While graphic T-shirts and jeans work well in Silicon Valley and at high-tech firms with ever-younger CEO’s, the world of academia is still staunchly conservative in sartorial matters. Professors of both genders may teach in jeans, but those who teach have a level of freedom that their special status as intellectuals and keepers of the flame of knowledge confer.
Administrators in higher education though, including those who hold both academic and administrative appointments, are held to a standard that reflects their role of carrying out the business of the university.
With whom do you feel more comfortable managing the many millions of operating expenses and endowment holdings of a prestigious institution of higher education: the woman in a business suit from Talbots or the fellow in Tommy Hilfiger jeans?
It’s no contest. The humanistic character of many of our educational institutions largely has been stripped away and the imperative to “act like a nonprofit, think like a business” that is the hallmark of our most effective nonprofit organizations, now applies to our best universities as well.
Getting a job in the academy and keeping it, is not as easily accomplished as in the past, and you can be sure that every element of your professional life—your appearance, manner of speaking, and demeanor, are under scrutiny at all administrative levels. So don’t downgrade that business suit just yet, and gentlemen, don’t dare toss off that tie.
Susanne Thomas, PhD is a Higher Education and Nonprofit Management Consultant
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