helm
story arc. The classic Dean Bitterman is found in colleges and universities. Sometimes he turns up at high schools.
In terms of rank, the Authority Tropes
arguably at the next step down are Badass Preacher
, Corrupt Corporate Executive
, Irish Priest
, Preacher Man
, Pedophile Priest
, Sinister Minister
, and The Vicar
. For the next step up, see Majorly Awesome
open/close all folders
Anime & Manga
- Similar to A Little Princess, Japanese drama Shokojo Sera has Mimura Chieko, the director of the school, who makes every living moment in Seira's life miserable. The "Bitterman" of the trope really stands out because Chieko was once classmates/friends with Seira's deceased mother and felt inferior compared to Seira's mother who was adored and kind to everyone. So she decides to take out her anger on Seira instead.
- Dean Vernon Wormer in Animal House. However, since the film is much more cynical than later Wacky Fratboy Hijinx films, he often comes across as a Villain With A Point, and the Deltas really are engaging in "pranks" that no sane college administration would tolerate.
Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.
- The Dean from Harold Lloyd's 1925 film The Freshman.
- Most teen comedies set in a college environment — including Van Wilder and PCU — feature deans of this nature. How much these comedies merely rip off Animal House is up to the individual viewer.
- Principal Dick Vernon in The Breakfast Club, although it's deconstructed somewhat in his conversation with the school janitor.
- Dean of Students Edward Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Though his hatred seems to be concentrated solely towards the title character and his friends.
- Appears with a twist in Old School — the Dean of the university in the movie is quite like this trope, but the reason he has such venomous spite towards the protagonists is because they bullied him when he was in college with them.
- Dean Richard Van Horne in Accepted is the polar opposite of Bartleby and his friends, as he discourages innovation and loosely regulated education. His personal belief is that a college's prestige is measured by how many applicants it rejects every year. Also, his motives for taking down the college have nothing to do with college honor or any of that. He just wants the property so he can demolish it and give his own school a gateway.
- Principal Strickland, in Back to the Future, has reached the zen apotheosis of this trope, to the point that he looks and acts exactly the same across a thirty-year timeframe. Apparently, a sufficiently single minded hate of students is the key to immortality. It runs in the family since the adventure games star his sister Edna, a stuck-up prude and Crazy Cat Lady that goes on to turn Hill Valley into a police state in another timeline..
- Dean Martin, in Back to School, does not fit this trope. However, his sympathy for Rodney Dangerfield's character is undermined by the machinations of evil department head Dr. Barbay.
- Dean Yeager in Ghostbusters. This dean actually wins, and fires the paranormal researchers, forcing them to go into business as the Ghostbusters. Significantly every prediction he made turned out to be right. As it is, ghostbusting remained a wildly unregulated and un-systematic venture.
- Dean Walcott in Patch Adams is not only a despotic bully over his medical students, but goes the extra mile by treating patients like scum as well.
- Played straight to the extent that he actually tries to discipline Patch on grounds of "excessive happiness". As the movie is at least somewhat based on a real story, arguably a case of Truth in Television.
- Mr. Nolan from Dead Poets Society.
- Averted by Dean Ulich of Adams College in Revenge of the Nerds. He's a Reasonable Authority Figure but, being a nerd like the protagonists, he's bullied by the Jerk Jock head football coach, until he finally asserts his authority at the end of the film.
- The third film has a new dean, who was the head of the Alpha Beta fraternity (i.e. jocks) in the first film. He definitely fits the bill until the end of the film, when his inner nerd comes out. The character is a full-blown nerd in the fourth film.
- Principal Elliot T. Jindrake from Max Keeble's Big Move.
- Dean Phil Elias in Necessary Roughness isn't satisfied with the NCAA sanctions stripping down the football program; he's determined to do whatever he can to terminate the program outright, and comes close to succeeding. (It also doesn't help the team that the professor he's got the hots for is dating QB Paul Blake, who's about as old as he is.) Fortunately for the team — and unfortunately for Elias — the president of Texas State University is a football fan (and played by Fred Thompson, by the way), and Dean Elias gets his comeuppance after Blake calls a sideline play that results in Elias getting flattened.
President Carver Purcell: By the way, you're fired.
- Sister Aloysius, played by Meryl Streep in the film Doubt certainly counts as one. The film involves her going against a friendly and likeable priest who may or may not be molesting his alter boys, which is contrasted by her dominating and tyrannical control over the school. She is uncommonly harsh and controlling of the student body which is uniformly afraid of her. Even her own teachers are controlled very tightly and appear very nervous and uneasy around her. When another nun confronts her about this, she merely smiles, shrugs, and replies, "That's the way it is." Even the priest she's rallying against accuses her of holding the school and parish back from "Progressive education and a welcoming church" in their final speech together.
- Dean Richmond from The Nutty Professor movies qualifies along with Mean Boss, considering most of his behavior towards Sherman.
- Bonus: This character is played by Larry Miller, who also played Dean Elias from Necessary Roughness, as mentioned above. Larry Miller has made a career out of playing this sort of authority figure.
- Dean Alan Halsey of The Re-animator is initially a nice enough fellow but is corrupted by the nasty Dr. Hill into becoming a jerk. Then he's killed by zombies, re-animated and becomes even more of a nightmare to work with.
- Principal Frank Hockenberry in Principal Takes A Holiday is portrayed as evil for trying to keep a student named John Scaduto in line. Yes, his school wasn't as fun as Fitz's, but a school's primary purpose is education, not fun. Of course, this is semi-justified in that nobody was learning while Hockenberry was in charge. Scaduto is portrayed as justified in doing things that are downright illegal (like hiring an actor to impersonate a principal).
- Actually, things do get out of control when Fitz encourages students to disregard the teachers' authority. He then gets on the PA again and tells the students need to learn for themselves.
- At the end of the film, the substitute principal whose delayed arrival kicks off the impersonation scheme, is actually impressed with the changes made by Fitz. And this guy is claimed to be an expert on this trope. He apparently wrote a paper on student punishment.
- Katherine Brooks, principal of Queen's Academy in Anne of Avonlea. She turns out to be Sour Outside, Sad Inside and the title character manages to befriend her by the end of the film.
- Dean Hardscrabble of Monsters University fits into this role for the most part, though she's more of a Stern Teacher. While Mike and Sulley quickly get on her bad side early on in the film and she ends up expelling them in the end, she gives the two words of encouragement as they leave, telling them that they have at least managed to surprise her and hopes that they continue to do so. She also doesn't take it out on the rest of Oozma Kappa, letting them into the Scaring Program.
- Principal Mazur in A Goofy Movie wants to plan events during summer vacation that involve coming to school and learning. He also tells Goofy that Max was dressed like a gang member (actually a celebrity), and started a riot (actually just people having fun at an assembly due to his surprise music show), and says he'll be executed eventually, unless Goofy changes something about his parenting. To put it in perspective, this mindset is otherwise held only by the character who believes the proper way to raise a child is to bully him.
- Dean Pritchard of Old School is like this to the protagonists because he's the younger brother of a classmate of theirs, and they all used to pick on him when they were younger ... though his behavior to the other students in the fraternity, whose only "crime" is hanging out with the protagonists, and the student body president, who didn't even do that (and in fact did exactly what he wanted) makes him just a dick rather than a sympathetic figure in any way.
- In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Professor Snape — who has been promoted to headmaster of Hogwarts — in some ways meets this trope, particularly as there doesn't seem to be any kind of higher education after Hogwarts in the wizarding world. Of course, it's revealed he was acting this way so that, as the Reverse Mole, he could keep the really evil ones in the Death Eater-controlled school under control.
- He also subverts this slightly when he uses his position to prevent the torture and punishment of Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood for trying to steal the sword of Gryffindor. He officially punishes them, but he sends them out into the forest for detention with Hagrid, who would obviously not hurt them in any way. The other alternative would have been the Carrows who we're told use Crucio on their own students. This suggests that when he has the option, he gives the students mild, non-life-threatening punishments, while being unable to do much about the detentions that the Carrows give out personally.
- Of course, when Dolores Umbridge was in charge in the fifth book, the situation wasn't any better.
- Dr. Bledsoe from Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. He expels the narrator for revealing his rough past to the school's investors, brags that he'd let every black man hang if it meant he'd keep his position (despite being black himself), and goes on a Motive Rant about how power doesn't need to prove itself.
- Very similar example from a primary school setting, Agatha Trunchbull from the children's book Matilda seems to be this trope taken to its irrational extreme, as the headmistress inflicts acts of extreme and horrible violence and cruelty upon her young students, knowing their parents won't believe them.
- According to Dahl, Truth in Television. His biography Boy has many cruel headmasters who were unkind to students, such as caning them for cheating without evidence, and even leaving the door to their office open when caning so others could hear the boys' scream.
- Every single adult (with three exceptions) in The War Between The Pitiful Teachers And The Splendid Kids hates their students, which is unsurprising given that they all reside in a prison school for horrible teachers and smartass kids. They win(!), but not completely.
- Miss Minchin from A Little Princess enslaves Sara Crewe, whom she has always disliked, when the latter loses her fortune.
- Mr. Krupp of Captain Underpants who, due to brainwashing becomes the titular superhero whenever he hears fingers snapping.
- Older Than Radio: Mr. Brocklehurst from Jane Eyre, 1847. He is not only the headmaster but the treasury of a charity school for girls, and he appears to relish publicly humiliating the young women in his care for such horrific sins as having naturally curly hair. When his own wife and daughters troop in, however, they are shown to be elaborately dressed, completely with stylish false curls. Even worse, Brocklehurst's insistence on the lowest-quality food contributes heartily to a typhoid epidemic that kills a large portion of the student body.
- Miss Eulalie Butts, headmistress of the Discworld's Quirm College for Young Ladies in Soul Music, is a very mild example. She means well, she's just not really equipped either mentally or emotionally to deal with the likes of Susan Sto Helit, who refers to the Anthropormoric Personification most people know as "Death" with the term "Grandfather", more or less legitimately (her mother was Death's adopted daughter, and her father was Death's apprentice). Faced with situations she doesn't understand, Miss Butts tends to fall back on The Rules, of which she has rather a lot.
- J. J. Mc Habe of Up The Down Staircase. Although he essentially governs the high school, his official title is Administrative Assistant. He adds the abbreviation Adm. Asst. to his signature, prompting Miss Barrett to dub him Admiral Ass.
QuarkSnyder from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Vice Principal Gavin Price in Joan of Arcadia. Semi-averted in that the literal Word of God notes that Price isn't actually evil, he just doesn't understand kids.
- Parker Lewis of course had one of those — Grace Musso. And even she is considered better than Dr. Norman Pankow, director of the neighbouring school.
- Rowan Atkinson as the headmaster in the "Fatal Beatings" sketch, and the roll call sketch, which had use of Punny Names.
- Vice-Principal and later Principal Kraft from Sabrina the Teenage Witch.
- Mr. Woodman on Welcome Back, Kotter.
- Dr. Samuels on Head of the Class.
- Deputy Headmaster Mr Broson from Grange Hill.
- Ms Bitterman from Sonny With A Chance.
- Mr Howard and Mrs Briggs when they take over the school in an episode of iCarly.
- Dean Bowman from Greek. Made all the funnier as he's played by Cameron Frye.
- President Bates on 15/Love was often treated as this by the students, and did have a tendency towards allowing students like Sunny, who had major financial backing, to get away with murder. That said, he was really more of a Manipulative Bastard/Stern Teacher cross, and it showed.
- Dean Borak from Boy Meets World. He was actually played by Paul Gleason, the same actor who played the above-mentioned Principal Vernon in The Breakfast Club.
- Best of all, Dean Borak openly admitted that he was one of these: "Make no mistake about it, boys, I am a nasty, nasty man."
- Dean Craig Pelton in Community is normally a subversion of this, usually being more of a friendly but rather inept and slightly creepy and inappropriate administrator (particularly towards Jeff), but he had a go at this trope in "Biology 101" when the surreal antics that peppered the school prompted him to grow a goatee, wear a suit and start acting as more of an authoritarian. Unfortunately, he wasn't very good at that either, and it soon collapsed when he came into conflict with the Vice-Dean of the Air Conditioning Repair annex of his school... who turned out to wield considerably more power than him.
- Mr. Gilbert from The Inbetweeners - he openly despises his students and punishes them at every opportunity with an imposing sadism.
- Principal Caplan of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, despite being a Reasonable Authority Figure most of the time, could be this at times. He is especially quick-tempered when the episode needs a reason for (some of) the rangers to be unable to fight. Sometimes just accidentally bumping into him could warrant a detention.
- The video game Bully featured Dr. Crabblesnitch, the head of Bullworth Academy. Indeed, Jimmy actually did end up expelled near the end. Downplayed in that Crabblesnitch isn't so much evil as merely a bit deluded and clueless about precisely what's going on in his school.
- He was originally intended to be evil in development, however, but at some point, the creators decided to make him more of a clueless principal and given the right circumstances, a Reasonable Authority Figure.
- Dean Harding in the original Persona fits this trope to the T. He's nicknamed as Darth Harding at times. His original nickname in Japanese? "Vice Principal Hannya"
- By Persona2 Innocent Sin/Eternal Punishment, he's still a douchebag.
- Assistant Dean Abrahamson in Leisure Suit Larry: Magna Cum Laude.
- In The Saga of Tuck we meet the high school's Principal Nickerson, who thinks a suicide attempt is no reason to skip class and assigns detention accordingly.
- From the Whateley Universe, we have Amelia Hartford, who — despite not having the central administrative position — still influences quite a few student affairs. A genuine smile from her managed to seriously creep out her student assistant.
- Hartford has tried to get some of the protagonists expelled, and clearly gives the Alphas preferential treatment. She fits this trope really well. And she seems to be in a 'vice principal' position at Whateley Academy.
- The Professor Garfield site intro (which no longer plays automatically, but can still be found here) features a short, angry man whose nametag (which can be briefly seen) reads "Dean B."
- Dean Vernon in Futurama ("Robot Hooooooooouuuuuuusssee!")
- Trope name comes from Show Within a Show "School of Hard Knockers" featured in The Simpsons episode "Homer Goes To College" (1993), excerpting a prank pulled on 'Dean Bitterman' by two brothers of the wacky 'Chugalug House'. When Homer attends Springfield University, he assumes (or wishes) its laid-back Dean Peterson, who is a complete subversion, to be his nemesis:
Dean: Hi there! Hello, I'm Dean Peterson, but you can call me Bobby. I just want you to know if you ever feel stressed out from studying or whatever, I'm always up for some hackey sack. Or, hey! If you just want to come by and jam, I used to be the bass player for the Pretenders.
Homer: I can't wait to take some of the starch out of that stuffed shirt...
- A decade later, in "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can" (2003), Homer meets George Plimpton. He clearly hasn't learned his lesson.
Plimpton: Hello, I'm George Plimpton, founder of the Paris Review. I also played the evil dean in Boner Academy.
Homer: You monster! Why did you expel Boogerman!?
He replaced my Tennis
racket with a rubber phallus.
Homer: Heh-heh! That was awesome!
- Principal Seymour Skinner, of Springfield Elementary, can be one of these in his less sympathetic moments.
- Homer's high school principal, Mr. Dondelinger, was even moreso.
- And, of course, Skinner has his own Dean Bitterman in Superintendent Chalmers.
- Professor Rotwood, upon being promoted to Principal Rotwood, used his position shamelessly to torment title character American Dragon Jake Long. He was also the victim of pranks by the mundane student body, so...
- Rotwood is sort of in the same brotherhood as Crocker from Fairly OddParents, so really, it's only to be expected that no one really respects him, and that he'd go a little power-mad.
- Dean Toadblatt in the The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (Gunderstank house!).
- The Gromble qualifies this fully in Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, he's the headmaster of the monster academy.
- Mr. Lamar Bone from Doug, "One second late and it goes on your permanent record!"
- Principal Wartz of PS 118 from Hey Arnold!: He's the strict, yet open-hearted principal of the school. In the end of episode "Sid's Revenge" he gave Sid detention for bringing a bar of soap to school.
- Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones?: Principal Madman rules Polyneux Middle School with an iron fist, and it's just Robot's luck that he's also a raving technophobe.
- Ms. Monseratte from Growing Up Creepie. She's also Middlington School's official guidance counselor.
- The stuffy Wagon Train master from Party Wagon is a Wild West parody of this trope.
- Headmaster Grimm from Ever After High. It's implied he imprisoned his own brother in a secret library underneath the school because he threatened to defeat the purpose of his school. He's also way more sympathetic to the Royals, the school's "Rich Kids" for all intents and purposes.
- He's not without reasons, though: breaking away from the plot too much causes the characters to cease to exist. Or do they?
- Principal Prickly from Recess (although he does have his good moments).
- Daria: Principal Ms. Angela Li of Lawndale High School.
- Glenn Ponzi from Dude, That's My Ghost! is this to Spencer, he enjoys making his life miserable, he trys repeatedly to get him kicked out of the school, until he figures pit if he did he'd have no one to torment.
- Randy Pausch gave Animal House a Shout-Out in his famous Last Lecture when talking about a former boss by renaming him "Dean Wormer".