Professors Should Dress Like Professionals
By Robert Weissberg
Judged by the recent avalanche of autopsy-like books, American higher education appears troubled. Alleged evil-doers abound, but one culprit escapes unnoticed—the horrific sartorial habits of many of today’s professors. Don’t laugh. As Oscar Wilde brilliantly observed, only shallow people do not judge by appearances. Indeed, I would argue that much of what plagues today’s academy can be traced to an almost total collapse of sartorial standards. When I began my professorial career in 1969 the tweed sport coat and tie was more or less standard. Today, with all too few exceptions, “academic casual,” even jeans and tee-shirts is de rigueur. This slide has not been kind to life of the mind.
Many of the academy’s ills are traceable to diminished professorial authority. We often feel like “I don’t get any respect” Rodney Dangerfield: students day dream, ignore assignments, barely show up, cheat, gossip during class, and send text messages among other contemptuous behaviors. And not even entertaining lectures, grade inflation and dumbed-down syllabi seem able to restore the loss of respect.
I can tell Weissberg's an idiot even if he wears Armani.ReplyDelete
Maybe we should all dress in our academic robes and hoods, eh?ReplyDelete
I'd love that! It'd save me from worrying whether my shirt and pants match.Delete
Is this article tongue-in-cheek or not? I can't even tell. In any case, in addition to the fact that pretty much no one dresses up in any field anymore, I will vow here, in public, to dress better for work at such a time that my office and/or my classrooms are cleaned more than once every five years by the univ. Until then, I'm a wash-and-wear Harpy.ReplyDelete
Five, HH? I'm going on a decade without my office floor mopped or polished. My building was covered with cobwebs for five years, too. But more importantly, students can't get the classes they need to graduate, classrooms are overcrowded, and classes are now so big that it's impossible to know students' names. Meanwhile tuition goes up and up, and students go into deeper and deeper debt or are forced to drop out. Somehow I think all that's more offensive to them than bad professorial fashion.ReplyDelete
So I figured that article must be satire, too. I kind of liked the idea of a wardrobe stipend, but I can imagine the riots on the quads that would ensue if that's where university funds were directed. And rightly so.
My father, a professor of history, once told me that he stopped wearing bow ties to class because it scared the students.ReplyDelete
I think he was right.
I'm going to start wearing bow ties from now on.Delete
I've had more trouble commanding the respect of my students wearing suits than t-shirts and jeans (of course, if I do wear t-shirts, they usually have jokes from my field on them--I'm *that* kind of academic).ReplyDelete
I actually reported one fellow who was giving me a ton of crap in class to the Chair. For one, he didn't want to be in college and so was doing everything to break the rules he could and get thrown out. But for two, as he informed her, he assumed that I was like one of the nerds he beat up in high school because I dressed like the girls did (suits).
Um, "diminished professorial authority" is the result of an increasingly consumer-driven model of higher education, the lack of support for faculty on the part of deans and other admins, and a debilitating over-reliance on adjunct instructors by almost every college or university in the United States.ReplyDelete
But sure, let's make it about fashion and make it all the faculty's fault.
I worked at an institution that had a very rigorous western-business-attire dress code. I left after a year because it was a lousy school and a terrible place to work. One reason? The school as a whole cared way more about its appearance than about what sort of education its students were getting. Hell, the students were incidental.
I gotta confess, I'm torn about whether the author has a valid point or not. On the one hand, presentation is vital, but the need to get all spiffed up also depends on whether a prof has to demand respect from the class or whether the prof can command respect.ReplyDelete
For the most part, I don't have a problem commanding a class's attention; I stand six-foot-four, wear a red goatee, and sometimes terrify students. Still, I dress in business-casual clothes--Dockers pants, a button-down oxford shirt, lace-up shoes--to teach because I once had to, through a chain of circumstance, meet a class for the first time while wearing shorts, a tie-dye t-shirt, and sandals. The results were less than optimal. From that point onward, I was "that hippie guy."
Since then, I've made a point of dressing nicely during the semester, unless it's Halloween or the last day of class, in which case I bust out the black heavy metal t-shirts. So far, the Megadeth and Metallica shirts have gained very positive responses from my students. \m/ \m/
"stopped wearing bow ties to class because it scared the students"ReplyDelete
Sounds to me like a good argument for sticking with them.
Some professors, I think, benefit from a more professional appearance. Others, who carry a sort of authority (older, beefier, like me) can get away with more casual wear.ReplyDelete
I tend to think dressing up for the classroom is okay, and not a terrible imposition on me. I think treating the classroom a bit formally sometimes helps.
I agree. But I don't work in a "messy" discipline, such as art or something with chemicals or frog guts. I am an adult and a professional, so I dress like it--which in my area means nice pressed dockers, a nice dress shirt, and a tie but no jacket. After I injured a foot I got used to wearing sneakers, but I think I'll switch back to some nicer shoes.Delete
Maybe even more than that, authority is less physical and more mental. Sure if you're bigger and scarier than students you carry that, but I'm neither bigger nor scarier than my students.
However, my very first teaching gig was as a karate instructor. I was a 15 year old girl with a black belt. Respect did not come easy.
Of course, in that class, I could literally kick the 40 year old man's ass who wasn't giving me respect and it was completely legit.
Eventually I came up with a tone and persona that I suspect still says "I could kick your tea-partying ass" while seeming cheery and upbeat. I suspect this is still used in my classroom.
When I say I don't get any more shit from students wearing t-shirts and jeans and when I say I generally get LESS shit from students than other people in my department I mean it. I just don't think I could even begin to teach somebody how to DO what I do as far as classroom management goes.
I think there are different ways in which one signals authority. Dressing "professionally" is one. I rather like your method. I only got as far as green stripe so that's not too scary.Delete
Does anyone here respect your administrators as professionals more because they're always dressed in suits?ReplyDelete
Wearing suits is the way we identify the administrators.Delete
I look at their suits and envy their salaries, but no.Delete
My general reaction to the attire worn by the admins is to think to myself, "I bet the suit he's wearing cost more than I take home in a month..."Delete
There's one guy in my field (where we tend to dress down) who typically wears a suit and tie. He's a good guy and he knows his shit. But if you see him at a conference for the first time, you tend to think "who's the suit?" It doesn't last once you know him.Delete
The ideal is probably like interviews - dress one notch better than your audience.
I just want to say that Weissberg is cribbing from Charles Sykes' "ProfScam" (1989); he complained about sloppy profs, but he was more focused on ranting about how the Great Books were stabbed in the back by postmodernism. This article reads like somebody complaining about ugly drapes while Rome burns.ReplyDelete
I'm in Art History. The contemporary people are most wont to use post-xyz analytical frameworks and to look nice. Both habits progressively disintegrate for earlier periods. To sustain Rome's wellbeing, we should fear the well dressed.ReplyDelete
On my very first day of the job as a shiny, new, enthusiastic, youngish Accursed Visiting Assistant Professor, I wore a jacket and tie, and addressed students as "Mr." and "Ms." It didn't last: they told me it was "intimidating."ReplyDelete
What's missing is that judges have the authority to fine or put people in prison. I have the authority to... hmm... give them an F on a quiz they missed? Anyone see the difference in consequences here?ReplyDelete
Moreover, people USED to dress up because EVERYONE was dressing up. Professors weren't dressing up MORE than other people. Men wore hats and suits and ties and women wore heels and skirts. It was de rigueur.
Just imagine it--students will start coming to class regularly and on time, and they'll do the reading ahead of time and get their homework done. They'll take out their earbuds, stop tweeting and texting, actually pay attention, take notes, and all the rest.ReplyDelete
And all I've gotta do is put on a tweed coat with leather elbow patches, some dressy slacks, and wingtip shoes.
If only I had known.
Reminds me of one of my favorite RYS lines: "Aren't classic loafers some kind of fucking shoe?"ReplyDelete