This post is for UK readers, specifically current Oxford students who are voting in a referendum on whether or not a specific formal outfit should be compulsory for students taking exams
This will be a short post, as I really should be revising, but if I don't get my thoughts out about the sub fusc referendum somehow I might actually burst into flames like I have been expecting to for the last few weeks.
First, I want to say that I like sub fusc. It's fun. I look nice. People look nice in it generally. Buying flowers is fun and getting dressed up is a great way of getting in the zone. Liking sub fusc should not be a major obstacle to thinking clearly about whether it is a good thing for the university and the world as a whole, but apparently it is. It is genuinely astonishing to me how completely people refuse to accept the very legitimate objections people have to being forced to wear a very specific, formal and strictly-enforced set of clothes for compulsory and important exams. Not every person from a state school background will find sub fusc off-putting when applying, not every person with mental health issues will have serious difficulty with sub fusc and not every foreign academic will find it an outdated and out of place tradition that makes them reconsider their presence at this university, but some will. How does our mild preference for getting dressed up when everyone else gets dressed up trump stuff like this? How is "tradition" a bigger deal to us than the fact that private school students, who make up only 7% of students in the country, make up 43% of the admissions to Oxford? Everyone who went to any school less prestigious and expensive than the top tier public schools has stories of clever, ambitious people who feel Oxford is not for them thanks to the elitist, Harry Potter-esque image we cultivate, of which gowns and formal wear are a significant part.
If there were other universities of similar quality free from those perceptions, then fine, maybe I guess it would be fair to have a university or two where people who like tradition and cold stone could congregate. As it stands, differences in alumni giving and endowments means Oxford can spend thousands of pounds per student per year more than any other university except Cambridge (and Imperial, but that's because they're all scientists; another story for another time). Only Oxbridge have the college and tutorial systems that give all of us one of the best undergraduate educations in the world. No one should be put off studying at this level by something as silly and minor as how we dress for exams. Getting rid of sub fusc is a step towards making higher education in Britain truly meritocratic.