Posted tagged ‘gowns’


October 26, 2009

I was recently invited to attend an inaugural lecture by an academic who is an old friend of mine, and who had just been appointed to a professorship in his university (not DCU). His lecture was a tour de force on aspects of law and society, and the whole thing was most enjoyable and stimulating.  But what struck me almost as much was that he appeared (as did the senior university officer who chaired the event) in a gown. And so I was transported between intellectual admiration and a feeling I was sitting by the set of Goodbye Mr Chips.

However, I should be honest about myself. When I delivered my very first undergraduate lecture in 1980 as Trinity College Dublin’s brand new Lecturer in Industrial Relations, I did so in a gown. It’s not that this came naturally to me, but I was encouraged by my Head of Department to do so, and so I did. And I even kept it up for a while, until I thought that this was simply too daft for words.

But then again, as I watched my friend I did have just a moment when I thought that it was really rather nice, a moment for intellectual tradition to be clothed formally. But it only lasted for a moment. Those times are gone, really.

You’ll still find me in a gown at graduations. We owe that to the students, and probably more still they owe it to their parents. But not otherwise.

But perhaps the bigger question we need to address is what value we place on academic traditions – or whether the whole idea of tradition may be intellectually stifling.


Discriminatory formalities?

May 6, 2009

Today someone brought an issue to my attention about which I have also long wondered – without ever doing anything about it. In DCU as in most (maybe even all) Irish universities, at graduation ceremonies the women graduands wear caps (mortar boards), while the men don’t. This seems to me to be a peculiarly Irish thing: in all UK universities I have experienced, both men and women wear mortar boards.

It seems to me that either we should  ask all graduands to wear them, or else nobody should have to wear them; but to discriminate between men and women in this way seems hard to justify. However, I have to admit I have no idea how this came about in the first place, and despite the fact that I have observed this practice since my own student days, today is the first time that I have ever heard anyone comment on it.

Anyway, I am taking the matter to the relevant decision-making bodies here in DCU, and will recommend that we stop treating males and females differently for these purposes.

On the other hand, although DCU is a modern non-traditional university, even here we do support the idea of certain formalities in graduations. A few years ago a colleague suggested that in these ceremonies the wearing of hoods and gowns should be optional, but received very little support from anyone. I suppose it is a rite of passage for which graduands, their families and our staff still like to see some ceremonial. However, it should not discriminate.