Monday, February 25, 2008

Working Environments

I enjoyed my walk into work even more than usual this morning. The weather wasn't particularly nice but something about the stately UVA grounds made me feel particularly academic--like I was in a place where important and interesting stuff is happening. This feeling isn't all that unusual for me. Walking The Lawn is an impressive experience and I feel lucky to be able to do it most every day. (Incidentally, I had a similar privilege at UW-Madison when I lived in the dorms and could walk along Lake Mendota or over Bascom Hill to class.)

I think there is something important about the environments in which we work. Architecture and ambiance go a long way toward putting us in the right frame of mind to do what we have to do. Cookie-cutter buildings filled with cubicles are just bad places to read Plato or to think about the problem of personal identity. Much better to be in a place where extensive attention has been paid to creating an explicitly academic community. On the other hand, if you are aiming for a different kind of work, then perhaps a more industrial feeling place will be exactly what you want. Maybe it's better for number crunchers to labor under the hum of harsh fluorescent lighting.

Something similar probably applies to the ways we dress. On my long days in the office, I try to dress a bit nicer than usual. It's a way of putting myself in a frame of mind to take what I am doing seriously. It's also why there is something to be said for a certain kind of "academic uniform" for teachers and professors. Dressing for the occasion helps us embody the role we are playing more fully since, rightly or wrongly, students are going to take what we say more seriously if we are wearing a sport coat than if we are wearing a hooded sweatshirt. My guess is that we will probably be taking ourselves more seriously as well.

This isn't to suggest that there are any absolute standards about these things. What constitutes "nicely dressed" changes over time and just because someone is wearing a suit doesn't mean that he's nicely dressed. (Trust me. There are plenty of professors around here to prove that point.) But maybe it does mean that it's okay to think intentionally about these matters and that the process of crafting a public persona isn't necessarily extraneous to our vocational goals.

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