Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Effect of Business Faculty Attire on Student Perceptions of the Quality of Instruction and Program Quality

Academic journal article College Student Journal

The Effect of Business Faculty Attire on Student Perceptions of the Quality of Instruction and Program Quality

Article excerpt

What professors do, how they behave, and how they look arguably can be as significant as, if not more important than, the content discussed in the classroom. There is little disagreement that attire has communicative power, and the topic has been the subject of research for years due to its cultural and social significance. While the debate regarding effective instruction continues, it is apparent that the professional appearance and attire of the professor has a positive impact on the students' perceptions of a number of traits that are often considered in the evaluation of an academician. The results of this study suggest that this favorable attitude leaves students with a more positive perception of the professor, course, program, and university.

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College and university business programs have historically focused considerable attention on developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills of students as part of the educational process centered on teaching fundamental business and economics principles. More recently, business educators have recognized the importance and value of other "softer" competencies such as communication and interpersonal skills. Now, some business programs have begun concentrating on shaping the professional behaviors of students given their importance to employers. According to Hall and Berardino (2006), these behaviors include such things as time management skills, ethical decision-making, and professional appearance. Without question, future business leaders are now expected to possess a much broader skill set than ever before, and business schools and faculty continue to play a crucial as well as expanding role in preparing students for possible success after graduation. Not only does a professor facilitate learning in the traditional sense, but he or she also may serve as a mentor, career and academic advisor and even, perhaps, as a role model.

Clearly, a professor's ability to teach as well as to influence students is not limited to what he or she communicates verbally. According to Mehrabian (1968), less than 10% of a message is sent through words, and when verbal and nonverbal messages conflict, the latter tends to prevail (Rice, 1977). What professors do, how they behave and how they look arguably can be as significant as, if not more important than, what they discuss in the classroom. Actions and behavior can speak louder than words. Educators must not only pay attention to the content of their courses but must also consider how the image that they convey influences those around them (Scott, O'Neal, and Cheatham, 1994).

Prior Research

Attire (i.e., dress) has been of interest to researchers for a number of years due both to its cultural and social significance. Most of the attire studies have been rooted in the disciplines of psychology, communication, and sociology. Human behaviorist Desmond Morris (1977) postulated that "it is impossible to wear clothes without transmitting social signals. Every costume tells a story, often a very subtle one, about its wearer." While much of the earlier research focused on the individual's selected attire, such work has served as a starting point in analyzing organizational dress.

Rafaeli and Pratt (1993) suggested three dimensions of dress, providing a framework for considering dress from the organization's perspective: attributes of dress, homogeneity, and conspicuousness. Attributes of dress include color, material and style, and each can represent different symbolic meanings. Specific colors are known to communicate subliminal messages, and specific colors of clothing are chosen to convey a certain attitude or to create a particular mindset in the audience. Similarly, the style of dress can convey status and power--everyone, for instance, has heard the phrase "power suit." A 1977 article by Rollman found that the same professor dressed in a casual style (jeans, sports shirt, and tennis shoes) was rated as having less status than when he was dressed in a formal suit and tie. …

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