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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Classroom dress code?

In my post on the MAGA hat incident at Gonzaga, several commenters asked why the student was wearing a hat in the classroom. At some level, this is besides the point because the supposed problem is displaying offensive or provocative messages in class at a professor or colleague, not the medium. We would be having the same conversation over a MAGA t-shirt or whatever.

So the question is should we impose dress codes in the classroom (which would be dress codes in the building, since students are not going to change clothes all day)? As my daughter argued, we expect students to treat the classroom as a courtroom and to be prepared to engage at that level. If so, why allow them to dress in a way they would not be allowed in court. And if we do not go all the way to suits and dresses, at least "business casual."

I would not support such a move. They still are students and should be able to enjoy those comforts, even if we expect professionalism in other respects. But it is an interesting question, especially as politics get more divisive and people become more likely to be offended by the messages on someone's clothing. [Update: I should add that I wear shorts and a polo shirt on my non-teaching days, so I am not living what this would require of students]

Posted by Howard Wasserman on July 24, 2019 at 09:33 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


If you ever read anything I’ve written on this blog, you would know that I am not as passionate about anything as I am about free speech. If you read the OP, you should know that I am not advocating a dress code, as when I wrote “I would not support such a move.”

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Jul 26, 2019 5:08:31 AM

The question is--why aren't as passionate about the right to wear what you want as you are about sexual and reproductive freedom?

Posted by: You're ignoring my question | Jul 26, 2019 3:41:59 AM

sarcasm Besides, if one paid attention to myths about what it takes to be a law professor, so few of them have spent any time in courtrooms that they shouldn't be trusted to police such a policy! Not to mention that the courtroom represents 10% or less of the time spent by anyone other than judges and public defenders; it's sort of like expecting all football players at Division I schools to show up for all of their classes in full pads. /sarcasm

All seriousness aside for a moment — let's not forget that some students (those with small children, among others) can be awfully lucky to get to class on time in something other than pajamas, and not just because they're feckless students. I suggest that "clean and comfortable" is the standard to be aspired to — but not necessarily enforced. A Con Law professor who isn't charmed by several students showing up wearing ratty old jeans jackets with a certain "offensive" message on it on the day Cohen v. California is on the syllabus isn't paying attention.

Posted by: C.E. Petit | Jul 24, 2019 1:17:00 PM

Like TJ, I don't find the "classroom as courtroom" analogy useful here. Although if we go that direction, students may be fans: Students may not like wearing suits to class, but they would bill several hundred dollars an hour for class prep time and class time alike. I'm not sure how we would set student rates, but at least they wouldn't complain about all the reading.

More seriously, my impression is that most lawprofs have long ago stopped caring what students wear to class. That's a question of student norms, not a matter for the faculty to decide.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Jul 24, 2019 1:13:10 PM

I don't think anyone really believes in a "classroom as courtroom" standard, either as a matter of dress or as a matter of preparation. Realistically, I expect students to spend about as much time preparing before class as the class itself (we can double or triple the expected preparation, it makes no difference to my point); in comparison, any lawyer that prepared only 10 minutes for a 10 minute oral argument should be fired. Saying that students should treat the classroom as a courtroom is just a hyperbolic way of saying that they should treat class with seriousness; it is not meant to be taken literally.

By the same token, we all probably have a minimum expected level of dress for students, just much lower than what is expected in a courtroom. I think we would all frown if a student came to class wearing pajamas, for example.

Posted by: TJ | Jul 24, 2019 11:24:04 AM

If I visited a school as an admitted student and learned they had a business-casual dress code, that would be sufficient motivation for me to choose a different school. On days when I’m not teaching, I don’t dress in business casual now.

Posted by: Roger | Jul 24, 2019 10:06:00 AM

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