Teacher Faceoff: Dress down

        The times, they are a-changin’. Bob Dylan released that song in early 1964. You know what happened in 1964? There was as announcement about plans to build two skyscrapers in New York City. A little boy band from Liverpool first appeared on American television. U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry became the first government official to claim that smoking is dangerous to one’s health.
That’s interesting. If smoking is harmful to your health, I guess we shouldn’t smoke, right? Somebody better tell those pipe smoking professors in tweed jackets from the ’60s and ’70s. Go look in any old Rider yearbook. I found one picture of the former chair of the Philosophy Department, Professor Guy Stroh.
In his picture, he’s smoking a pipe. Well, he’s holding a pipe. I mean, I don’t see smoke, but I do see the deep ridges of a very professorial corduroy jacket albeit with no leather elbow patches, so I’m assuming I’d see smoke if it was there. If he’s not smoking, then why would he have a pipe?
The pipe is just a decorative accessory. Maybe he thought the pipe made him look intellectual. Why would someone think this? Maybe a pipe made you look intellectual decades ago, but it doesn’t now. A pipe doesn’t make anyone more intellectual than another. It’s just a pipe.
How about ties? Just reread the preceding paragraph but replace the word “pipe” with “tie.” That’s what I have to say about professors wearing ties.
But what about professors and professionalism? That is the core issue of Dr. Simonet’s position. I’ll admit “professional” does look like the word “professor.” But I looked up these words in the Oxford English Dictionary, which is multivolume monstrosity that is the authoritative record of the English language. What I found is that, basically, professors should always teach in their graduation robes and fancy little hats. So if anything, Dr. Simonet himself isn’t dressing to the high standards of those who came before him. Centuries ago they believed you needed a fancy hat and robe to be a professional professor. Now, it’s a tie you need. Perhaps a fancy tie.
The point here is that connotative and denotative meanings of symbols, verbal and nonverbal (e.g. clothes), evolve over time. Words that have similar spellings or prefixes don’t necessarily mean the words are similar. For example, “Simonet” looks similar to “simonize,” so clearly Dr. Simonet must be a polisher of cars, no? He’d need rags for that. I’m sure he has an extra tie around he can use.
Authority doesn’t come from clothes. It comes from the relationship the teacher has with the students. That is built on mutual respect centered around the learning process, not on polished wingtips.

-Dr. David Dewberry
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