March 12, 2008

Some questions about the right image for a law professor.

I'm making an ongoing project out of collecting questions about what people think is the right image for a law professor. It's not that I'm aspiring to fit this image or trying to convince anyone else to, but mostly that I'm interested in how people think a law professor — and maybe, more generally, a teacher — ought to dress and act and so forth. This project got started yesterday when I asked a colleague whether a law professor can wear sandals in class. No, she said instantly and emphatically. Not even really nice sandals — expensive, beautiful sandals with low heels? No. Even if you have a excellent pedicure? No.

Why? Is there something about seeing my toes that makes it hard to get your mind around minimum scrutiny? Is there something about the absence of hosiery that makes you worry that I've skimped on preparation? I understand the value of professional appearance and demeanor. The issue here is not whether you should do all you can to tap that value. I'm interested in the specific elements of professional appearance and demeanor in the law school classroom. You're teaching people to be lawyers, but you aren't in a courtroom or law office. Should you nevertheless model the look and tone appropriate to the setting your students will enter? Or is a classroom a much more casual place, where you can — and should — not only adopt a different look, you can speak and act in a different way.

You understand my project. Let me begin my list of questionable things for a law professor:

1. Sandals. Consider the variations. Would you say yes to dressy sandals on a woman but no to Birkenstocks on a man and flip-flops on anyone? Does your rule vary depending on whether there's a fresh pedicure? Does hairiness or gnarliness change the rule?

2. Other footwear. Can a lawprof wear sneakers? Fluffy slippers? (I once saw a pro se plaintiff in federal court try a case wearing fluffy slippers!) Mary janes? Mary janes with oddly colored socks (fuschia, chartreuse, etc.)? Are bare feet ever allowed — perhaps in a small class in the summer session? Don't we all know of at least one lawprof who taught barefoot? Actually, I often walk around the hallways around my office in bare feet or purple socks, but I think I've always kept shoes on in class.

3. Exposed limbs. If we're not wearing jackets, should we at least have long sleeves? Are women but not men allowed to reveal their arms? As for legs, surely it is unacceptable to wear shorts. On the other hand — hand? — skirts for women are obviously dressier than pants. There can't be some emerging rule — I'm looking at Hillary Clinton — that a woman must wear pants to look professional, but there might be some ideas about whether the legs exposed by a skirt can be bare and how short a skirt can be. And what about a really long skirt? I've often found it comfortable and amusing to wear a below-calf length skirt.

4. Bralessness. I've always assumed the rule here is that you can go braless in class if no one can tell. There are many other breast-related questions, but perhaps you would think it unprofessional of me to ask them. These questions would have to do with the tightness and low cut of upper body clothing and the visibility of nipples and so forth. (Seriously, if you want students to know that you're really excited about the rule against perpetuities or some such thing, you want them to get the message from your face, your tone of voice, and your flailing hands.)

5. Slang. I've always assumed it's not just acceptable but highly desirable to speak in a casual, conversational way in class, but where is the line? Let's say you are examining a foolish Supreme Court decision in a conlaw class. Which if any of these phrases should be avoided: a. What the heck did Rehnquist mean by that? b. What the hell is that that supposed to mean? c. Did the Court screw up? d. What the fuck?

6. Getting into strange positions. I think a good professor ought to move around a bit. It's especially good to get away from the lectern and write on the blackboard — to relieve tedium if nothing else. But should the lawprof remain on the podium — in the teacher's space — or is it okay or even good to walk out into the classroom and maybe lean against the wall over there? Is it wrong — or perhaps good — to sit on the table or ledge in the front of the classroom? Some lawprofs will sit in a strange way. I remember my Conflict of Laws professor sitting sideways on a narrow ledge with his hands coyly clasped around his one upraised knee. I remember this 30 years later! Yet I myself have often sat on the desk in a cross-legged position (with both feet up).

7. Stalling. Do the first few seconds of class not count, so that you can toss off a few lines about something that was just on TV or in the news? Examples: a. How could Archuleta think he could do a Stevie Wonder imitation on Beatles night? b. Exactly why is prostitution illegal? But we can't talk about prostitution. We're here to talk about the independent and adequate state ground doctrine. I tend to think motive matters. If you're off-topic and casual to begin because you're trying to create a good mood and get everyone to settle in and start paying attention, it's good. But if you're stealing time from students to impose your political views, it's bad. But that part isn't about one's professional image, is it?

8. Digressing. Once class has started, when is digressing acceptable? I'd say the shorter the digression, the less justification it needs. There are funny, pointless things you can say that take two seconds, and there are anecdotes that consume whole minutes. And content matters. There are those tales of the days when you were a lawyer, which may seem professional but are really the most outrageous waste of time. And then there are the wordplay and little cultural references that leaven speech. I like a lot of that, but I realize it may be distracting or annoying. And then there are some students who are so earnest and diligent that they take everything seriously and could mistake your little joke as part of the doctrine. If you have a dry, deadpan, or subtle sense of humor, your students may simply perceive you as bizarre and unreliable.

I'll stop now, but you get the point. To be continued. I haven't mentioned blogging yet, but obviously, there are some big questions there.

57 comments:

The Drill SGT said...

I wrote a long post but blogger ate it. The short version:

"Lead by Example"

rhhardin said...

Shorts are acceptable for computer programmers. Comfort first.

Bender said...

I would say that, what you want to convey to students, with respect to each of these questions of image, be it a professor, attorney, judge, court clerk, etc., is that there is a time and place for everything. That there are lines of demarcation. That when you are in the courtroom, you dress and act a certain way; when you are dealing with clients in the office, you dress and act a certain way; that is, you dress and act appropriate to the situation. The point is to show that there is one way of dressing and acting in one situation, and another in a different situation -- and to demonstrate to them the difference. That is, act one way in class, and a different way out of class.

The classroom, in general, is NOT one of those places of high professionalism, unless one chooses to make it so. I would say that it is more in the line of casual formality -- respectful, but not stuffy. In the classroom, the student calls the instructor "Professor" and the professor calls the student "Mr." or "Ms.", while outside the classroom, one is free to use their first names. Dress in class need not be anything more fancy than "casual Friday" attire, but bikini tops are out. Out of class, letting them see you in shorts and t-shirts are fine -- even when it is five minutes after class has ended.

The point is to make a clear distinction between the one situation and the other. Once they have learned that lesson, what is actually worn/said/done, with respect to those other questions, doesn't matter much.

Michael_H said...

Simple rule: Do the opposite of whatever your colleagues in the departments of sociology and womens' studies do.

New York said...

Which if any of these phrases should be avoided: a. What the heck did Rehnquist mean by that? b. What the hell is that that supposed to mean? c. Did the Court screw up? d. What the fuck?

All of the above should be avoided. If students can't find the law interesting without cursing or golly-gee expressions then they probably should be in media studies or something.

Original Mike said...

If I spent this much time worrying about fluff I never get any teaching done. Just teach the material the way you're the most comfortable.

Howard said...

I was always conscious of the dress of my teachers, especially in this age of the grunge and slob. I noted that Theater Arts teachers dressed like hippies, most lit teachers wore those corny jackets with the leather elbows and so on. But I was a business/finance major and most of the teachers in that department, most of whom were actual practitioners at exchanges and brokerages, wore suits and ties or obviously expensive casual attire. If I saw a slob teacher teaching a serious subject like law I would expect the usual anti-everything crap that comes from the Left and not the nuts and bolts stuff that comes from actual law experience.

Meade said...

"d. What the fuck?"

As a teacher, I would try to avoid any behavior or language that could be construed as sexual harassment. Especially if someone files a complaint.

Badger said...

I'm all for short, funny digressions.

That reminds me of a story. In the early 1980's I took Althouse’s Federal Jurisdiction class. One day she asked something like: Who can explain the Mishkin variation--and it's not the title of a Robert Ludlum novel? To this day, I laugh when I see Ludlum novels displayed in an airport book store.

George said...

Mishkin variation....is that was Spitzer was up to?

Matt said...

Seconds on "lead by example." I'm a 1L, and having been accosted recently by interviews and other law-y events, I'd have to say that having a "role model" available for instant reference was helpful. As for the in-class stuff, while it shouldn't matter if I can see your toes while talking about the RAP, I can't say I haven't been distracted by a prof's pit-stained shirt (why not keep the jacket on?) when I should've been trying to figure out the parol evidence rule.

Slang is always awesome and appreciated.

Digressions... are sometimes helpful, like when giving a student time to formulate an answer. OTOH, my property prof, who took over at the beginning of 2nd semester, digressed into gay marriage and the fair housing act for seriously like two weeks, and we're still behind. We students very much appreciate a prof who can remain on schedule for readings and attendant class discussions.

Can I lame out and ask for a "reasonable person" standard for digressions?

Middle Class Guy said...

When I was in college, the older professors were the suit or jacket and tie or shirt and tie types. The younger professors dressed like us- jeans, tee shirts, etc. Once in a great while they would don a nice suit and tie and it would be a shocker.

A friend of mines wife is a law professor. She dresses in a stylish, casual manner.

I have been in court over many years. Occasionally, it was difficult to tell the defense attorneys from their criminal clients or the under cover cops. Judges usually chided them for their dress. Only once did an attorney, a Black woman, object to the judges comments on her dress. They went into the judge’s chambers. She was yelling for ten minutes straight then stormed out. She had come to court looking like a bag lady. I never saw her after that. Once an attorney showed up on one of my arrests wearing a Hawaiian shirt. He was called in at the last minute because his partner was unavailable. He never met the defendant and kept insisting that I was his client. Even the judge could not convince him otherwise. It was pretty funny at the time.

The challenge of teaching is to appear professional to the point that the students are comfortable and believe you know what you are talking about. Dressing down would not be unprofessional. Dressing to the point of distraction would be. Would you wear a cocktail dress to class? What would you think if a male teacher showed up in a tux? The students should pay attention to you, not your clothing or lack there of.

As to slang, I would avoid it, except in rare cases. It is unprofessional and gives the impression that you do not think before you speak. By using it you also give the perception, even if it is unintentional, that you have a strong opinion on a position or opinion on the issue at hand. It may intimidate students from offering opinions.

As to strange positions, it depends on what you consider strange. Is teaching while standing on your head strange? Walking around, sitting in various positions that look comfortable is OK.

As to stalling or digressing it would depend on your teaching or speaking style. If it is used as an aid or tactic to get your point across, or to make people comfortable with what you are going to say- do it. I do not think making it a daily practice is useful.

al said...

I think the classroom should be a casual place where open discussion should be encouraged. Given that some are intimidated by a well dressed person being over dressed may cause some to keep their opinions to themselves.

As for sandals - when they match the weather go for it. Slippers - a little too casual. Exposed limbs should be, umm, non-offensive. Bralessness - as long as the breasts aren't hanging down to the waist who cares. OTOH it could be a distraction. Slang should be used carefully. Maybe as a direct quote but otherwise no. As the professor you should get into what ever position you need to be in to present. It's a classroom. The more you interact with the students the more it will, IMO, interact with you. I start out meetings talking about unrelated topics (today was about dogs and how they protect certain people) and it released the tension and got people talking. And they kept talking during the meeting (but about the agenda). I find it works well as long as you can get the class on track. Same with digression - you have to be able to get back on track.

Joan said...

Not a law prof, but I have opinions anyway --

1. Sandals.
In Arizona or California: yes. In NY and New England: probably not. You don't have the excuse that it's summer basically 9 months of the year, there.

2. Other footwear.
General rule: don't wear footwear that will attract attention to itself in class.

3. Exposed limbs.
Again, the general rule applies: don't wear clothing that will attract attention to itself in class. In AZ or other warm (and noticeably more casual) climates, sleeveless tops. Showing arms is OK, showing shoulders is not, so no tank tops.

4. Bralessness. I've always assumed the rule here is that you can go braless in class if no one can tell.
I think your rule is a good one. I would add, no visible bra straps or visible underwear of any kind.


5. Slang.
Profanity is unprofessional. As for slang, would you use it in a meeting? Would you write it into a brief? Can't you just ask, "What did Rehnquist intend?" without the unnecessary modifiers? It's OK to use slang in conversations with students outside of class, but using it subject discussions again calls more attention to your mode of expression than to the subject. It's a distraction.

6. Getting into strange positions.

The line is again drawn at calling attention to your position and thus away from the subject at hand. I can picture your perched professor, and it's funny. Sitting or leaning on a desk or table is probably OK as long as you're not in danger of falling off or knocking anything over.

7. Stalling.
Don't.

8. Digressing.
This one depends on the environment in the classroom. Some classes have a culture that is enlivened by digressions, some classes get completely derailed. Long digressions are almost always deathly, aren't they?

9. Blogging
Depends on what you're blogging about, doesn't it? Otherwise, it falls into the "digressions" category.

The main principle is that the course is about the material, not the professor, and if you can maintain that focus, you're doing the right thing. I don't think you need to be stuffy; you can have personality and be distinctive without being so out-there that you're calling attention to yourself and thus distracting the students from the subject.

al said...

Shorts are acceptable for computer programmers. Comfort first.

sys admins too. :-)

It's almost shorts weather again!!!

Doug Sundseth said...

"...speak in a causal, conversational way in class...."

I would think that being both causal and effectual would be useful. (Though perhaps more in a Torts class than elsewhere.)

8-)

Skyler said...

There's a certain amount of decorum that should be maintained, but not a lot.

I'm in law school now and I can tell you that the important part of the class is to know how to teach, not what the professor looks like.

My favorite professor wore Hawaiian shirts (usually clean) and one time came in with a shaved head (done to amuse his young son). He walks all over the class, but he is a master at teaching. I had him for three semesters and he made admin law exciting.

The truth is that there are far too many professors and teachers that have no idea how to teach. They drone on and on, or they are scatter brained and can't focus, or have their own political, religious, or philosophical agenda to impart that detract from the subject.

I'll take any teacher that can teach well over one that dresses well any day.

Trooper York said...

1.Sandals. A definite no. Proper footwear is a requirement for a professional demeanor. Black lace up thigh high boots with stiletto heels is indicated. See Condoleezza Rice vs. AP.
2.Other Footwear. High heels are always appropriate. See Marv Albert vs. NBC sports.
3.Exposed limbs. They are only acceptable on woman and highly toned gay guys. See Titusinatanky vs. Paul Stuart Stores Et Al.
4.Bralessness is always acceptable unless it becomes a safety issue. Please review the relevant case law in trip and fall law especially Roseanne Barr vs. Playtex Inc.
5.Slang should not be used in the classroom. Proper English must be used in any teaching environment. Please review James Brown vs. The Board of Education. (Hot Pants).
6.Strange positions are one way to get students to pay attention to you and not doze off. I don’t have any case law, but suggest you review Sharon Stones position in Basic Instinct.
7.Stalling is not recommended. You should get it over with if it’s good or if it’s bad. See Elliot Spitzer vs. The State of New York.
8.Digressions are not appropriate in the law. Please study case law Howard J. Stern vs. the Estate of Anna Nicole Smith. (Also applies to point 4)

Mortimer Brezny said...

Female law professors are female and law professors. Females are sex objects. Law professors are symbols of authority. Therefore, female law professors must dress like sex objects that symbolize authority. So sandals are out, especially with low heels. The heels must be high and you should be wearing knee-high boots. You know, you gotta dress like Spitzer would launder for it.

Skyler said...

Oh, and that level of decorum need not be high, but if I EVER have a professor show up without shoes, I would walk out.

Kirk Parker said...

"And then there are some students who are so earnest and diligent that they take everything seriously and could mistake your little joke as part of the doctrine"

Is this going to be on the test???

Simon said...

"Is there something about seeing my toes that makes it hard to get your mind around minimum scrutiny?"

I'd imagine that would be quite distracting from just about anything, yes.

Kidding aside - let's assume most students are normal - I think that the rule should basically be that a professor should generally appear at least somewhat smarter and more expensively dressed than any of the students. That doesn't mean that jeans and a pullover are out, but that they're best used as exceptions to the rule. I'd also agree with Joan - slang, yes, profanity, probably no (with certain exceptions - I think that once per term you could probably get away with saying something like "it's hard to imagine how much worse the court could have fucked up doctrine in this case, let's explore that" if there's a really, really egregious mistake that the court's made and you really want your students to realize how bad a mistake this is).

Digressing - yes, certainly, as long as it's connected to the subject at hand. Digression can be a sort of memory aid, linking a doctrinal question to a story.

Simon said...

Trooper York said...
"7.Stalling is not recommended. You should get it over with if it’s good or if it’s bad. See Elliot Spitzer vs. The State of New York.

I think you have in mind the seminal case State of New York ex rel. People of New York v. Spitzer. He didn't initiate the controversy (at least in the sense of bringing it to light), and you're quite the optimist if you think he's going to get an appeal. ;)

Trooper York said...

I think he is going to throw himself on the mercy of the court reporter. She was not amused. Not appealing in the least. So to speak.

former law student said...

First, what is your purpose in being in the classroom? Do you want your students thinking about how attractive (or not) you are, about your choice of clothing, or about how the cases fit together? I'm going to assume you want the kids to think about the law, and not your navel ring.

1. Sandals.

Acceptable only if you are from the Middle East and still speak with an accent. Then you should get a really good pedicure, and have your toenails painted scarlet. Your hairstyle should be similarly elaborate.

2. Other footwear. Generally unconventional footwear can be worn only for health reasons: diabetes, bunions, hammertoes, etc.
Can a lawprof wear sneakers?
Only an ordained priest. In fact, he would be an exception to the no Birks rule as well.
Fluffy slippers?
Acceptable if one or both legs are in a cast.
Mary janes?
Mary Janes are always appropriate. Not ballet slippers, however.
Mary janes with oddly colored socks (fuschia, chartreuse, etc.)?
Only if you want people talking about your socks and not conflict of law provisions.
Are bare feet ever allowed — perhaps in a small class in the summer session?
Not for law professors over eight years of age.
Don't we all know of at least one lawprof who taught barefoot?
Barefeet are appropriate if the lawprof is wearing a tie-dyed shirt and an Afro or Jewfro.
3. Exposed limbs. If we're not wearing jackets, should we at least have long sleeves?
No shells, but short sleeves are ok.
Are women but not men allowed to reveal their arms?
Men in short sleeves are unprofessional except for dentists.
No shorts. Skirts below the knee are acceptable, especially with suits. Floor-sweeping skirts are ok but don't look good in a suit.

Pantsuits are OK if you want to look like the late Erma Bombeck.

4. Bralessness.
Sure if you don't need to wear a bra, BUT, you don't want your students IMing each other about your hooters, 'nuff said.

5. Slang. I've always assumed it's not just acceptable but highly desirable to speak in a causal, conversational way in class, but where is the line? Which if any of these phrases should be avoided: a. What the heck did Rehnquist mean by that? b. What the hell is that that supposed to mean? c. Did the Court screw up? d. What the fuck?

If any of those phrases make your listener think about the words you chose instead of their content, leave them out. If you habitually swear like a drill instructor, don't worry -- it is the contrast that matters.

6. Getting into strange positions. Don't cause the students to speculate on your cellulite or nether-region-topiary.

7. Stalling.
You can chat while the students are filing in, but at the top of the hour, you should begin as you mean to go on. Beginning with a distraction will encourage the students to talk on a variety of random topics.

8. Digressing.

OK as a break, if you can transition smoothly back into the class. Humiliation of the class is appropriate for 1Ls: cell phone ringing, etc. There are those tales of the days when you were a lawyer, which may seem professional but are really the most outrageous waste of time.

Once in a while (twice a semester) you can talk about how something you're covering plays out in practice.

Save the bizarre humor for after class -- people are in class to take you literally. Plus, humor really falls flat with multicultural students who will spend up to five minutes trying to understand.

Middle Class Guy said...

former law student said...
1. Sandals.

Acceptable only if you are from the Middle East and still speak with an accent. Then you should get a really good pedicure, and have your toenails painted scarlet. Your hairstyle should be similarly elaborate.



Ah, if from the Middle East, wouldn't a burka be more appropriate? Just asking.

jeff said...

What would Prof Kingsfield wear? When you are taking minds full of mush and turning them into lawwwyers, distracting them with untethered breasts seems a bit cruel. On the other hand, Kingsfield probably didnt wear a bra either, so I guess its a wash.

Middle Class Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middle Class Guy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middle Class Guy said...

If you are looking for the proper professional appearance with sandals.

Professional Eastern Garb

Beth said...

Simple rule: Do the opposite of whatever your colleagues in the departments of sociology and womens' studies do.

Why?

Original Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Original Mike said...

Mortimer Brezny said: female law professors must dress like sex objects that symbolize authority.

You mean like this?

www.pulitzer.org/year/2006/criticism/works/rice.jpg

Elliott A said...

Since I never wear a tie unless I have to, it is difficult for me to ask for formal attire. Yet, since law school is a professional school, the professor should be dressed professionally. That being said, my idea of professionally would be what a lawyer or other professional would wear to the office on the weekend when work is not formally going on, but when someone may see you. As the payer of tuition to a law school, I would be disappointed if the professors dressed like the students.

Ann Althouse said...

I've been teaching for 20+ years and I've never said "fuck" in class. I can't imagine even wanting to do that. I've never said "shit" either, but I may have said "bullshit" once or twice. The trouble with "bullshit" is, once you allow yourself to say it in a law school class, there will be so many occasions where it fits, so you'll be saying it all the time.

It took me years before I ever said "The Court screwed up," and I felt bad about it. Now, I say it occasionally. Less than once a semester. I don't think "screwed up" has much of a sexual connotation.

I used to never say "damn" and "hell," but now I do. Not a lot.

The one thing I definitely avoid is taking the Lord's name in vain. It's a sin! Saying "fuck" isn't a sin. So if you're not saying "fuck," you definitely shouldn't be saying "Oh my God."

Ann Althouse said...

Badger said: "That reminds me of a story. In the early 1980's I took Althouse’s Federal Jurisdiction class. One day she asked something like: Who can explain the Mishkin variation--and it's not the title of a Robert Ludlum novel? To this day, I laugh when I see Ludlum novels displayed in an airport book store."

Ha ha. I'm glad that digressive second has given you year's of pleasure. And I'm sure I know what we were talking about: protective jurisdiction. Frankfurter's opinion in Lincoln Mills!

Ann Althouse said...

Skyler: "Oh, and that level of decorum need not be high, but if I EVER have a professor show up without shoes, I would walk out."

And then I met a law professor who had no feet.

rhhardin said...

Visible nipples : it depends on perkiness. Typical older woman gravity placed nipples just remind you of your mother around the house and are completely ignored by every sex.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Dress, physical presentation, autos and office surroundings are a big deal in my industry and often a topic of discussion with not everyone agreeing. Impressions are very important. We want to look prosperous but not ostentatious. Groomed yet approachable. Professional and not sloppy or sleazy. Office clean, expensive looking but comfortable.


The rule of thumb for dress is to dress just a bit nicer and more formally than most of your clients when in an office/professional setting. Dress should be appropriate for the occasion also. If I'm making a visit to one of my ranching clients, it's best not to wear the mincing high heels and power suit or if you are a guy the suit and tie with shiny leather shoes.

I would think as a professor, you want to have the respect of your students as a learned professional, but not so stuffy that they feel they can't approach you. I don't see why open toed shoes should be forbidden. They are quite the style now. But flip flops or beach style sandals...nope. Bra less. Probably not unless you have no chest at all. I think the leopard skin toreador pants and spandex bra top could be a bit over the top, but I see no reason you should dress like a concentration camp matron either.

Weird sitting positions would be a distraction to your class paying attention to what you are saying instead of taking bets on when you are going to fall off the desk.

Strange verbal ticks are also something people who are speaking professionally have to watch for. I still remember a teacher in college who interspersed his lectures with lots of 'and um' fillers. We would make hatch marks on paper to count the number of 'and ums' and the one closest to guessing would get treated to free beer later. He probably thought we were all taking copious notes. Needless to say we didn't learn much from his lectures.

nina said...

Know your region and your season. In Madison, styles are more casual. Even in court.

It's too cold in this country to wear sandals. We have air conditioning issues.

Great professors will remain great no matter how they dress. But, the rest (meaning the vast majority) should be aware of what they want to project. Within that, there is a huge range of possibilities.

Final comment: at the university, the style of dress definitely goes down as the salary levels diminish. English departments are more casual than the business school. Within law, tenure track faculty dress with greater care than do clinical profs. It has to do with budgets for clothes.

freelunch said...

I had a Tax II prof in the late '70s who always seemed to be wearing sandals, though he may have been unshod at times. I wasn't ever distracted, sometimes his lecture were riveting.

Original Mike said...

Nina said: It has to do with budgets for clothes.

Yes. I couldn't dress like Ann if I wanted to. (Um, that didn't come out quite right.)

Simon said...

Ann said...
"It took me years before I ever said 'The Court screwed up,' and I felt bad about it. Now, I say it occasionally. Less than once a semester. "

Infrequency, presumably, increases impact. If students aren't used to that being part of your lexicon, its use in connection to a particular case would (I would think) really hammer home the importance of the point.

Dust Bunny Queen said...
"Strange verbal ticks are also something people who are speaking professionally have to watch for."

Several law professors, it's my observation, will habitually drop "right?" onto the end of a sentence that's quite clearly a statement, but making it seem more open ended. I noticed at a conference last year that Prof. Amy Wax, for example, seemed to do so almost every other sentence (it was endearing, but I think that it would become less so by several classes into a term). But either way, I think it's a healthy thing for a law professor to have some idiosyncrasies, a fortiori to the extent that the job is about writing and scholarship.

save_the_rustbelt said...

Common sense in all things.

Drop by an accounting or law office for a good definition of business casual. Drop there or better (occasional exceptions allowed for late spring when everyone is a little nuts anyway).

Nipples staring at the audience (class or business) is an incredible distraction, and when bending over the desk the class should not get a detailed look at your bosom (a lesson some coeds need to learn as well).

Digressions are ok, some days the lecture isn't flowing and it is a good way to buy some time for the brain to reorganize, and/or use a little humor to get the class back with you.

[Trooper York, you are confined to your tent for being a bad boy. Boots, huh?]

B said...

Actually was asked last year by 3 coed friends of my daughter (who was not present) if hard nipples were a distraction to men all the time or not.

I replied that the answer is probably always yes, but obviously most men don't mind, unless:

1. it's your daughter

2. it's an "older" woman, where (as mentioned above) the directional mapping is disoriented. This includes "older" women with a newer, purchased "adjustment" - they just don't look right even when they've been adjusted by a carpenter's level.

So - "older" women: probably never.

Dewave said...

As far as shoes, and attire in general is concerned, as a law professor one should be wearing 'dress shoes'.

This leaves women much more freedom than men, but that's the way it goes.

Flip flops, sneakers, sandals on guys, socks and sandals on anyone, crocs - all these are huge no nos.

You wish to give the impression that you respect your class enough to have put some thought and effort into your personal appearance, but not that you obsess over it.

My brother is at a liberal arts college right now, and standard attire for professors in the humanities is dress shoes, slacks, jacket, tie. Math professors tend to dispense with the jacket. Computer science professors do whatever they want :p

Hey said...

All professors should dress professionally. If what you're wearing would be unacceptable for a senior associate at Skadden or Goldman, then it is unacceptable for any professor, but especially a Law Prof.

Female professors have more leeway, as do all female professionals. Theory, St. John, or Pink Tartan (Toronto designers that do great women's professional wear) are what you should be wearing. For men good suits are a necessity. Bespoke menswear is preferred, Boss is the minimal acceptable level.

Casual wear has no place at the office, the university is your office, so no professor has any right to be unprofessional when on campus. Ideally this could be incorporated into the faculty handbook and be leveraged to cleanse academia of the 68ers and their fellow travelers.

Beth said...

I see everything from hiking shorts and boots over in the Geology department to expensive designer wear in Poli Sci and Business.

My department is all over the map. I generally wear black jeans or khakis, t-shirts or button-ups, and Doc Martens or tennis shoes. In the near-tropical summer, I'll wear cropped chinos with a white linen shirt, but never sandals. That's just a line of exposure I don't feel comfortable with in the classroom. My office mate is suit and tie, every day. I enjoy his handsomeness, so I encourage him. Money is a factor for all of in the English department, but some manage to be amazingly stylish.

Ann, your discussion of language from "fuck" to taking the Lord's name in vain reflects my choices in the classroom. I don't use any obscenities, and rarely if ever resort to something as mild as "damn." I want my students to understand audience and context, so for the most part, I want to keep the discourse elevated. An exception would be when we're discussing a story or novel and I want us all to dive into the language of the text. I do use humor a lot, and my classroom isn't formal and stuffy.

dick said...

Not a professor but when working in offices have seen several levels of required dress.

I worked one place where we had to wear our suit coats whenever we were out of our office space and long sleeved shirts at all times. We were not allowed to wear the sleeves rolled up either. Didn't stay long there.

Another place I was told we could wear casual all the time unless we were having a professional meeting. Since I was just junior there I works sweatshirts and jeans all winter and tee shirts and jeans all summer.

I have to say that I feel better about the job where I have to have some formality but not too much. Suits and ties work better when it comes to having a professional attitude.

Trooper York said...

Beth, give the Voluptous Vixen a try in the Quarter. Jacklyn will fix you with some new threads. You will be the best dressed professor since the guy from Gilligan's island had the coconut cell phone.

Ann Althouse said...

I'm really surprised people are so uptight about sandals!

And the idea that professors should wear "dress shoes"... Most of the male lawprofs I know wear casual shoes of the "Rockport" type.

The idea that you would need to spend a lot of money to dress like me... I don't get that. I spend money to get quality shoes and I have a few expensive handbags, but the clothes themselves... I usually dress like a stagehand in a black knit top and black pants... as inconspicuous as possible.

Skyler said...

And then I met a law professor who had no feet.

Foul. Flag on the play. Inappropriate use of an extreme example.

CJ said...

I'm a current law student and I'd say the most important thing for in class is to be "nondescript". I'm already too focused on the weird tie or the tick here and there. Don't make it worse. Also, don't look exactly like a student. So if at your lawschool students where jeans, flip flops, and t-shirts like at mine, business casual would be ok. But, at a school with older students or students who work, maybe a suit would be the only option.

1. Sandals. I'd say yes to sandals that are nice, leather or the like, and that you would NEVER wear to the beach. Birkenstocks are a no!

2. Other footwear. I think shoes should be comfortable. Sneakers would be pushing it a little (however, I have several professors who wear the "old man" black sneaker) If you need something like that it's ok. Mary Janes would be fine, even with unusual socks. You really should see socks when people are standing up!

3. Exposed limbs. Again, I'm staring obsessively at you for 3 hours a week. Think about that! If the school is very warm sleeveless for women might be ok, but short sleeves should be fine for everyone!

4. Bralessness. Never! Even if you think no one can tell, they probably can. And they will be distracted.

5. Slang. I'd argue against cursing to avoid the easily offended, but other slang would probably be ok. I definitely depends on how much control of the class you have. It might be a risk to break the decorum.

6. Getting into strange positions.
All of my professors stand or pace or sit. I think that's probably best. Don't distract me with your awkwardness!

7. Stalling. I like the stalling, but not if you talk for 5 minutes, then keep us 5 minutes over! Less than a minute is good.

8. Digressing. Like someone said above the best Profs are those who keep on schedule! If your digression is going to cause us to need a "make up" class or to keep us over 10 minutes don't do it. However some classes need a break and a laugh at some points

Beth said...

Trooper, I will do that, before the fall semester starts. I checked out her website and I like what I see.

While we're remembering the Professor, let's not forget dear Mary Ann. She's a smokin' hot old lady these days.

Beth said...

cj, there's no avoiding offending someone, sometime in class, though I get your point.

When I teach a section of Intro to Poetry, I begin with Philip Larkin's "This be the Verse":

They fuck you up, your mum and dad

They may not mean to but they do.


It just starts us off on the right foot.

Kirk Parker said...

Ann,

And then I met a law professor who had no feet.

" ... so I said, 'Hey! Got any shoes you're not using???' "

blake said...

...and thank you, Jack Handy.

I don't really recall what my profs wore. That's probably good, eh?

I do remember some of the goofier things they did to serve as mnemonics.