Monday, August 20, 2007

Dress Codes for College Students

People who just don’t seem to understand what higher education is all about have tried to bring all kinds of bad ideas from K-12 to colleges in recent years: standardized testing, repression of the student press, bans on controversy. But now the department of marketing and business teacher education at Illinois State University has brought us a truly stupid idea: the dress code.

Yes, students in these classes will be forced to wear business casual clothes, and all sneakers, flip-flops, baseball caps, shorts, T-shirts, and pajama bottoms will be banned.

Dress codes impose a financial burden on poorer students. Buying business casual clothing may force already impoverished students to go into debt.

But the worst part of dress codes is that they send a message of conformity and repression (that’s why corporations and conservative religious colleges like them). The suppression of individual freedom is completely at odds with the nature of the university. Professors can’t impose their personal dress preferences on students. It’s even worse when an entire department seeks to impose a dress code. And it’s probably illegal.

The Supreme Court has never dealt with a dress code case directly. Federal appeals courts have upheld dress codes at public schools in Texas and Louisiana, but these were specifically authorized by state law for minors. Dress codes in K-12 public schools are only legal if a school has a direct interest in maintaining an effective educational environment. It’s doubtful that a dress code at a public college could pass constitutional scrutiny. Exactly why can’t college students learn in sneakers? But there’s never been a case involving a dress code at a public university, precisely because so few faculty would normally consider limiting student freedom in this way.

After all, wearing an anti-war button is not considered “professional” dress in the corporate environment. Does that mean that anyone who wears a political message will be banned from these business courses?

Marketing professor Linda Showers proclaimed, "We know how important it is for students to have an extra edge. They will establish these habits out the door.” Actually, dressing up is probably the least important lesson for students to learn. Do you really need a college degree to learn how to wear khakis? What students need to learn is how to think creatively, communicate effectively, and understand past and present ideas about their field. Learning how to follow a dress code is not the goal of a college education.

According to another professor, this dress code is simply an extension of one already imposed on some students in the sales program: "For a few years the sales faculty has been doing this and students adjusted to it and got positive feedback.” Students “adjusted” to it by obedience at the threat of being failed and expelled, of course.

The business faculty should reconsider their ill-advised rules. And if they don’t, the faculty senate should step in to declare that no dress code can be imposed on students.

Of course, professors and departments are perfectly free to urge a particular style of dress for students, and to educate students about what they think is proper fashion. They can hassle and deride students who don’t conform. But they can’t throw students out of a class for wearing sneakers. Doing so imposes a harsh penalty; a student who is not allowed to attend class is at a severe disadvantage, and is being deprived of the education tuition money is supposed to provide.

This stifling of individual liberty and personal expression is precisely the opposite of what students need to learn in order to become good marketers and good teachers. Pointless obedience shouldn’t be considered a virtue, especially not in academia. College students aren’t being trained to become docile little corporate peons (or at least they shouldn’t be). The purpose of a college education is to educate students about an intellectual field of knowledge, not to force them to dress (or think) in a certain way.

According to the College of Business standards, “The administration, faculty, staff, and students of the College of Business at Illinois State University are committed to the principles of professional behavior and integrity. As a community of scholars and business professionals, we strive to embody the characteristics of responsibility, honesty, respect, fairness, and trust in our professional and personal lives.” But the professional standards of higher education are very different from the professional standards of corporate America, where there is no freedom and individual liberty. Forcing students to wear certain fashions is the ultimate form of disrespect. Ironically, in seeking to suppress sneakers and shorts, these business faculty at Illinois State University are violating the professional standards of academia.


Anonymous said...

Funny. I attended a grade grievance committee meeting in an Advertising Dept at a University last year where the professor on the committee thought the student should be allowed to sleep in class because it happens in professional meetings all the time. Likewise with using a cell phone in class.

I guess so long as the student is in a 3-piece suit or his khaki-est khakis, he (or she) can ACT however he (or she) wants. LOOKing good equals being good.

It's all such hypocrisy and distraction from the REAL issues.

Anonymous said...

I find your blog to be hilarious. I have to laugh at your conclusions and at how you are criticizing the COB at Illinois State University for designing their program around the corporate world. It is a BUSINESS COLLEGE. IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, DON'T GO INTO BUSINESS. People like you make me sad because you shield yourself behind words like "rights" without any concept of the responsibilities that surround those rights. Business Casual dress code in a business college makes sense. Also, the impoverished school kid bit is a little old. Business casual is not expensive unless your paging through the JCREW catalog, GAP store, or Abercrombie and Fitch. How about you check your facts, get a decent argument and get an education, then maybe you could actually wake up and stop with the hippy psycho babble bull shit that plagues most of this society.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the cob student. This is business college and students need to get use to the business dress code. Again if you do not like it, then go into social work or something. It is amazing how student come to career fairs as if they are going to the beach. I am also sick and tired of hearing about rights and constitutional scrutiny. Not everything has to pass the constitution, the 60's are long over man.

Anonymous said...

but thats when you are wrong, professors can enforce their own dress codes. dress codes are necessary on the university level. no one wants to see your ass while walking to class. leave that to your mom. wear clothes that fit you, not slip and fall down. if they do, that is what a belt is for. i mean, you are an adult, dress like one. not a like a teenager. and in your situation, a business college, there should be one because the students at the college need to be prepared and start getting used to the dress before they go out and work. and please be less liberal and more moderate. thank you.

Anonymous said...

also, getting your bachelor's degree means knowing how to follow directions.

Anonymous said...

A worthwhile discussion to have. For students who are caught in the middle of these policy changes, a rationale for why the change is made is crucial. For students considering admission into one of these programs (that employs a dress code), they should be fully aware of the code ahead of time. Can the school provide dress casual clothing for disadvantaged students? Paul Quinn College has done this, as have other Historically Black Colleges, with quite a bit of success.

Anonymous said...

Isn't college more about, "You. You do it yourself. We are not going to say anything. Your actions. Your consequences"? I mean, imposing "uniform" is the same as letting your students to be lazy about it. The habit of wearing it in school may not follow outside in the real world. You'll be like, "Sweet. No college. No dresscode. Freestyle". -_-'