Closet Case: Should Professors Have a Dress Code Policy?


Published: November 5, 2009

What if tomorrow Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) decided to enforce a dress code? No outrageous hairstyles, no tattoos, no piercings, no shorts, no T-shirts. Jackets, skirts, trousers and dress shirts are permitted. Everything must be color-coordinated.

Does a professors attire matter? FCLC feels outfit choice says little about a teacher’s ability in the classroom. (Photo Illustration by Jonathan Armenti/The Observer)

Most students would throw a fit, to say the least. Unfortunately, this is exactly what happened to the staff at Birmingham Metropolitan College in Britain. The professors were recently told that they “will be sent home to change if they do not follow a strict dress code.”

According to Mark Mattson, associate dean, Fordham’s professors have nothing to fear.

“There’s no written dress code for teachers,” Mattson said. “If there is one, it’s more of a social norm than anything else.”

While most teachers and students can agree that there is perhaps a social norm for what a professor is supposed to dress like, what if the administration did decide to install a staff dress code at Fordham?

“I think that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. A university… encompasses and should encourage a multitude of dress codes,” said Colin Cathcart, associate professor of architecture. Professor Cathcart bluntly states what most people already know, yet New York is a place where, in fashion, just about anything goes, and that kind of diversity isn’t neccesarily a part of other universities’ campus culture.

“I hope it doesn’t matter at a college level, besides the practical question of whether you learn better with or without a uniform, it’s really an ideological question of…realizing that there are other values than professionalism. These [rules] are typically proposed by people who have professional goals in mind,” said Jared Woodard, professor of philosophy.

“If [a professor is] wearing jeans and a T-shirt, you aren’t going to take them as seriously,” said Shamira Arizara, FCLC ’10.

This argument for a uniform (that it promotes professionalism, helps students stay focused and improves the learning experience) doesn’t seem to be held by the majority of FCLC students.

“A teacher could be wearing nothing at all; I don’t really care as long as they tell me what I need to know,” said Keegan Kippins, FCLC ’11.

“I think that the substance of what they’re saying should far outweigh what they’re wearing,” said Jamie Akleha, FCLC ’10.

“If a professor is a good professor, you’ll know that by what they’re teaching and how they teach, not what they’re wearing… a good teacher will use their discretion when dressing down,” said Rebecca Bates, a first year Fordham graduate student.

“If it doesn’t matter what the students look like, it shouldn’t matter what the teacher looks like either; they have the right to express themselves too,” said Muhammad Rahman, FCLC ’11.

It seems that Fordham is one Catholic school that will never see a uniform.