Do college and university administration have the right to establish standards for faculty dress and grooming?
Yes,college is a business as much as any company, so dress standards should normally be expected.
The familiar phrases “dress for success” or “the clothes make the person” are as true for college faculty as they are in the corporate world.
First, let’s address the question of why business etiquette deems a dress code proper in the business world? It is understood that dress does convey confidence, personal success, and a respect to those with whom you are engaged in business. That is the philosophy behind IBM’s dress code for its sales force. The leadership understands that proper dress gives their sales force an edge. Similarly, if you visited a fine dining restaurant, you might be offended if the host was dressed in worn out blue jeans.
I have asked students the question about faculty dress and the majority have stated they appreciate when an instructor dresses up, at least in business casual. They voiced their appreciation for the instructor going the extra effort to show respect to the students. Students do “get” the message being conveyed—respect.
Appropriate dress is socially an acceptable and expected gesture as well, whether going to a wedding, church, or funeral. Many cultures consider improper dress rude and disrespectful and guests are not allowed entrance if not properly attired. Sadly, American culture seems to have lost a sense of respect when it comes to dressing for certain occasions, such as a funeral.
At Normandale College where I teach, many of the instructors in the business and hospitality departments emphasize dress as an important point of etiquette for our students and demonstrate how proper dress gives them an edge in the job market. It only stands to reason that we would reinforce this instruction by personally setting an example.
No,college faculty are professionals and should not have a dress code.
There are several reasons faculty should not have a dress code. First, college faculty are role models and should be teaching students that it is not what a person wears, but the content of a person’s words and actions that matters.
Second, the professional faculty members themselves are the best ones to determine what form of dress is most suitable to their teaching style. Some teachers may decide to be formal and some may decide to be casual, the dress of each fitting the pedagogy that they desire.
Third, when it comes to employment, sectors differ as to what appropriate dress is. Wearing a tie when fixing a wind turbine might lead to suffocation. Even if business standards differ, some require a tie, but others such as Internet companies are notorious for encouraging Saturday casual. The companies value the input of the employee over the veneer of their clothing, and believe that better ideas come from people who are comfortable.
One argument might be that there should be dress codes appropriate to each discipline. Physical education faculty wear track suits, management faculty suits, and philosophy faculty togas. The problem is that there is disagreement within these areas, and once again the professional faculty member should determine what is best.
Some classes could properly discuss appropriate dress in certain circumstances. Political science classes might discuss the importance of wearing a black robe if you are a Supreme Court justice. But the classroom is not a court; it is a place for the mind to be cultivated and diversity encouraged.
Dress codes in academia should be limited to one day a year: graduation.