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University of Missouri

Socks or Knots?

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin makes a habit of wearing bow ties.

socks

MIZZOU editor Karen Worley likes socks as much as Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin likes bowties. Photo by Rob Hill.

Come birthdays or holidays, I automatically turn to gifting socks to family and friends. I endure considerable ribbing about it, actually. Why the lowly sock? Elementary, really. Comfortable, necessary (usually) and — most important — one size (generally) fits all. Plus, I enjoy wearing the ones I don’t give away.

Not just any ol’ sock, though. Colorful, patterned, high quality. Definitely socks worthy of being seen at the ankle. Definitely worthy of being worn, not regifted or returned.

On Dec. 5, 2013, when Mizzou announced R. Bowen Loftin as its 22nd chief executive officer, I chuckled when I saw his bow tie. I wondered if his thing with bow ties was similar to mine with socks. I figured there had to be a back story.

According to Loftin, in 1980, members of the University of Houston–Downtown physics department received an edict from on high to spiff themselves up and start wearing ties. The young academic Loftin wasn’t too keen on the order but started wearing what has become his trademark accessory. Given his name, a bow tie fits. Plus, it made him stand out. People remembered him. Another habit he’s picked up is tweeting. In a spinoff of his neckwear habit, Loftin has chosen @bowtieger as his handle.

Years later, Loftin was an expert witness in a trial. The lawyer who hired him told him not to wear a bow tie during his testimony. Citing a study, the lawyer said people who wear bow ties are less trusted by the general population. Loftin capitulated and wore a long tie. After the trial, he looked up the study. “In a general sense, people trusted those wearing bow ties less,” he says. But the lawyer had only read the abstract. Within the study Loftin found that “professors who wear bow ties are more trusted.”

My colorful socks, like bow ties, are good-natured icebreakers. From staff writer Mark Barna’s profile of MU’s new chancellor, you get the sense that Loftin and wife Karin are kind, approachable folks who are ready to take the reins of this 175-year-old research, land-grant university. What do you say we give them a warm Midwestern welcome to the friendly college town we call CoMo?