A Philosopher's Blog

University Dress Codes

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 11, 2012
Dress code as seen at a London Club in the Soh...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My university, Florida A&M University (FAMU), recently adopted a dress code (or, to be more technical the trustees approved new dress standards). This code allows professors to prevent students from attending classes (or other functions) if the students are not dress appropriately. Previously only the school of business had a dress code.

There seem to be three main reasons for this code. The first is that it is taken as educational. That is, it is supposed to teach students what sort of dress will serve them best professionally and socially. The second relates to classroom order, namely it is intended to deter students from wearing clothing to class that could disrupt the class. The third is a matter of image, specifically that it is aimed at preventing students from wearing clothing that will make FAMU look bad.

While I have not (as of  this writing) been supplied with a list of banned attire, it does include “do-rags”, hoods, and the infamous underwear revealing “saggy pants.” Rumor also has it that tube tops and t-shirts with inflammatory language will also be banned.

As might be imagined, I am somewhat divided on this matter. However, I will endeavor to sort through the matter from a philosophical and professorial perspective. I will do so by looking at the reasons behind the code.

The first reason nicely matches Aristotle’s views of education. When discussing moral education, Aristotle notes that young people do not find a temperate life to be particularly appealing, so it is necessary to condition them to such a life. Doing so, he argues, will make it less irksome and hence it will be all the easier to ensure that they follow the right path throughout life. As might be imagined, many college students would prefer to not dress like professionals and prefer to be rather more casual. Also, some college students clearly prefer the now forbidden styles. As might be imagined, the job creators who will hire the students when the graduate will expect their employees to dress in appropriate ways. As such, the university would merely be extending its mission of conditioning students for the workplace by adding in control over their modes of dress. After all, the American education system has been training students to follow schedules, do boring work at the behest of others, obey petty authorities, stand in lines, and so on. What, it might be asked, is the problem with adding a conformity of costume to the curriculum of conditioning?

The obvious problem is, of course, that such an imposition seems to violate the liberty of the students. Since they are adults, there is a presumption in favor of their right to dress as they choose. Naturally, this should match the laws regarding public indecency (although those could be challenged as well). However, provided the students are not violating such laws, it would seem reasonable to not impose on their liberty. Unless, of course, the harm done by specific attire would morally warrant imposing on the liberty of the students. This takes me to the second reason.

The second reason does have some appeal. While I have never had a class actually disrupted by someone’s choice of attire, it does seem possible for this to happen-provided that the clothing was such that it would create a significant and lasting impact on the class. In all my years of teaching, about the most extreme reactions I have seen is having some students stare briefly at another student because of his/her choice of clothing. This has sometimes been followed by some whispering. However, this sort of “disruption” is nothing compared with the disruptive influence of personal electronics and people talking to each other in class. Naturally, students coming to class partially or fully naked would probably have a significant impact-but that is already covered, I think, by existing laws regarding public nudity. Because of this, I have never really considered improper attire a threat to my classroom-but my experience might be unusual. There is also the possibility that I am blind to the damage it has been doing in my classes.  If other professors’ classes (and mine) are, in fact, being disrupted by improper attire, then the code would make sense on this ground. After all, the disruption of class would harm the other students and thus warrant imposing on the liberty of the student whose attire is causing the disruption.

Of course, it could be countered that there are cases in which the student cannot be reasonably held accountable for the reaction of others. To use the obvious analogy to free speech, if a student says something that annoys, offends or otherwise bothers other students, this does not automatically entail that the student should be compelled to be silent. For example, if a student presents an argument in favor of God’s existence that really annoys some atheists in a religion class, it would hardly be right to silence the student because of this.

The obvious counter to this is to argue that the clothing being banned is not the clothing equivalent of a rational argument that bothers those who disagree. Rather, the clothing is on par with someone shouting vulgarities in class. If this is so, the code would seem sensible.

The third reason also has some appeal. While philosophers are supposed to be concerned with wisdom rather than with the “sights and sounds”, I recognize the importance of appearances when it comes to matters such as recruitment and reputation. For example, if prospective students and their parents see FAMU students dressed inappropriately for higher education, this might impact their decision to attend FAMU (although our enrollment has been at record levels). As another example, photos of the university that feature inappropriately attired students could also do damage to the school’s reputation. After all, reputation is often more about appearance than substance. Naturally, it might be countered that people should be more concerned with the substance than with the appearance, but that idea seems quaintly out of touch in a time when people assert that “perception is reality.”  In any case, if the damage done to the university by the inappropriate attire exceeded the damage done to the students by imposing on their liberty, then the imposition of the code would thus seem morally warranted.

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Random Political Silliness

Posted in Humor, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on October 30, 2011
A pair of roper-style cowboy boots. Notice the...

Best not to ask why the boots are in the shower...


Last week some of my friends and I were talking politics before our weekly Pathfinder game. While some serious points were raised, much of it was the usually joking that befits pre-game banter. Some examples (accuracy not guaranteed):

Magic Underwear

Dave: “You know the Republicans are in rough shape when the most rational guy at the table is wearing magic underwear.”

Trent: “What does the magic do?”

Mike: “I assume that it provides some defense against craziness.”


Cowboy Boots

Dave:”….cowboy boots.”

Mike: “What was that about cowboy boots? Well, you know that there are only two legitimate reasons for a man to wear cowboy boots.”

Ron: “What are they?”

Mike: “The first is that he works in gay porn.”

Dave: “What’s the second?”

Mike: “That he is an actual cowboy. So, who was wearing them?”

Dave: “Herman Cain.”

Mike: “Did he ride in on a horse?”

Dave: “No.”

Mike: “Interesting.”


999 Plan

Dave: “Have you heard of Cain’s 999 plan?”

Mike: “Yeah, he got it from Sim City. But here is the interesting thing. If you flip his plan upside down, you get 666.”

Dave: “The plan of the beast!”

Mike: “Exactly. And who is the opposite of Herman Cain?”

Trent: “Obama?”

Mike: “Sure, why not. You know what that means?”

Trent: “Obama is the beast?”

Mike: “No, Rosie O’Donnell is. Do the math.”



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Working in the Rain

Posted in Miscellaneous by Michael LaBossiere on September 25, 2011
Rain, Rainy weather

Image via Wikipedia

While Florida is the sunshine state, it rains here fairly often. It seems to rain most often when I have outside chores I need to do. For example, I needed to do a bit more painting because of my new siding and awoke to the sound of rain. Fortunately, some of what I had to paint is completely protected by the overhang in the back. So, I got on my painting clothes and got it done. I had some non-painting tasks to do (repairing a gutter drain, replacing some mulch, weeding and so on), so I went and did those as well.

I do this sort of thing fairly often, as long as the temperature is such that I won’t get hypothermia and as long as the lightning is not dropping in for a visit. Naturally, I do get some odd looks and some commentary from folks driving by. After all, sensible people stay inside when it rains.

Some folks will ask me how I can be comfortable in wet clothes. This is a fair question and I, like most people, do not enjoy sitting around in wet clothes. However, years of running have conditioned me to simply ignore wet clothing as long as I am active-it does not bother me at all. In fact, being soaking wet is actually nice in the Florida heat-I’m cooler and I’m not losing as much water due to perspiration. I even find the rain pleasant, especially the sound. There is even a certain beauty to a rainy day-one that seems lost on many people. I do, of course, have to carefully clean, dry and oil any metal tools I use in the rain. But, this is only a minor inconvenience.

One person did ask me, some time ago, if I did it as sort of a “man over nature” thing. I suppose that might be a factor. After all, I do like to overcome difficulties-even something as minor as dealing with rain.  Then again, I also like it because being in the rain makes me feel more a part of the natural world. In fact, I don’t quite get why some people are so rain averse. We are, after all, a fairly waterproof species (other than any wicked witches among us, of course).

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Sneakers of Summer

Posted in Miscellaneous, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on August 21, 2010
I Brooke Fishwick created this work entirely b...
Image via Wikipedia

When I was a kid, the start of the school year was always marked by getting a new pair of sneakers for school. The new pair would replace last year’s worn out sneakers. I vividly remember the soles of one pair flapping away and how the fresh cut grass would get through the holes and end up staining my socks.

Now that I am a professor, I can afford more than one pair of sneakers per year. In fact, I go through about four pairs of running shoes a year. However, I still remember those sneakers of summer.

This year I decided to honor those fallen sneakers by wearing a nice pair of sneakers while teaching this summer. While I do buy the dress shoes that are secretly running shoes on the inside, the sneakers felt much more comfortable. I suppose it is the sneaker magic.

I’m wearing them now as I type this in my office (I often write in advance). However, the fall semester teaching starts Monday and this marks the spiritual end of summer for me. So, the sneakers of summer are being retired from my teaching wardrobe and are back in the casual clothing category. I’ll miss them…at least until next summer.

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Shirts & Skins

Posted in Humor, Running by Michael LaBossiere on August 29, 2009

Although I can only “ugly jog” for 200-600 yards at a time, I am mobile enough to volunteer at road/cross country races and did so today. While it was a bit hard working rather than cross the finish line, it was good to see everyone. When I run, I almost never wear a shirt, but when I was at the race I was wearing one. This led to the following conversation:

Friend: “Hey, how are you doing? How’s the knee?”

Me: “Okay. I can ugly jog now.”

Friend: “What?”

Me: “Observe.” I commence ugly jogging.

Friend: “For the love of God stop! It hurts my soul!”

Me: “See?”

Friend: “Yes…I’ll take that memory to the grave. Hey, you’re wearing a shirt. You never wear shirts at races. Not even when it is cold.”

Me: “Well, I do wear shirts sometimes, like in January. But it never really gets cold here. This is Florida, you know. But, I’m wearing a shirt because walking around without a shirt on is creepy. Oddly enough, running with one off is fine. Standing around after a race without a shirt is fine. But just walking around without a shirt…creepy. And driving without a shirt, that is creepy as hell. I mean, where is a dude going not wearing a shirt? Nowhere good, I can tell you.”

Friend: “Are sure about all that?”

Me: “Yeah. Watch this.” I take off my shirt and start walking.

Friend: “Damn, that is creepy.”

Me: “Now, watch this. I’m going jog a bit. Don’t look at my legs, just the upper body.”

Friend: “Damn, you are one sexy beast!”

Me: “Now you’re creeping me out, dude.”

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Mammoth Wear

Posted in Humor by Michael LaBossiere on December 5, 2008

A couple weeks ago I was at a wedding reception for Jack, one of my many running friends. I ran into another running friend, Jeff, and we started talking about running wear.

Jeff: “I paid all this money for Nike gear, but that stuff doesn’t wick away the sweat as advertised. I just sweat and get soaked.”

Me: “You should switch to wool shorts and shirts. That stuff wicks like mad.”

Jeff: “What?”

Me: “Yeah, it is like magic. The only thing better would be if we could make mammoth wool.”

Jeff: “You know, they are trying to get the dna of mammoths and bring them back.”

Me: “That would be awesome. We could make a line of running wear out of their fur. Mammoth Wear. We could use the tusk as the logo. It looks like Nike’s swishy swoosh, but would be different enough to avoid a lawsuit.”

Jeff: “We’d need someone to shear the mammoths and a place to keep them.”

Me: “Well, when the Big Three automakers tank, their former workers can work for us, shearing mammoths. They can go from working on one extinct thing to another.”

Jeff: “Where can we keep the mammoths?”

Me: “New Jersey. Maybe Detroit, too. Problems solved. Now we just need to get some mammoths.”

Jeff: “But won’t mammoth fur be a bit scratchy?”

Me: “Hmm, we’d need a finer fur to make the wool for the short liners.”

Jeff: “We could cross the mammoths with Shetland ponies and get Shetland Mammoths. Little ones with fine fur. That would be much softer. We could get people who made the compact cars to shear them.”

Me: “That would work. We just need a company saying. Like ‘just do it, bitches.'”

Florence: “How about ‘Do you mammoth?'”

Me: “Pure genius.”

Jeff: “We need some spin off products.”

Me: “Well, we could make nasal passage openers using the Shetland Mammoth tusks. You know, like those Breath Right strips-only you jam a tusk in your nose.”

Jeff: “Plus we could sell mammoth meat.”

Me: “Excellent. We could also make a powdered mammoth meat sports drink. Mammothade. That would sell well. We can get Michael Phelps to sell it. Maybe Kanye West, too. He’ll pimp out for any product, right?”

Kanye: “If the money is right.”

Me: “It will be totally right. We’ll even make a line of Mammoth Shades. You can rap about them.”

Kanye: “George Bush still doesn’t care about black people.”

Me: “I know. But he’ll be gone soon. Perhaps we can use him in our commercials. He could put on some Mammoth Wear and we could have mammoths trample him.”

Kanye: “I’m down with that.”

Me: “Nice.”