Thursday, August 30, 2007

Convoke Me Not

I am grateful to my colleagues who are willing to don academic regalia and march in a crowd of similarly-attired professors and administrators in the fall convocation ceremony. The sight of professors in their academic robes and caps no doubt inspires students with awe, thereby igniting intellectual fires and whatnot.

I did the convocation thing once and will likely not do it again. The one time I agreed to do it, I did not have tenure and I was made to feel that it would be a really good thing for me to participate in this ritual. I was also curious about what it felt like to be on the 'other side' of a convocation ceremony. When I was an undergraduate, I liked going to the fall all-college gathering; it was a nice way to start the academic year.

The one time I marched in a convocation as a professor, I rented academic robes etc. that had the right colors, stripes, glyphs, and cap for the institution that granted my Ph.D., put the silly things on, and went to find my place in line with the other professors. As I walked past the other professors, all similarly and absurdly attired, a number of them smiled at me. I smiled back, thinking that perhaps the wearing-of-the-robes was a sort of professorial bonding experience. But no.. One of the smiling professors said to me "We all love it when PhD's from your university march in convocation. You have by far the most hideous academic robes and it makes the rest of us look good." Strong words for a man in a velvet beanie. I just smiled back and said "I specifically went to that university so that I might one day wear this spectacular robe." So there.

I told my daughter this story last year when she was upset that friends at her elementary school had criticized her attire. I was glad that she thought the story was hilarious rather than demoralizing. I am also glad that marching in convocation is voluntary, and that I have tenure.

14 comments:

plam said...

Clown. I'm told that my blood-red-on-concrete gown looks like a clown suit.

Caro said...

I wonder if they're more hideous than mine. An orangey-red robe with a green colour on the hood. I have no idea who thought that would look good.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I suspect I am currently a graduate student at your same PhD institution.

I'll be awful pleased, though, when I can finally wear those colors -- it means I'll have defended!

Mad Hatter said...

I almost decided not to attend the hooding ceremony when I graduated, but after seeing all the, shall we say, unique outfits, I was really glad I did! :-)

Jenny F. Scientist said...

Oh, you're lucky! At my SLAC, the faculty had to join in all processions unless they had a doctor's note they were on their deathbeds. And it happened at least three times a year. Imagine a dozen faculty dashing across the lawn, trying to fasten their robes with one hand and keep hold of their ridiculous hats with the other.

One staff member used to wear a dunce cap.

Anonymous said...

I've never participated in those ceremonies, not even as a graduating student to get any of my degrees.

I find it hard to believe your colleague meant what he said in a mean spirited way. It seems like the sort of thing one would joke about or poke fun at others about. Your answer was clever and just joking back. Why would you feel hurt or demoralized about someone joking about what *you* consider silly robes?

Charlotte said...

I've been lurking around your site for about a week, I really like it. :)

This post amused me for two reasons:
1. My undergrad degree is in music (I graduated in May of this year), and traditionally, the color for music is pink (which I loathe). Every year at baccalaureate and commencement, I always looked forward to seeing the male music professors wear pink berets.
2. I'm currently working on a master's degree in theology, and the color for theology is red. I'll eventually be getting a masters and doctorate in music. Red plus pink equals clash! But I'll be happy to wear the robes, especially after I finish my doctorate.

avg prof said...

I love me some academic regalia, just for its quirky anachronistic style, and I'd probably make a jokey remark like the one made to you, and then love you for the joke you made in return.

My own PhD institution's garb is not that interesting. I would wish for a flashier hat.

Fortunately for me, four of my departmental colleagues got their degree from the same institution, and we're all about the same height, so we share one set of regalia. This provides a convenient excuse for only participating in 1/4 of the events . . . "Oh, I'd like to, but it's Dr. ____'s turn to have the costume."

Ms.PhD said...

I'd be curious to know about the history of the robes. Seems to me it could be worse- we could be wearing togas!

Unfortunately I have too much work today to look this up myself, but would love to hear more about it. I don't go in much for ceremony of any kind, so I'd just as soon skip the nonsense entirely.

Anonymous said...

http://www.acenet.edu/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Frequently_Asked_Questions3&Template=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&ContentID=8086

History of academic regalia (Sorry for the long site address).

Notorious Ph.D. said...

Western academic regalia originated in the medieval university, where professors and students were all members of the clergy (most of the students were in what they called "minor orders," which meant that their vows were not as restrictive or life-long as those of priests, monks, etc. The robes were thus actually clerical garb.

As for the evolution of different colors and styles, I have no idea. I know that mine is fairly boring. And I also know that one revered U.S. institution of higher learning has (or at least had) hot-pink robes. Ugh.

For the record, I actually like playing dress-up once a year at graduation.

trillwing said...

My advisor's Ph.D. is from UT Austin, which has particularly over-the-top robes. My favorite part? The two shiny round pins that go right over the nipples.

Andrea Ann said...

I love my academic regalia. It makes me feel connected to a long history of academics - sometimes I pretend I am at Oxford where I like to imagine they wear it all the time!

I do remember my first convocation mass at my undergraduate university and seeing all the faculty members in thier regalia and being very impressed...more than impressed..feeling that I was part of something big and glorious and thinkig, "I want that when I grow up!" Now I like it because it reminds me I AM part of something big and glorious - which is important when on a day to day basis it often seems mundane and irritating! (But I was always sorry I didn't go to the school with the fur on the collar - now that's regalia I could really enjoy!)

David Eaton said...

I skipped the PhD hood and regalia thing when I graduated because I had already started a postdoc 500 miles away, but I sort of regret not having seen it at least once.

It's always been intriguing to me how as freethinking and progressive a group as academics seem to go in for the medieval fuss and feathers. It reminds me of a secret society meeting, or a black mass, maybe...