Robbin’ Hood or How I learned my degree wasn’t equal to an MBA

What? Is Robin of Locksley graduating with an MBA?  I think that tights-wearing fool stole my hood!

Okay, allow me to begin with three brief caveats: 1) If you think pomp, ceremony, and academic regalia is one more excuse for ridiculously over-priced college bookstores to rip off students, then this post isn’t even going to be intelligible to you.  2) If you think that the funny robes and silly hats of academic regalia are yet another example of the unconscious classism and patriarchy of a bygone day manifesting themselves uncomfortably in a more enlightened age, then this post isn’t going to be compelling to you.  3) If you have really never given academic regalia any consideration and don’t plan to work in the academy where robes and morterboards designate past accomplishments, then this post really isn’t for you–but it might be funny to watch the silly people that care about these things throw tantrums…

University of Chicago, I love you–but you’ve let me down…

I admit that I’ve always been enamored of academic regalia. If asked why, I might point to the time I spent in Oxford watching long lines of undergraduates in sub fusc and lay-style short robes –complete with white, pink, or red carnations to signify their first exam, intermediate exams, or final exam–walking to the colleges/halls or in scholars robes marching toward the matriculation ceremonies downtown.  The cut of the robe, the color of the flower, and the style of the headgear communicates to any passers by that this person either deserves a prayer, a wide berth, or a tip of the hat.  As Americans, this might strike us as communicating information not properly anyone else’s business to the world at large.  But, when I watched older folks smiling at soon-to-be-graduates or being a little extra nice to the students with white carnations and downcast eyes I realized that–at least today–the regalia and the ceremony forms a common bond among those students past and present and the townies who mark the passing of the seasons with the fold and rustle of black velvet.

If I were entirely honest with myself, I’d also have to admit that I’ve always held romantic notions of academic style and dress largely gleaned from film.  The symbolism of the mortar board being thrown into the air, the picture of the graduation gown draped over the mirror, and the arcane language of color coded graduates sitting in groups waiting for their discipline’s turn–something that never happens in real convocation ceremonies–has always made me feel that academic dress was more than just silly costumes: it meant something.  So imagine my surprise when I learned that UChicago Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities graduates sit through a convocation, receive a diploma, but do not partake in a hooding ceremony.

Now, if you graduate from with a Masters degree from the UChicago Booth Business school, you’ll wear a black gown (as opposed to the Ph.D.s maroon) and a hood.  If you graduate from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies, you’ll wear a black gown and a hood.  If you graduate from the Chicago’s with a Masters degree from the Law School, you’ll wear a black gown and a hood.  Now, it’s not clear whether an M.Div from the Divinity School comes with a hood, but it is very clear that graduates of the MAPSS (Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences) and MAPH program will not be receiving or wearing hoods.  Now, before someone notes that the Masters degrees from either of these programs are not discipline specific (e.g. English, History, Classics) so the hoods couldn’t have a color anyway, allow me to note that everyone of those discipline’s color is white, because all of them fall under the category of “arts and humanities” whose color is also white. (see chart here).  The hood should be black velvet with a maroon facing for Chicago’s school, color and have white trim for “the humanities.”

So why doesn’t the MAPH program have a hood?  Well, presumably the bookstore wouldn’t mind renting or selling them.  Presumably, when virtually every other Masters program at the school seems to have included them, it can’t be because UChicago has made a unilateral decision about how Masters grads ought to be dress–reserving the hood for Ph.D. candidates only.  In fact the only reason I can come up with is to designate the MAPH, MAPSS and Graham school’s Masters of Liberal Arts and Master of Education as “hoodless” is that they are non-traditional intensive programs–with regard to the MAPh and MAPSS–and non-traditional continuing education programs for the Graham School’s degrees.  It is almost as though UChicago is marking a distinction between it’s “real” programs (multi-year and full time) and its less-than programs (intensive and non-traditional).

Now, you may be asking yourself why the presence or absence of a silly sash is worth all this perseverating.  The answer is quite simple: academic regalia means something.  When one graduates from college with a BA, they wear a black gown with simple, straight, and shorter sleeves to signify that I they have complete the first phase of my academic journey.  When one graduates with an MA they wear a Master gown with unique and oblong shaped sleeves and wrist openings evoking the liripipe or tail of the Master’s hood.  When on graduates with a Doctoral degree they wear a Doctoral gown with velvet chevrons on the sleeves and velvet panels.  The piping on a Master’s hood is peacock blue, but “darkens” to royal blue in the Doctoral hood.

When at my new job,  I take my place during the formal convocations as a professor in the proscribed MAPH regalia, I will look like I a BA sitting among MAs and Ph.D.s–as someone commenting at MAPHtastic notes.  I would probably even be okay with that, were it not also the fact that the MAPH, MAPSS, MLA, and AMT alone are not allowed to wear hoods when graduates with MBAs and LL.M degrees will wear hoods.  Frankly, as a first year teacher I want all the signs of authority and education I can lay my hands on, if only to keep them from eating me alive.  The simple answer is to buy a hood like the ones used by the Booth and Harris schools but with the white trim of my discipline.  I think it is only fair because I’ve earned it and before the creation of the MAPH and MAPSS programs fifteen years ago, I would have gotten it.

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One comment on “Robbin’ Hood or How I learned my degree wasn’t equal to an MBA

  1. Linda says:

    Hello for what it’s worth, when I needed regalia to attend grad ceremonies at the university where I teach, I – or rather the entity here who orders these items – easily procured the requisite hood for me to wear with a black robe. I graduated with an MLA.

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