A trio of college professors have been trying to straighten out the confusion that has existed for the past two decades on the campus of Cal State Northridge.
Meet Dr. Robert Docter, Dr. Richard Docter and Dr. Ronald Doctor, three psychologists who collectively perplex CSUN students, faculty members and the general public.
"Everybody gets us confused. All the time," said Ronald Doctor. "Mail is always confused. Phone calls are confused. I don't know how many times I've had term papers where I'll look at it, start reading it and think, 'Where did this student come from?' "
On the third floor of the Sierra South building, his mailbox in the psychology department is right below Richard Docter's mailbox. They're labeled R. Docter and R. Doctor.
"I pasted an arrow saying Richard Docter, pointing to my box, but it doesn't do the trick," Richard Docter said. "I've had people write a paper for me and at the last minute, they get a little mixed up, and they put down Ronald Doctor on the paper, even if it's for me."
Across campus, in the educational psychology and counseling department, is the office of Robert Docter, who is Richard Docter's fraternal twin. Despite the distance, he is not immune to being mistaken for his brother or their fellow psychologist with the nearly identical last name. And the same goes for his mail.
One of his students once turned in a paper a little late, but by the time it was in the right hands, an incomplete mark had been recorded on her transcript.
"The paper showed up half a semester late in my brother's mailbox. We finally got it figured out," said the professor, who prefers to be called Bob Docter.
Even CSUN President James W. Cleary sometimes calls Richard Docter by his brother's name.
"He addresses me as Bob. I kind of take it as a compliment, because he has hundreds and hundreds of faculty members. The fact that he can get that close is far better than I could do," Richard Docter said.
Other colleagues also have trouble remembering who's who.
"They can't quite remember what my first name is. Some of them call me Richard or Ron," said Bob Docter.
Bob Docter, Richard Docter and Ronald Doctor try to clarify their identities but admit that they have fun perpetuating the confusion. The running joke on campus is that Richard Docter, 62, is Ronald Doctor's father. Some even refer to the trio as the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.
"On the first day of class, I try to straighten out who I am," said Richard Docter. Ronald Doctor, 52, added: "You get so tired of explaining that you are not related, so you just make a little fun of it."
And there is a fourth professor who sometimes adds to the confusion. Dr. Robert Dear, chairman of the psychology department, said his name sometimes gets muddled with the others.
"My mailbox is right by Richard Docter's, and so I get his mail and also mail for his brother since we have the same first names," Dear said. "There haven't been any major crises, but there have been a number of minor incidents."
The muddle goes back 21 years, when Ronald Doctor wrote to Richard Docter, who was then head of San Fernando Valley State College's psychology department, asking for a job. In the fall, the college, which would become Cal State Northridge in June, 1972, hired the new graduate of the University of Illinois.
The twin Dr. Docters were already on campus, so the mix-ups increased when Ronald Doctor arrived on the scene in 1969.
Earlier that year, Bob Docter had been elected to the Los Angeles City Board of Education and was earning a reputation as a consummate liberal. He opposed the use of corporal punishment in schools and strongly favored changes in state statutes to allow identification of a bargaining agent for teachers.
In 1976, when he was president of the board, Docter voted against appealing a Superior Court decision forcing the Los Angeles Unified School District to integrate their schools. The issue became a political football, and in 1977, he was defeated by antibusing activist Bobbi Fiedler.
"People would call my house wanting to talk to Robert Docter," Ronald Doctor said. "At parties, people would come up and start talking about the school board. A lot of times, people were very angry because he was a liberal. Fortunately, I was a liberal too."
Richard Docter also heard from members of the public seeking his notable brother and was even introduced a few times at events as Bob Docter.
Sons of Salvation Army ministers, Bob and Richard Docter (the last name is Dutch) are San Francisco natives, graduates of Fairfax High School (class of 1946) and U.S. Army Korean War veterans. Bob Docter received his bachelor's degree from UCLA and his master's degree and doctorate from USC. In 1960, he joined the staff at San Fernando Valley State College.