Etiquette for the Professoriate

Article excerpt

Do you want respect from your students? Start with your own manners.

In writing about etiquette, my goal isn't to talk about how to behave at tea with the board of trustees. And I am not interested in the proper title with which to address honorary degree recipients. The etiquette that concerns me is the kind we used to worry about back in the days of Emily Post-standards for the way we treat one another in everyday encounters.

Etiquette involves showing respect and concern for others' well-being and comfort. It is not just for special occasions or something you practice only when you want to impress someone. Etiquette should be practiced all the time with every type of person-including students. If our society is becoming less civil, perhaps we faculty members are not doing as much as we should to set an example of what a civilized society should look like.

You might, respond that you don't want to he a role model and ask why you should have to set an example. Well, you are a role model to various constituencies whether you like it or not. Or you might say that you are an individual and don't like acting phony for anyone. Ktiquetle is not, however, about being a person you are not. It is about civility and respect and building a society that we all want to live in. Alternatively, you might argue that formality creates distance from students. This is true. But distance is appropriate, and students want it. Faculty members are mentors, academic leaders, and most important, evaluators of student performance. Formality provides a useful structure for helping students accomplish their academic objectives.

Here are some other cases you might make against etiquette: following social rules is too much trouble; I just don't have social skills; or I am already a successful faculty member without having to worry about etiquette. True, following social rules may be difficult at first. But treating others with civility and resect soon becomes a natural part of everyday behavior. And none of us is born with etiquette skills-they are learned behaviors. Also, codes of etiquette continue to change and evolve as society becomes more complex. We must all continually update our skills. And we all have a responsibility to help build the society we want to live in. We all respond positively to civility and respect. Therefore, the more successful you are, the greater your obligation is to serve as a role model for others.

Etiquette for Professors

I propose the following set of rules based on my own experience and observations. The list is not exhaustive, and I welcome additions. Some items may be conlroversial, and you might not want to adopt all of them. But 1 believe that adding any of these rules to our campus culture would be a positive step.


This item is potentially the most controversial on my list. However, professional dress codes would have the greatest effect on campus climate and culture. When involved in any university or college function, especially teaching, faculty should wear business attire: coat and tie for men (preferably a suit) and professional attire for women. Business attire commands a much higher level of respect than casual wear. It represents authority, professionalism, confidence, and expertise.

The professoriate is a profession, similar to medicine, law, politics, and business. Most, if not all, high-level professions have formal or informal codes of ethics, conduct, and dress. For these professions, the standard of dress is business attire. Why not have a faculty dress code?

I recognize that many, if not most, faculty negatively associate a coat and tie with the corporate world or, worse yet, university administrators. But a coat and tie represent much more in our society. We dress up out of a sense of respect, civility, or simple etiquette. We should treat going to class with the same high level of importance.

An even more revolutionary approach would be to return to the sartorial elegance of academic regalia as the dress code for faculty. …