A Philosopher's Blog

The Aesthetics of the University Dress Code

Posted in Aesthetics, Philosophy, Universities & Colleges by Michael LaBossiere on April 12, 2012
Example of a common dress code for males in mo...

(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.

While the matter of dress codes can be approached in a variety of ways, I will approach it from an aesthetic standpoint. This will not be in terms of the beauty of the clothing but rather looking it the matter within the context of the branch of philosophy relating to art and beauty.

While a university is supposed to provide substance, it (like almost all things) can also be seen as an institute of appearance and, in many ways, as a stage upon which various theatrical  roles are played. The role I happen to play is, of course, that of a professor. As might be imagined, this role does require knowing certain things.The same would seem to hold true for students as well. While they are not expected to know nearly as much as professors, they also have their roles to play. As with any role played out upon the stage, there is the expectation that the costume will match the part. That is, a professor should be costumed as a professor and not as something else, such as a marathon runner or a pirate. Likewise a student should be properly costumed as a student and not as a night club patron or thug. As such, a dress code could be seen as being on par with the costuming specifications for a play, movie or TV show and warranted on the grounds of aesthetics. That is, it would just not look right to have the actors costumed inappropriately. This ties in nicely to the second and third reasons. After all, an actor in the wrong costume can disrupt the production and, of course, make the theater company look bad.

Another way to look at the matter is that the university is not only teaching students the material in the subjects of math, chemistry, philosophy and so on, but also training students in the matter of appearances. That is, students are also being trained for the proper aesthetics of the roles they will be taking on when they are working for the job creators. This, of course, ties nicely to the first reason given in support of the code, namely the training of the youth in how to dress professionally and socially. In this regard, the university can be seen as a literal dress rehearsal for the show that starts (hopefully) shortly after the students graduate.

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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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Iran’s Fashion Police

Posted in Law, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on June 19, 2011
President of Iran @ Columbia University.

Apparently ties are also banned.

It is often the little things that reveal the big things. Iran is currently cranking out laws that are intended (supposedly) to fight Western and un-Islamic influences. These laws, at first glance, seem like little things. In fact, these laws seem like parodies of law. However, they are quite serious and reveal some significant truths about Iran.

The current laws include rules against men wearing necklaces and women wearing scarves that are too loose, overcoats that are too tight, and pants that are too short. These rules are, of course, reminiscent of the dress codes of some strict schools and, as such, the laws treat the citizens of Iran as if they were bad children.

There is even a law planned to ban dog ownership dogs apparently present a dire cultural threat to Iran. As the Iranian leadership seems to see it, Iranians want dogs not because humans like dogs and have partnered with dogs almost since humans have been around. Rather, they want dogs so they can imitate Westerners. While this might be true in some cases, I am reasonably confident in my claim that dog ownership is not an exclusively Western thing and that it dates back long before the rise of the West. I am also fairly confident in claiming that people often own dogs simply because they like them. Then again, maybe I am saying this merely because I am part of the Western Dog Conspiracy to spread western canine (preferably husky) dominance throughout the world.

Oddly enough, there are no laws aimed at ridding Iran of Western inventions such as the automobile, the airplane, computers, vaccines, phones, television, machine guns, or nuclear weapons. This seems to be a serious oversight. After all, if Western necklaces are a grave threat to Iran, one can only imagine the dangers posed by all that Western technology.

As far as the big things behind these little things, these laws give the regime an excuse to send over 70,000 “moral police” into action. This enables the regime to launch a campaign of intimidation under the guise of defending the citizens from Western influences. This strongly suggests that the rulers of Iran are rather worried that their hold is weakening and that they believe they need to crack down on the people, so as to prolong their time in power.

History shows that the boot can keep some people in line all the time. It can keep all of the people in line some of the time. But it cannot keep all the people in line all the time. At some point, the people grow weary of that boot pushing their faces into the ground and they rise up against their “leaders.” It is, I suspect, merely a matter of time before Iran has another revolution. It will probably be bloody and awful-tyrants do not yield their thrones lightly.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s not only about clamping down on clothing, but they are spreading panic and fear by sending out this much of police into the streets under the name of this plan, to control the society. It’s unbelievable to see a regime that is not only concerned about its own survival, but it goes into your personal life and interferes in that,” one resident told the paper.

 

 

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