Tuesday, September 19, 2006

I'm Back in the Saddle, Again

It's been a little over 10 days since my last post, but I'm back. I apologize for the long absence--there are several valid excuses (work, work, work) and perhaps invalid ones (having fun, existential crises over feeling 18 at the age of 26), but I'm back.

After this lovely ode (and implied gentle exhortation) by "Gil Grantmore," how could I not come back?

I'm back because I'm finally done (well, I was done, but then I changed the entire scope of the project) with Phase 1 of drafting my research proposal. Well, by "done" I mean that I read a lot of the stuff Preeminent Federalism Scholar told me to read, wrote up summaries of the cases and secondary law review literature, and came up with proposed refined topics for my thesis. Now, onto Phase 2, or going back and re-reading all of this and drafting an actual thesis on the particular question/issue he suggested, "but you don't have to do this if you don't want to." He told me that he's had students who just turn in a paper at the end of the year and who correspond by email--but that I could come in as little or as often as I needed. Well, I think I need to come in at least once a month! Not only to keep me "honest," and diligent, but also to make me "good." I get a lot from our meetings.

I wonder at my colleagues, or what I remember of my JD colleagues when I was in law school, who felt trepidation over meeting with law professors. Not that some law professors aren't intimidating, and indeed, I was quite nervous my first two meetings with Preeminent Federalism Scholar (he was, after all, once dean, is quite famous, and judges call during our meetings to say "hi"). But the idea in the abstract terrifies some students. Some students never go into office hours. I try not to abuse the institution of office hours, but I do go often enough--and not just during finals. I go to ask questions; I go to introduce myself and develop that very valuable thing, a "network" of professors willing to help promote me and write letters of rec for me; and I go to develop mentoring relationships, an even more valuable thing.

So I will be meeting with Preeminent Federalism Scholar at least once a month I think, just to make sure my thesis is on the right track, progressing well, and to ensure a good (not too frequent, not too infrequent) working relationship with my advisor. So far, this is working out well--he is not only very nice, but progressively friendlier, relating to me anecdotes about placing bets with his federal court judge buddies on the outcomes of Supreme Court cases. I think that he likes that I come prepared, with summaries and that I take notes. Well, at least he's asking me "am I going too fast for you" less (actually, last meeting he didn't even ask, as I was the one talking about federalism issues in child pornography regulation and could remember precisely what FMLA case he was talking about). I also come relatively professionally dressed, in order to show respect for him, and respect for myself.

Not to beat the sartorial blawg topic to death, but I'd like to offer a student's take on this. If there is debate over how professors should dress, why not a similar debate over how students should dress? If professors show respect for their office and title by dressing at least a little more formally than their students, then how should students dress? As the student wardrobe has shifted ever farther away from a jacket and tie for men and nice dress for the women, the professorial wardrobe has commensurately declined. That is to say, if your students wear jeans, t-shirts, and flip-flops (I think the "uniform" on the West Coast, which is where I went to law school), then it won't take much to distinguish yourself from your students (who can't be distinguished from undergraduates, either).

It's a difficult issue, really. On the one hand, I like that academia has become more democratic, less stodgy, and has a more racially and socioeconomically diverse student body--so as it becomes more open, perhaps it should communicate its openness by relaxing some of its old, stuffy, exclusionary standards. On the other hand, there is a part of me that thinks of academia as being hallowed and exalted ( a sacred cow of mine) and so I would like the people, especially the professoriate, to show due respect to the noble goal of learning and truth-seeking.

So the long and short of it is that I hold the professors to a higher standard--you are not merely students, and you should dress accordingly to communicate that class is an occasion for learning, and thus an occasion to honor. I had a professor I once TA'd for that always put on a tie to indicate that a lecture is something special to his students. I loved that. There is no turning the tide back on student dress--the students will look like they rolled out of bed, which probably most of them did (I think 3 years at Bourgie Metrosexual Law School and hanging out with Europeans has made me a bit too fashion-conscious). But they are students, and though they intend to be professionals, for now they (and sometimes, I) will take advantage of that largely unstructured, irresponsible lifestyle and dress according to our station in life (pretty low, until you get your J.D. and license). However, our station in life is not that of a professor's, so yes, I think it would be nice if professors didn't look like grad students.

However, I do have a J.D. I am not just a professional, but an aspiring academic. This isn't to say I don't wear jeans to school--I'm back to some of my student habits--but when I meet with a professor, whether formally or informally, I dress for the occasion that is. When I make my "hello, my name is Belle Lettre, and I am doing research in your area of law" rounds, I wear at least trousers and a blouse, and often a jacket. When I see my advisors for our formerly biweekly, now monthly meetings, I definitely wear a jacket. I know I don't have to. I know this, because the person waiting for the appointment after me looks like a delivery boy. But even if I don't have to, I want to. Not merely to show respect for my advisor, who is, after all, Preeminent Federalism Scholar (and former dean). I do it to show respect for myself, that I am not merely some student passing time at school waiting for my degree so that I can get out into the workplace. I am an aspiring academic, who wants to spend the rest of her life and probably die, slumped over my desk at a university as a professor, and so I am the perpetual student, but not merely a student in certain ways. I do it to mark the meeting of the student and her advisor as an occasion in and of itself. I do it because by showing respect for others, I show respect for myself.

This is a strange attitude to have, I know, for one so young and for one who usually argues that the doors of academia should be thrown far and wide. But it's one "old school" thing I do that I firmly believe the rightness of.

Let us all show respect for each other, for ourselves, and for the institution of learning, if not by dressing the part, then at least by regarding it as the occasion it is.