By Dr. Thomas Simonet
ESSAY QUESTIONS (choose one):
1. Analyze the impacts of the Napoleonic Code on the Holy Roman Empire.
2. How should a professor dress?
I think I’m going to try No. 2.
A professor should dress like a professor. Think how close the word “professor” is to “professional.” In our culture, that means tying a brightly colored piece of cloth around each man’s neck like a noose. I happily wear one almost every day. By contrast, most of my learned male colleagues dress as if they’re about to paint the garage.
(I am limiting my discussion to male professors, because learned female professors in my nonscientific observation still dress pretty well as they always have, like headmistresses of elite but casual private academies: sweaters, turtlenecks, slacks, jackets, with the occasional business suit mixed into the mix.)
My male brethren, on the other hand dress like undercover cops. We all know in what group undercover cops hope to curry favor. So, jeans that are “broken in.” No belts. Laundry-deprived flannel shirts. (The shirt must never be tucked in.) Sneakers.
Let me present an example of one of my learned colleagues:
Yes, the legs are nicely shaved. But you can actually identify the academic discipline of these dress-down scholars. Here, the trenchcoat indicates Law and Justice.
It wasn’t always this way. Just a couple of decades before any of today’s students were born, professors looked like my personal role model, the great Dr. Rick Turner, shown here in a photo from the 1975 Shadow:
Not everyone was this spiffy. But notice the touches of dapperness at Rider in the 1970s and ’80s in these photos of popular professors Gary Barricklow, Guy Stroh and Howard Schwartz:
They look like movie professors. No one would mistake these gentlemen for bankers. The elbow patches on the corduroy jacket were practically a uniform. Sweater vests, you couldn’t have too many. Profs’ clothes were often mussed or well-worn. A Rider graduate recalls one humanities professor she much admired: “He dressed like an unmade bed.”
So the previous generation looked like professors, which is what they were and what they wanted to be. They often used the word R-E-S-P-E-C-T in justifying their sartorial choices. Respect for the students, the profession, the knowledge.
“At a minimum,” wrote Dr. Robert Weissberg, professor of political science emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana, “dressing well informs students that one is serious about classroom responsibilities. If I can spend an extra hour before class matching ties and shirts, checking for stains, polishing my wingtips, combing my hair and all the rest, you can certainly pay attention.”
OK, Professor Weissberg probably retired before texting became the sole fixation of students in class, so he does not know that today no one will notice whether he wears wingtips or lime-green Crocs.
But we don’t have to abandon all of our dignity. Wouldn’t this computer professor get more freelance coding assignments if he just cleaned up his act?
I can’t buy the justifications of the slobber scholars and their three schools of thought:
1. It puts the students at ease if the professor wears a hoodie pulled up over a baseball cap as half the class does. My answer: You’re not a student. You’re the authority in the room.
2. A person should be judged by intellect, creativity and character, not such superficial qualities as classwear. My answer: You’re not a Silicon Valley millionaire.
3. It is only right and just that the individual professor be allowed to break away from stifling conventions and let one’s own blooms blossom. My answer: In conforming scrupulously to the uniform of a barfly, you yourself are as oppressed as a Roman galley slave.
Let me conclude with the wisdom of Mark Twain: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
To repeat, sounding more professorial: “Vestis virum facit.”