“Brains, Not Clothes”

Annette already posted in this comments on the post about Yik Yak, but I think this deserves its own entry: from Inside Higher Ed, “Brains, Not Clothes.” This is about a mass email to students at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden from Adam Scales, the vice dean, about how students should stop commenting on the fashion and appearance of female instructors in their end of the semester evaluations. Here’s a long quote:

“Women are frequently targets of evaluative commentary that, in addition to being wildly inappropriate and adolescent, is almost never directed at men. Believe me, I am about the last person on this faculty for whom the ‘sexism’ label falls readily to hand, but after a lifetime of hearing these stories, I know it when I see it. Anyone who doubts this would find it instructive to stop by and ask any one of our female professors about this and similar dynamics.”

Scales says that student evaluations are an “important tool,” and that they’re also public and become part of every faculty member’s record (he notes he struck the fashion “advice” from the evaluation in question in a “nanosecond,” however).

Therefore, he tells students, “When you compose comments about faculty — which can be as direct, negative and harshly detailed as you like — I want you to remember that you’re writing for the personnel file, and for history. If you have any doubts that posterity will somehow muddle through without the benefit of your fashion advice, allow me to dispel them once and for all.”

The reaction to this at Rutgers has been mostly positive, though there are some folks who disagree with Scales about his message. Personally, I think it’s right message because I often think that students don’t realize the ways their comments in evaluations (or in social media spaces like Yik Yak, for that matter) are carried beyond the specific situation.

One thought on ““Brains, Not Clothes”

  1. I love that Rutgers did this, but the comment section of this article reminded me why I stopped regularly reading both CHE and Higher Ed. I’m disturbed by what appears to be? actual educators? essentially assuming that professors whose appearances were criticized must not have been dressed professionally. I was in a class where a man commented on an attractive woman, saying he wished her neckline was lower (as it was not at all revealing, apparently)…so much for “professional dress.” It’s just disturbing to realize how many educated people live in a bubble when it comes to really basic, everyday gender issues.


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