Face Time with Dean Lorraine Branham


By Christina Levin

You’ve seen her walking through the hallways of Newhouse III, welcoming parents on accepted students days, and waltzing through the quad. Lorraine Branham has held the position of dean of the Newhouse School for the past three years, yet she still remains a mystery to many of us. But after chatting with her, we realized: Deans, they’re just like us! They eat half-gallons of butter pecan ice cream and chip the paint on their nails and want to buy a Caribbean island! Don’t believe us? Read on.

Where did you work before coming to Syracuse? I came here from the University of Texas at Austin, where I was the director of the school of journalism. I was there for six years after a 25-year career in the newspaper business.

Why did you apply for dean of the Newhouse School? Actually, I didn’t start out wanting to become dean of Newhouse. I was in Texas, I loved Austin, I loved my job, and I was having a lot of fun. At first I said no, because I wasn’t interested in moving to the frozen north.

Weather aside, Syracuse has some other downsides. Do you get frustrated dealing with the infamously annoying “Newhouse parents”? Not really. And I’m fortunate in many ways, because there are other people who they have to go through to get to me. [laughs] But they worry about things, you know, like, why, my child’s been out for six months and they don’t have a job. We have a great career center, but we’re not a placement service. The students have to take some responsibility themselves.

What’s your most embarrassing habit? Sometimes, I’m just too busy to get my nails done. I look down, and I’m like, “Oh, my God, my nails are all chipped up, and they look awful.” And I’m like, “I can’t run around representing Newhouse school with chipped nails.” [laughs] So I will insist. You know, I’ll get to my hotel and say, “What’s the closest place I can get my nails done?” But I never really do any wild colors, except on my toes.

Guilty pleasure? Probably ice cream. Butter pecan. I try not to eat it too much, but every once in a while, I’ll just buy a half a gallon. And in a week, it’s gone.

Coffee or tea? Coffee. For years, I did not drink coffee, and everybody in the newspaper business drank coffee. I was working nights – the 4 p.m. to midnight shift – so for while, I drank it black because my deputy drank it black, and he would do the coffee runs. He was like, “I don’t have the time to get cream and sugar for you!”

What’s the last recurring dream that you had? You know, it’s so weird that you should say that, because I haven’t had it in a while. But for most of my life, I had this weird recurring dream where we used to have those air raid drills. And we all have to go down into the basement and wait until it was safe for us to go back, because we were waiting for a nuclear bomb to be dropped on us by the Soviet Union.

The last thing you do before you go to bed, and the first thing you do when you wake? The last thing I do before I go to bed is kiss my husband goodnight, and the first thing I do in the morning is put on the TV, turn to CNN, and see if the world has blown up while I was asleep.

Tell me the #1 item on your bucket list. Well, I still haven’t visited Africa.

If you could be any type of candy, it would be… Peeps. I love them. I always buy a whole pack and eat the whole thing every Easter, but just one – only the yellow ones. I don’t like the pink ones.

If you won the lottery, what’s the first thing you would buy? Maybe I’d buy a small island in the Caribbean.

How would you characterize your college self? I was probably a different kind of student, because I got married when I was in college and I had a child. So I was not like my friends in college, because they were like all typical college students. And I was a mother and a wife. So my responsibilities and my ability to get involved in campus activities were very constrained. I was the student who, when everybody else was partying, I was going home to make dinner for my husband and child.

Do you regret that you didn’t get to enjoy that college scene and party? I always encourage other students – you know, don’t do that! [laughs] Enjoy your college life, have fun, take advantage of it. You only get that opportunity once. When you grow up, you will regret that you really didn’t make the most of that time.

How do you spend your spare time now? Somebody warned me when I came here, that if I were going to make it through the winters, I needed to take up winter sports. So we go snowshoeing. The terrain around here is truly beautiful.

Where do you see yourself in five years? Well, I’ll still be Dean. [laughs] At least, I hope I’ll still be dean!

What did you find most surprising about Dean Branham? What do you think her recurring dream about the Soviet Union air raid means? Comment below.