The Lonely Planet Guide to Faculty Fashion & Apparel

Only a person with a petrified diaphragm could fail to laugh out loud at Kerry Soper’s “RateMyProfessor’” in the September 17 (2010) issue of The Chronicle Review. In the brief little satire, Soper refers to one of the “rate your professor” websites which allows students to rate their professor’s class performance as well as their appearance. The student is allowed to place an icon of a chili pepper beside a professor who is particularly good looking. Soper bemoans the fact that “it is unfair that only the few youthful, freakishly good-looking faculty members among us get all of those chili-pepper accolades” and proposes that the students also be allowed to reward their professors with any of twelve “consolation icons.”

Soper’s real game is to poke a little fun at university culture and the eccentricities it produces. So, just for fun, I thought I’d mention a few of Soper’s icons and their descriptions (several of which would not find an analog on an SBC seminary campus, you’ll notice) for those who would like to take a stroll down (college) memory lane.

One of Soper’s icons is The Pocket Protector, representing a professorial style that I suspect is represented on every college and seminary campus. In clicking on this metaphorical icon, a student is “congratulating a professor on being unabashedly (or unconsciously) nerdy in his or her appearance: ‘It’s clear that you just don’t care, and that’s awesome. We get a kick out of your functional polyester slacks; limp, faded shirts; and grimy, heavy-framed glasses. Don’t change! We feel comforted knowing that none of your valuable research and class-prep time is eaten up with frivolous concerns over wearing same-colored socks, changing your pants every day, or taking any extra time to match up the buttons with the proper buttonholes in that threadbare shirt.”

Another icon is The Bow Tie: “This is for professors determined to maintain an ivory-tower dress code established in a previous century. The student is saying, ‘Yes, that stuffy little bow tie looks ridiculous on your portly frame; your frumpy oxford shirts are stained and frayed; and I have never seen a jacket that is so depressingly brown and textured. Nevertheless, your stereotypically fussy sense of style does help me feel like I’m getting my money’s worth as a college student.'”

A third icon may not find a referent on an evangelical seminary campus, but packs a wicked punch on most university campuses. By giving the professor The Espresso Cup, the student is saying, “I can see that you have a coherent style going on there: an array of black and gray clothing that has a vague, critical-theory hipness to it. And good job on finding the right kind of severe glasses and retro haircut to fit the look. Personally, I find the aesthetic dull and pretentious, but it is fun to see you strike self-conscious poses at the whiteboard, like some kind of morose poet in a Sears catalog for existentialists.”

A fourth professorial style is represented by The Half-Eaten Protein Bar: This is a student’s way of saying: “You may not be an especially attractive human being, but it does appear that you spend a lot of time at the gym attempting to get into shape. God job, in other words, for trying. Yes, you may have weird hair, lame clothes and dorky glasses, but I’m sure that somewhere under the extra 15 pounds you’ve accumulated over the years, there must be some nicely sculpted delts and pecs.”

A fifth style is what Soper calls The Pressed Flower: by choosing this icon, the student is saying that “it looks as if you may have been hip and attractive at one point in your life. And guessing from your big hair, lavender pantsuit with the puffy should pads, and bright pumps, that year was probably 1986. Thank you for preserving this historical look for future generations.” (Soper should be careful on this one, as he might find himself ducking to avoid an incoming pair of 1986 pumps aimed at his melon.)

A sixth icon is The Harmonica: This is for the securely upper-middle-class prof who enjoys wearing faux working-class garb: scuffed leather boots, aged denim, faded T-shirts, and Teamster-style plaid button-ups. Students can say: “We don’t get your fetish for all things Springsteen, and your folksy, left-leaning political references are about 40 to 50 years out of date, but we appreciate the laid-back, democratic ambiance you bring to the class. Indeed, it makes it difficult for you to say no to our requests for grade adjustments when you find out that we, too, are from humble, working-class roots.”

A final icon is The Power Tie: “This is for the prof who seems to belong (or perhaps has once belonged) in corporate America rather than academe. The student is saying, ‘You must be a misguided Republican adjunct-a refugee from the downsized business world-or some kind of weird, moonlighting administrator. How else to explain the worn-out black dress shoes, Brooks Brothers shirts with the frayed collars, silk ties that were fashionable maybe 10 years ago, and that heavily gelled hair? Nice job on keeping me distracted from your dry lectures with this fashion conundrum.'”

Well, I hope Soper’s icons provided a little bit of levity to your day. I left out five of his icons (The Pizza Slice, The Lump of Tofu, The Cassava Root, The Pina Colada with a Little Umbrella, and The Crystal) and I cannot imagine how many extra icons our readership could provide based on their college careers. However, I am confident that the seven icons bring all of us some retrospective clarity to our former lives as college students and bring some of us present-day clarity about ourselves and our colleagues.

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  1. Nathan Finn   •  

    This hurts, Bruce. Vengence does not sleep . . .


  2. Micah Fries   •  

    Bruce, when are you going to assign a few specific professor’s names beside each of these descriptions? *grin*

  3. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Nathan, but what could possibly have offended you? :-) I know that I, for one, was relieved that none of the icons had anything to do with yodeling or lederhosen.

  4. Bruce Ashford   •     Author

    Micah, I was hoping that you would name some names in the comment section. But seriously, in SBC life, we’d have to come up with different icons: The Missional Prof, the Calvinist, The Evangelist, etc. Maybe that’s a post for another day.

  5. JAN   •  

    Noticed Bruce left out any mention of a “Boy Band” icon. Guess he’s still in denial.

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