OK to wear doctoral robes without a doctorate?
June 2, 2007 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Is it OK to wear a doctoral robe at a High School graduation when you do not have a doctorate?

I took a one year position at a small Catholic High School in the New York area.

At the recent graduation ceremony, the event program listed the Principal as having graduate from a certain university. This is a famous and prestigous Catholic university, with well known school colors, due to the university's famed sports program. The principal holds a master's degree from that university, the event program did mention what type of degree he holds.

The principal, however, did not wear a master's degree robe. He wore a doctoral robe, with the school colors of his university. To me, this made it appear that he had earned a doctorate from that university.

I was told that it was a "provost robe" - in other words, as the head of the school, he has a right to wear the fancy doctoral robes. I have never heard a "provost robes" - have you? Wouldn't a provost robe have the high school colors, not the school colors of his university.

All of the other faculty seem to think this is no big deal. It is, apparently just for the pageantry of the high school graduation. It is a small, tight-knit faculty. I am leaving the school soon, so it is not a very big deal to me either.

But, I still think that it is kind of wrong. Am I crazy? Are graduation robes no big deal? What do you think?
posted by Flood to Education (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Did he wear a doctoral hood? It is the hood that is conferred with the doctorate, if he was wearing a doctoral hood he was out of line.
posted by LarryC at 8:27 AM on June 2, 2007

He did wear a hood, with his university colors. Are there difference in the hoods. I know the robe changes with each degree. Do hoods change too?
posted by Flood at 8:41 AM on June 2, 2007

My university has different coloured regalia hoods for each degree, including Bachelors.
posted by acoutu at 8:53 AM on June 2, 2007

The phrase 'provost robe' reeks of bullshit, and returns two Google results.

It's not a big deal to me, but I don't know the guy. If this kind of thing is pretty representative of his personality, I can see how that might grate. And I could see the argument that this kind of vain truth-stretching isn't a good role model for, y'know, the impressionable youth.
posted by box at 9:06 AM on June 2, 2007

Usually the doctoral hood is a bit longer, but what really stands out with the robes is the bars on the doctoral ones and the "wings" on the masters. I've been in processionals where someone with a masters borrowed a doctoral robe by mistake and they were quite embarrassed. Yes, people do pay attention to it, even if the only people who do are your colleagues. It takes a lot of work to earn that distinction, and I do think it's improper to wear the wrong robe. That said, our provost and president always do wear different robes, but if you have those bars then you have your doctorate.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:09 AM on June 2, 2007

This is the kind of thing where you play the dumb guy to make him say things aloud.

Dumb Guy: Hey, what was your dissertation on?
Principal: I didn't do one, I have a masters.
Dumb Guy: O cool. Why are you wearing the robe and the hood? I thought the hood was for PHD's only?
Principal: I can wear it because it's my provost robe.
Dumb Guy: Really? Thats cool. Whats a provost robe and where can I find one? And what about the hood?
posted by maxpower at 9:13 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

Count me in the "who cares?" camp. The important thing about a PhD is opening career options, not fashion ones. If having the principal wear fancier robes puts on a better show for the parents and students, more power to him.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:59 AM on June 2, 2007

I would say he's out of line. Quite a bit out of line.

Would you wear pilot's wings without earning them?

How about Sargent's chevrons or General's stars?

People get to wear marks of distinction and pride at their discretion because they've earned them.
posted by generichuman at 10:16 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

If I had done the time to earn my PhD, I would be pretty annoyed with someone misrepresenting himself like this.

Personally, I think I'd contact the university in question and find out if the Principal is entitled to wear the robes that he did.
posted by jjb at 10:18 AM on June 2, 2007

I just watched my friends graduate from my university. as the professors proceeded to their seats generally the only differentiation between master's and doctoral robes was three horizontal bars on the sleeves of the doctors.

did you notice if his robe had the bars on the sleeves?

I'm guessing they weren't there and he isn't out of line. If he really did wear a doctoral robe that smacks of pretension. Probably more of a character flaw than a faux pas.
posted by Galen at 10:42 AM on June 2, 2007

Wikipedia doesn't help on this issue. This store suggests that university presidents, at least, are entitled to wear the doctoral robe whether or not they have a doctorate (and agrees with you that it ought to be in the administrator's employer school's colors, not their alma mater's). I've heard similar claims elsewhere about high-ranking administrators getting particularly nifty robes as a mark of office. There's no universal rulebook on regalia (that I know of, at least), so individual institutions' policies can vary. I wouldn't suspect that anyone's deliberately trying to be deceptive here.
posted by RogerB at 10:43 AM on June 2, 2007

At my recent college graduation, the President and the Trustees all wore doctoral-looking robes in the college colors. They were the colors of my school, though, not the colors of anywhere else.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:48 AM on June 2, 2007

His robe did have the three bars on the sleeves, velvet black bars. Those bars are the reason I called it a doctoral robe - out of curiousity, besides the bars on the sleeves, are there other things about the robe that denote a doctoral degree.
posted by Flood at 11:02 AM on June 2, 2007

are there other things about the robe that denote a doctoral degree.
See my answer above. Hood length and sleeves. Also there are different hats (tams) which are optional for doctorates and verboten for others.
posted by monkeymadness at 11:07 AM on June 2, 2007

He's a batty old man. Meh.
posted by frogan at 11:16 AM on June 2, 2007

Gowns recommended for use in the colleges and universities of this country have different characteristics. The gown for the bachelor's degree has pointed sleeves and is designed to be worn closed. The gown for the master's degree has an oblong sleeve, open at the wrist. The gown for the doctor's degree has bell-shaped sleeves. For the doctor's degree, the gown is faced down the front with black velvet and three bars of black velvet are sewn across the seleeves. These facings and crossbars may be velvet of the color distinctive of the subject to which the degree pertains.

Hoods recommended for use in the colleges and universities of this country have the following characteristics. The length of the hood worn for the bachelor's degree is three feet, for the master's degree, three and one half feet, and for the doctor's degree, four feet. The hood worn for the doctor's degree has panels at the s ides. Hoods are lined with the official color or colors of the college or university conferring the degree; more than one color is shown by division of the field color in a variety of ways, such as chevron or chevrons, equal division, etc.

Some Permissible Exceptions:
Members of the governing body of a college or university are entitled to wear doctor's gowns (with black velvet), but their hoods may be only those of degrees actually held by the wearers or those especially prescribed for them by the institution. In some colleges and universities, it is customary for the president, chancellor, or chief officer to wear a costume similar to that used by the head of a foreign university. The chief marshal may wear a specially designed costume approved by his or her institution. Persons who hold degrees from foreign universities may wear the entire appropriate academic costume, including cap, gown, and hood. Members of religious orders and similar societies may suitably wear their customary habits. THe same principle applies to persons wear military uniforms or clas in special attire required by a civil office.

/copied out of my commencement program
posted by gatorae at 11:25 AM on June 2, 2007

Would you wear pilot's wings without earning them?

Sure, if for some reason I thought they'd be a complementary piece of jewelry. It's hard to imagine any sane person thinking that, though.

How about Sargent's chevrons or General's stars?


Also, I'd wear a flying tigers jacket without having served in the AVG, if I thought it looked good instead of extremely wankery.

Also also, I'd wear a regimental tie without having served in that regiment, or indeed without having served in Her Majesty's armed forces in any capacity whatsoever.

If I had done the time to earn my PhD, I would be pretty annoyed with someone misrepresenting himself like this.

I did the time and earned one. This is harmless. He's not asserting that he has a PhD on his resume; he's wearing fancy robes for his school's graduation. It makes no difference to me whether he wears a business suit, double-extra-doctoral robes in any colors that please him, or an assless Star Trek uniform over a gorilla suit. His choice of clothing doesn't pick my pocket or break my leg.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:51 AM on June 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

an assless Star Trek uniform over a gorilla suit

posted by frogan at 12:00 PM on June 2, 2007

out of curiousity, besides the bars on the sleeves, are there other things about the robe that denote a doctoral degree.

The hats are easily distinguishable b/w doctoral degree and masters. Masters' with the more traditional square mortarboard hat (pic here) and PhDs with the floppy, beret-like one. (aka 'tam') pic here
posted by NikitaNikita at 12:38 PM on June 2, 2007

It's tacky, if you know the ritualistic protocols of academia. But it's not worth making a big deal out of it. The guy is a high school principal. Let him play dress up.

I own doctoral regalia, which was issued to me when I (foolishly) agreed to be a commencement marshall at my university years ago. I took off for the summer the next day and forgot to return it to the commencement office that had loaned it to me, and a year later I tried and was told just to keep it, since the commencement office had written it off and paid the bill already (which made me feel so guilty I marshalled for the next three commencements). Only much later did I learn the regalia cost $800 (and here I was keeping it bunched up in my desk drawer). I had never attended my own PhD convocation, so I had never needed it before. And I don't look good in a dress, anyway.

The whole thing with regalia is one of the silliest parts of academic culture. I'm quite a stickler about credential inflation, but I don't really begrudge someone getting the regalia wrong or even faking it on purpose when there are plenty of people out there lying about degrees and credentials on their freaking resumes, practically in epidemic numbers. I'm much more bothered when someone allows himself (or herself) to be addressed publicly as "doctor so and so" without correcting the addresser if s/he doesn't have a doctorate. But then, I'm almost as squicked out by actual PhDs who sign their names "Dr. So and So," or "So and So, PhD." Have a little class, why don't you.
posted by spitbull at 1:07 PM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think this is a dumb thing to care about. I'm sure he doesn't care, and doesn't feel like he's projecting anything except "I'm the principal," especially given that he's upfront in the program.

I went to an accredited US college, and at my undergraduate graduation my robe did not follow the rules quoted above by gatorae. I'm pretty sure my degree still counts.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 1:59 PM on June 2, 2007

Perhaps this person should opt instead for the splendor of an academic codpiece, a la Pat Robertson.
posted by washburn at 6:36 PM on June 2, 2007

Washburn, I don't see a codpiece in that link. I was disappointed. Do you mean the medal he's wearing? Presidents, provosts, and lots of other administrators wear those types of things during ceremonies. Unless you got a different view of Pat than the photo shows, in which case I'm not interested.
posted by monkeymadness at 12:43 PM on June 3, 2007

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