Tuesday, August 21, 2007

No Collared Shirt, No Dress Shoes, No Service

An update on the dress code issue at Illinois State University that I blogged about yesterday. Below is an email response to me from the chair of the marketing department, and below that is the full dress code. I know this whole issue may seem comical (and damn, it's funny to me), but it reflects the danger that universities are increasingly being turned into clones of corporate America, and the dress code is just one obvious step in that.

Tim Longfellow, the chair of the department of marketing at ISU, kindly responded to my email:

"We did not ask students if they wanted the standards; nor did they request them. As you will see in the attached file, we implemented a business casual dress code for our MKT 234: Professional Sales classes several years ago. Once the formal sequence in Professional Sales was approved last year, all courses in that sequence implemented a business casual dress policy. Feedback from students, faculty, and business professionals (and even feedback I received unsolicited from students' parents) was very positive regarding the business casual dress policy. After the COB passed their Standards of Professional Behavior and Ethical Conduct, the Department of Marketing had several meetings to discuss how we could make these standards a living document. The dress policy, the writing standards, and other classroom behavior policies are our initial efforts at making the COB Standards that living document. Before implementing this policy, I did get feedback from Student Affairs and General Counsel at Illinois State University regarding the policies. Yes, the faculty in the Department of Marketing are required to conform to the Business Casual Dress Policy on days that they are in the classroom. With regard to your last question, the Department of Marketing in our faculty performance document, one of the requirements to be raise eligible in a particular year is adherence the College of
Business Standards of Professional Behavior and Ethical Conduct. A faculty member in the Department of Marketing who did not adhere to the business casual dress policy would not be eligible for a raise. As with any type of standard, statement of ethical conduct, in order for it to be meaningful, we must all buy into it. I do believe that the Department of Marketing faculty are very supportive of the College
standards and the Department of Marketing standards. I believe that as a faculty we believe these new policies will help to better prepare our students and to help differentiate themselves from students from other Universities."

My concern about this response is that I'm really alarmed at a policy imposed on students without their input. (Of course, I'd be alarmed by any policy, even if the students wanted it.) But I'm really concerned that faculty are being given raises based on their adherence to a dress code rather than solely due to academic merit. I'm also concerned by Longfellow's declaration that "we must all buy into it." Will faculty who disagree with this dress code being imposed on students get hired by a department devoted to unanimity?

Now, to the specifics of the dress code. The biggest concern is the punishment: "Failure to meet these standards will lead to the following: the student being asked to leave the classroom and the student receiving a zero (0) on any class work collected that day." For example, could a student turning in a paper worth 20% of his grade receive a 0 if he shows up to class in wrinkled pants? Apparently so, since "Clothing should be pressed and never wrinkled" is one of the rules. The vague language is also alarming, such as a ban on “Any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive...”

Here's the funniest line in the policy: "people are easily offended or distracted by words." Of course, some words, namely corporate words, are acceptable: "Sports team, university, and fashion brand names on clothing are generally acceptable." That means ISU is engaging in viewpoint discrimination, prohibiting "offensive" words only.

And if you thought we were decades beyond the idea of teachers pulling out rulers to measure the length of women's dresses, think again: "Dress and skirt length should be no shorter than four inches above the knee..."

Here's the full dress code:

Department of Marketing

Business Casual Professional Dress Code

(effective Fall 2007)

Dress Code Rationale and Objective

The Department of Marketing has elected to move to a business casual attire policy after much study and consideration. Our Personal Selling and Relationship Marketing courses piloted and have utilized a business casual dress policy since the Fall of 2003. In fact, all courses in the professional sales sequence incorporated a business casual attire policy in the Fall 2006 semester. Inputs from students and faculty alike have been extremely positive. All have indicated that the professionalism exhibited in the class led to a better learning environment, students being better prepared for class, and students being more respectful of one another. Business partners, who have visited the Personal Selling and Relationship Management classes, also were impressed with the level of professionalism exhibited by these students. The Department of Marketing's objective in establishing a dress code is to enable students to project a professional image while still experiencing the comfort advantages of more casual and relaxed clothing.

The Business Casual Professional Dress Code is as follows

This Professional Dress Code for class meetings parallels actual business dress codes. To this end, the dress for all Marketing courses (except for MKT 230 – Introduction to Marketing Management) will be, at a minimum, “business casual attire.” There may be times when business professional attire will be required (for e.g. when students will be interacting with our partners from the business community or making formal presentations in class). Examples of acceptable business casual dress can be found below. If you do not have business casual clothing, please plan on purchasing some prior to attending marketing courses. Failure to meet these standards will lead to the following: the student being asked to leave the classroom and the student receiving a zero (0) on any class work collected that day.

Guidelines for Acceptable Business Casual Attire

Not all casual clothing is suitable for the classroom, so these guidelines will help you determine what is appropriate to wear. Clothing that works well for the beach, yard work, dance clubs, exercise sessions, and sports contests are not appropriate for a professional appearance.

Below is a general overview of what we mean by “acceptable business casual attire.” Items that are not appropriate for the classroom are listed, too. Neither list is all-inclusive and both are open to change. The lists tell you what is generally acceptable as business casual attire and what is generally not acceptable as business casual attire.

No dress code can cover all contingencies so students must apply a certain amount of judgment in their choice of clothing to wear to Department of Marketing classes. If you experience uncertainty about acceptable, professional business casual attire for your class, please ask your professor or stop by the Marketing office (352 COB Building) to discuss this with the department chairperson.

Clothing should be pressed and never wrinkled. Torn, dirty, or frayed clothing is unacceptable. All seams must be finished. Any clothing that has words, terms, or pictures that may be offensive and/or create a hostile environment for other students is unacceptable.

A general guideline for business casual attire for women includes:

Khaki, corduroy, twill or cotton pants or skirts, neatly pressed;

Sweaters, twinsets, cardigans, polo/knit shirts, tailored blouses;

Solid colors work better than bright patterns.

A general guideline for business casual attire for men includes:

Khaki, gabardine or cotton pants, neatly pressed;

Cotton long-sleeved button-down shirts, pressed, polo shirts, knit shirts with a collar;


More Specific Information for Business Casual Attire

Slacks, Pants, and Suit Pants

Slacks that are similar to Dockers and other makers of cotton or synthetic material pants, wool pants, flannel pants, and nice looking dress synthetic pants are acceptable.

Inappropriate slacks or pants include cargo pants, jeans, sweatpants, exercise pants, short shorts, shorts, Bermuda shorts, bib overalls, leggings, and any spandex or other form-fitting pants such as bike clothing.

Skirts, Dresses, and Skirted Suits

Casual dresses and skirts, and skirts that are split at or below the knee are acceptable. Dress and skirt length should be no shorter than four inches above the knee, or a length at which you can sit comfortably in public. Short, tight skirts that ride halfway up the thigh are inappropriate for the classroom. Mini-skirts, skorts, sun dresses, beach dresses, and spaghetti-strap dresses are inappropriate for the classroom. Clothing that reveals excessive cleavage, back, chest, stomach or undergarments is not appropriate for a professional classroom setting.

Shirts, Tops, Blouses, and Jackets

Casual shirts (e.g. a short-sleeved, button-down shirt), golf shirts, dress shirts, sweaters, tops, and turtlenecks are acceptable. Most suit jackets or sport jackets are also acceptable attire for the classroom, if they violate none of the listed guidelines. Inappropriate attire includes tank tops, sweatshirts, midriff tops, shirts with potentially offensive words, terms, logos, pictures, cartoons, or slogans, halter-tops, tops with bare shoulders, and t-shirts unless worn under another blouse, shirt, jacket, or jumper. Use common sense when wearing clothing that has words on it; people are easily offended or distracted by words.

Clothing that has the Illinois State University logo is encouraged. Sports team, university, and fashion brand names on clothing are generally acceptable.

Footwear and belts

Loafers, boots, flats, clogs, dress heels, and leather deck shoes are acceptable. Wearing no stockings is acceptable if the look is appropriate to the outfit. Athletic shoes, flip-flops, slippers, and any shoe that is not appropriate for business are not acceptable for class.

As a general rule, belts and shoes that are all-leather are the typical standard for business casual attire.

Jewelry, Makeup, Perfume, Cologne, Body Piercing, and Tattoos

Any jewelry, makeup, perfume and/or cologne you wear should be in good taste. Do be aware that as you move into the corporate world, visible body piercing other than pierced ears and visible tattoos may not be considered appropriate by some of the firms you want to work for.

Hats and Head Covering

Hats are not appropriate in the classroom. Head covers that are required for religious purposes or to honor cultural tradition are allowed.


If clothing fails to meet these standards, as determined by the faculty member and departmental chairperson, the student will be asked not to wear the inappropriate item to class again. If the problem persists, the student will be asked to leave the classroom and will receive a zero (0) on any class work collected that day.

Below are several websites that were used in the development of the business casual dress policy.





Tim Longfellow has made a further response to some of my questions:
"I am not aware of any other public university or business schools using a dress policy. I do believe there are several sales programs across the US who have implemented dress codes for students in their classes. I believe some are public; some are private. I am hopeful that many of the issues you raise below can be managed in a professional, amenable way for students and faculty members alike. I do not ever seeing us getting a ruler out to measure skirt length. These are offered to provide the students with some guidelines. We are hopeful with these general guidelines students will do some self monitoring. If a faculty member believes a student's dress may be questionable, they are encouraged to talk with the student (after class, and in a confidential manner). Again, I am hopeful that for the most part there would only be minor problems, things that can easily and comfortably addressed. I believe we have an outstanding student body, and we (the students and the faculty members) will handle these situations in the best possible professional manner. We will have an 'appeal' mechanism within the department and college. Obviously, the University also has an appeal process should the student deem that to be necessary. I am hopeful that most of these concerns would be handled in house. This is all new for us, and I'm sure there will be situations arise we did not anticipate. These will be handled in a professional manner, and addressed on an individual basis as needed. The departmental faculty have deemed adherence to the Standards of Professional Behavior and Ethical Conduct to be an important performance indicator, much like teaching, research, and service. Again though, there are mechanisms in place for appeal should a faculty member believe they were unfairly evaluated. The policy has been shared with the Dean for the College of Business, who also made the Provost aware of the policies."

A comment of my own:
I'm very, very disturbed that a department is creating a fourth category (in addition to research, teaching, and service) for evaluating faculty. This runs perilously close to collegiality provisions opposed by the AAUP in the sense of using non-academic criteria to evaluations. If it's not a clear violation of ISU's hiring and promotion policies, then it should be.


Anonymous said...

What if, for instance, I'm a student without huge financial resources for wardrobe purchase, yet I'd like to major in marketing? Am I being discriminated against on the basis of socioeconomic class? Or, alternatively, what if I'm a student (or prof) who favors bright patterns over solids in my wardrobe, and I wear something deemed ugly by my instructor or my colleagues? Does personal style determine whether I have access to the classroom? Or what if my F.C.U.K. brand shirt, despite being expensive and fashionable, offends somebody (how about my "no sweatshop labor" slogan organic cotton shirt)? Nothing like promoting uniformity to undergraduates, the better to maintain global corporate control.

Andrew Graham said...

Great post about a topic that, for sure, is worth discussing.

I graduated from Illinois State University in 2004, and now I work on Wall Street. I wouldn't have supported the dress code when I was a student, but I know now that it would have helped me professionally.

Whether or not dress -should- affect a young professional's career arch is debatable, but reality is clear: it does. I know of no research that suggests appearance -doesn't- affect personnel decisions like hiring, promotions, and team composition (if someone does know of some, please forward it to me). Dress is a part of professional appearance one can control.

The critics who say the policy could exploit students from lower economic classes and restrict access based on personal style are right. The supporters who say the policy could teach graduates to dress in such a way that they gain a competitive advantage are also right.

I don't think the goal is to encourage uniformity or stifle any creative or individual tendencies (though some of the Wall Street crowd does tend to do those things exactly, IMO). I do think the intent is to give students a competitive advantage and an opportunity to use their business education in actual business scenarios, not just on paper.

Steph said...

Personally- if I was a business student at this university and was told that I would have to conform to a dress code I change my major or transfer to a different school.

College is, for many people, their last opportunity to be true individuals and to try and take that away is not right.

A dress code like this also places an unfair burden on students - students now need to purchase another entire wardrobe to wear to their business classes.

While personal style and business attire are important in the business world, college is not somewhere that it is as important.

I can learn just as well in jeans and a t-shirt as I can in a nice skirt and blouse- in fact I might learn better in the jeans because they are more comfortable and I won't be distracted by my clothes.

“The thing is, you can look very nicely in business casual and not really spend a lot of money either,” he (Longfellow) said — less than what it costs to buy designer jeans, he added."

If a student is unable to afford business attire then they are definitely not wearing designer jeans!

I know when I was a student I could barely afford to feed myself, let alone buy nice clothes. I wore the same stuff I did in High School until it fell apart, and then I went to the sale racks and bought jeans and t-shirts (which are generally much cheaper than business clothes- and last longer!)

Anonymous said...

This is a standard that is being set in a Business College. These students are entering into the corperate world where they are judged by their personal appearance. I don't care what rhetoric you use to spin the situation, cite all the laws it violates, but in the end it happens. Part of performance is the manner in which you conduct yourself yet you criticise COB Administration of taking the professional appearance of the profs as a criteria to get a raise. It is not the sole criteria which you imply in your blogpost. I believe Dr. Longfellow has been very cooperative with you and your probing comments and yet you paint him and his staff to be tyrannical conformists. I believe that his measure will be beneficial to the college and its integrity. You sir, could use some.