After about a year of serving as Assistant Provost, the Provost called me in and indicated that he was more than pleased with my job performance and was ready, especially given the added responsibilities I had taken on, to recommend promotion to Associate Provost. I was thrilled and very appreciative and indicated as much to the Provost. He repeated that it was well deserved and then said there was one stipulation regarding the promotion. He made it clear that this wasn’t a “requirement.” However, he also made it clear that this was more than a casual suggestion. The stipulation was that I wear a tie each day that I was in the office. Now the reality was, up to that time (including my years as a full-time faculty member), that I tended to wear nice sport shirts. The provost at the time was a tie every day person and he wanted everyone in the office to have that more formal look. I agreed.
At first that agreement was my way of saying how much I appreciated the promotion. But over time and especially when I represented the office, I realized that the professional look, as opposed to the dress down/casual look, resonated better with all constituencies and was a far better visual for a provost’s office. But what about on your own time? Over a weekend, especially when there are no official events scheduled and you don’t plan to be on campus, how should you dress? My preference has been to wear jeans and under the heading of full disclosure I also tend not to shave. Is this a problem? Yes and no. Let me explain. One Saturday, I went to my local bank to ask for an account clarification. I was wearing jeans, a polo shirt and I was unshaved. I felt there was no reason to dress up and I also thought my local banker would be the best person to ask for clarification. She was. However, at the end of the conversation, after I had said thanks and goodbye, she commented that I looked much better at a recent University event she had attended. I didn’t comment, just said goodbye again and kept walking. Thinking over this event, having had some time elapse, I would not change anything I did. The banker’s comments were inappropriate; dressing casually on your own time is your own business.
Sometimes, dressing like a dean or provost even on campus isn’t always possible. I am a recreational swimmer; Hofstra has a great swimming pool and I try on a regular basis to swim after I leave the office. Now imagine a situation where after swimming I am in the shower room and in comes a faculty member who I had just written a negative recommendation on, for tenure. Mine was not the first negative recommendation written for this person’s candidacy, but this was still an uncomfortable moment. Wearing a suit and tie would certainly have been more comfortable at this moment, but a setting other than a locker room shower would have been a prerequisite. Fortunately, we both chose to not recognize each other and I was out of the shower before the next drop of water hit my body.
But there was another shower incident where leaving instantly wasn’t a possibility. I had just walked out of the shower, and was drying off. At that moment, a fully clothed young man came up to me and said: “Can I talk to you about the MBA program? I have a concern I would like to discuss immediately!.” The ultimate gotcha — wearing just a towel and needing to get dressed doesn’t give you a lot of coverage to say “I can’t talk now; please call my office.” I got dressed and listened at the same time. I was able to help the student and given the circumstances, I will resist saying I thought the student was very cheeky in how he handled the situation.
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