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 one gender because my learned female colleagues still dress pretty well, like headmistresses of elite but casual private academies: turtlenecks, slacks, jackets, business suits.
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 (OK, they’re New Balance).
It wasn’t always this way. Take a look at The Shadow from the 1970s when Rider faculty resembled movie professors. Elbow patches on corduroy jackets. Sweater vests. Some bow ties.
These gentleman-scholars often used the word R-E-S-P-E-C-T to support their sartorial choices; respect for the students, the profession, the knowledge.
“At a minimum,” wrote Dr. Robert Weissberg, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois-Urbana, “dressing well informs students that one is serious about classroom responsibilities.” He even polished his wingtips.
OK, Professor Weissberg may have retired before texting became a classroom fixation, so he may not realize that today students will not notice if he is wearing wingtips or lime-green Crocs.
Still, I can’t buy the three justifications of slobber scholars:
1. It puts the students at ease if the professor wears a hoodie pulled up over a baseball cap. 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 Steve Jobs.
3. It is only right that the individual professor should break away from stifling conventions and let his own blooms blossom. My answer: In conforming scrupulously to the uniform of a barfly, you yourself are as oppressed as a Roman galley slave.
Mark Twain said it wisely: “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
Dr. Thomas Simonet
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