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August 24, 2008

Dress code

I went to law school some years ago. When I was there, professors typically wore dark suits, or at least a shirt and tie. One prof had made waves a few years earlier by insisting on wearing jeans, because he was cool beyond words.

It seems to be different on law faculties these days. I say this based on this blog post at "The Shark" (apparently a blog at Hastings Law School) about an article that a law professor is publishing in a law review, in which he advocates a dress code among the law faculty:

Prof. Jensen (left) accuses denim-clad professors of "trying—unsuccessfully—to look as young as students" and suggests that academics are the "worst-dressed middle-class occupation group in America." Apparently, if professors send a "signal of seriousness, of civility" by wearing a tie or tweed pants or maybe even a robe of some kind "students will pick it up."

Students are a hopeless group themselves, according to Jensen. He indicates that although he can't turn back the clock to a time when students did a better job of covering themselves up, he wishes he could.
Regarding student attire, The Shark's item quotes a student commenting at another law blog:

Whale-tail is no more distracting than attractive classmates in general, both of which are less distracting than web-surfing. Decorum is one thing, but one might as well take it further and get rid of laptops and attractive classmates.
Like The Shark, I had no idea what whale tail meant, so I looked it up. If you don't know, please don't Google it, and if you do, please don't click on "I'm Feeling Lucky."

Anyway, the last thing I want to think about right now is student attire. What I want to think about is student freebies.

Yes, freebies. According to this article in the Business section of the New York Times, colleges are beginning to give out free iPhones or internet-connected iPods to students. I kid you not.
Taking a step that professors may view as a bit counterproductive, some universities are doling out Apple iPhones and Internet-capable iPods to students.

The always-on Internet devices raise some novel possibilities, like tracking where students congregate. With far less controversy, colleges could send messages about canceled classes, delayed buses, campus crises or just the cafeteria menu.

While schools emphasize its usefulness — online research in class and instant polling of students, for example — a big part of the attraction is, undoubtedly, that the iPhone is cool and a hit with students. Basking in the aura of a cutting-edge product could just help a university foster a cutting-edge reputation.
Let me translate this for you. The money you're sending to your kid's college is being used to give the kid electronic equipment you didn't think was worth buying for him yourself.

If you read the article, you'll see various educational activities that these give-aways supposedly facilitate. But the real reason for giving the equipment away is marketing. You have to compete with other colleges to attract students -- and the tuition money that accompanies them.

I guess I'm pleased, curmudgeon that I am, that there are at least a couple of skeptics on the faculty:
The rush to distribute the devices worries some professors, who say that students are less likely to participate in class if they are multitasking. “I’m not someone who’s anti-technology, but I’m always worried that technology becomes an end in and of itself, and it replaces teaching or it replaces analysis,” said Ellen G. Millender, associate professor of classics at Reed College in Portland, Ore. (She added that she hoped to buy an iPhone for herself once prices fall.)

Robert S. Summers, who has taught at Cornell Law School for about 40 years, announced this week — in a detailed, footnoted memorandum — that he would ban laptop computers from his class on contract law.

“I would ban that too if I knew the students were using it in class,” Professor Summers said of the iPhone, after the device and its capabilities were explained to him. “What we want to encourage in these students is active intellectual experience, in which they develop the wide range of complex reasoning abilities required of the good lawyers.”
So here's my compromise: Ban the electronic equipment but spare the attractive classmates.