Sunday, February 10, 2008

Do Clothes Make the Professor?

Instapundit links to an article at Inside Higher Ed where the writer, Erik Jensen, calls for a uniform dress code for professors:
Faculty members shall, when on college grounds or on college business, dress in a way that would not embarrass their mothers, unless their mothers are under age 50 and are therefore likely to be immune to embarrassment from scruffy dressing, in which case faculty members shall dress in a way that would not embarrass my mother.

That’s it. Brevity works. Unlike good clothing, a statute can’t cover everything.

Anyway, this is just a draft: Maybe your mother is better than mine for this purpose; the phrase “my mother” probably doesn’t work for a statute of general application; perhaps the key age for mothers should be 70 (80?). Whatever figure is used, it will have to be adjusted periodically to capture changes (downward) in mothers’ (other than my mother’s) standards.

So change what you wish, and then interpret the UUC reasonably. When in doubt about appropriate dress, check what people used to wear: it’s usually safe, as Arthur Benson noted, to dress in the “style-before-last.” For men, Fussell’s default rule works: “You can’t go wrong with the classic navy blue blazer and khakis.”

Sanctions for violators? I guess not. I’d like to take ‘em to the cleaners, but you’d wind up with idiots charging breaches of academic freedom. At a minimum, however, violators ought to be dressed down in public for dressing down in public.
He also devotes an entire section to ties, which he thinks are important (for men, at least).

After reading the whole thing, I (along with more than a few of the commenters to the post) am having trouble deciding whether the guy is serious or not. But either way, some of the comments are enlightening, and many are amusing. Here's a sample:
  • "I am OK with a law professor dressing in a suit. After all, they make the $100,000k+ that enable them to afford dry cleaning. If we are such a middle class profession, then maybe we should make middle class wages."--rml

  • "I think requiring a tie is a bit much. Before working in academia I had to wear a white shirt and tie every single day. Guess what I do not ever wear now?

    I think it also depends on the discipline someone teaches. I don’t thi8nk I could take a business prof seriously wearing jeans nor an art prof in a suit."--Jeff

  • "I sincerely hope that this treatise was written tongue planted firmly in cheek. We in the Art Department believe in substance over style. I can visualize the pottery instructor being found dead because his tie got caught in the potter’s wheel, or my constant replacement of ties because the tie dips into the fixer in the darkroom thus ruining the developer when it dips into that chemical. The painter could, I guess, use the tie to apply paint in a creative new way or after several semesters the professor could just frame the ties and call them Expressions on the Milieu of Fashion. Not every professor teaches in a lecture hall. We teach in studios where it gets a little messy from time to time. Please do not paint me with your ideas of style over substance. "--Don Bevirt

  • "I never understood why tying a rag around your neck is considered good looking. It baffles me. I care more about a person’s productivity and attention to detail then if they are wearing a tie or not. I hope that I am judged and evaluated not by my appearance, but the work I do. This whole dress code thing is SO superficial and outdated."--Jim

  • "If indeed 50% of college courses are taught by adjuncts making 50% per course of the income of a tenured professor, how exactly are those underpaid teacher-slaves supposed to pay for the same attire that well-paid businessmen and businesswomen can afford?"--get a grip
You get the idea. (And certainly there were plenty of commenters who seemed to agree with the author--assuming he was serious--that professors should always look like this, but I posted a good sampling of the ones with which I agreed.)

As a music professor, I'm not usually expected to dress like, say, a law professor; indeed, if I showed up to rehearsal in a coat and tie, the students would probably either laugh or be concerned about who died. (They probably wouldn't think I had a gig, since the attire for that tends to be all-black these days.) I tend to fall squarely in the "substance over style" camp, and I'd hate to be judged on attire alone (click the "Dress Codes" link at the bottom of this post for my previous thoughts on this subject). But I usually take a middle ground anyway, clad in khaki pants (OK, usually with cargo pockets--sorry, Mom!) and a button-down shirt or at least a polo. And while you might catch me in Birkenstocks or the like on a really warm day, I'm usually in those half-dressy, sneaker-soled things that look like bowling shoes. (As I've said before, I'm very thankful that someone came up with shoes that look nice on top without destroying one's feet in the process.) I'm probably not the best-dressed male prof in my department, but I'm by no means the most dressed-down one either.

So I'd venture a guess that most everyone who reads this blog has at least attended college. Did what the professor was wearing ever enhance or detract from what he/she was trying to teach? If so did it make a difference in what department he/she was teaching? Would an overdressed professor in the arts arouse suspicion, or should everyone go back to the "tweed jacket with elbow patches" look? Fire away in the comment section.

Blowing out the candles: Happy 7th birthday to my oldest nephew, Noah. An account of the morning of his birth can be found here.

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