Can an instructor withhold credit from a student who does not adhere to business casual dress?

Date: September 2017


My question is as follows:

Do you believe it is appropriate that an instructor withhold credit from students who do not adhere to a business casual dress code for a required class in any given program?


Independent Dresser


Dear Independent Dresser:

Thanks for your Ask a Dean question. To address your question I enlisted the help of Dr. Charlie Van Loan, Dean of Faculty. Dean Van Loan’s response:

Good question! Quick reaction below and am happy to stand corrected.

As general rule it is not appropriate to comment on a student’s attire because it is right on the edge of commenting on physical appearance and because in the population we have students who may not have enough room in their budget for higher-level clothing. And to turn the tables, not many faculty would like to receive comments on their attire! (I get enough of that at home!)

That said, here are some comments that address fuzzy situations:

  • If how-you-dress connects professionally to course content, then it would be fine to talk about those connections on day 1 in a way that (again) respects the concerns mentioned above.
  • If attire has health implications for other students, then it is a fair game discussion point in a 1:1 setting.
  • If in the eyes of the instructor a student’s attire signals some kind of larger issue, then the instructor should feel free to have a quiet 1:1 chat with the student to wrap some context around the apparent disconnect.

Charlie Van Loan
Dean of Faculty

I hope you find these thoughts from Dean Van Loan helpful.

Warm regards,


Barbara A. Knuth
Senior Vice Provost and Dean of the Graduate School