Web Exclusives:On the Campus...

January 28, 2004:
Out to lunch
What do you say to a professor over soup?

by Ashley Johnson '05

In November, the undergraduate U-Council proposed an idea to revolutionize the relationship between students and faculty: lunch.

The student-proposed initiative "Take Your Professor to Lunch Week" was launched in an effort to reacquaint members of the Princeton University community with one another. Recently on campus, concerns have been expressed about the lack of student attendance during professors' office hours and about a general sense that a cloud of anti-intellectualism hovers over the part of the campus in which the students live.

The U-council had hoped that "Take Your Professor to Lunch Week" would bring together faculty and students to help foster relationships and provide a place for intellectualism.

The week resulted in the exchange of a couple dozen lunches and the beginning of student awareness of the opportunities, possibilities, and ideas that professors, quite literally, bring to the table.

While intellectual banter may have been the goal, in reality the lunch breaks provided a middle ground for conversation, an intellectually level playing field, you might say.

Over meals of grilled cheeses, hoagies, and pasta, professors sat down amongst students and showed up a human side not evident from behind the lectern.

"It was hilarious," said Andrea Leewong '05 of her meal with Dr. Michael Litchman. Litchman, professor of Abnormal Psychology, otherwise known as "Nuts and Sluts" around campus, dined with Leewong and four of her other classmates at Colonial Club. After completing the uneasy introductions and settling nervously around the round table, the four began to talk with Litchman.

Boys at the neighboring table leaned closer to catch Litchman's further explanation of the day's lecture topic, sexual dysfunction. Later, the girls addressed what was on Litchman's mind. "He said he wanted to see the huge tub on the third floor of Tiger Inn," said Leewong, "Yes, weird conversations I know and perhaps not appropriate, but at least you can laugh about it!"

Jennifer Albinson and Tim Churchill, both '05, experienced Colonial's "Pub Night" with her professor of Modern Latin America, Jeremy Adelman. "It was really fun!" said Albinson. As Adelman relaxed with a bottled lager, the trio discussed modern day Chile, where Churchill will be studying abroad for his spring semester.

A few professors decided to turn the tables on the dining invitation. Alain Kornhauser emailed his own invitation to his ORF 467 class offering a "fun lunch break" entitled "Chinese Pig-Out." Julie Toran, '05, attended the pre-Thanksgiving festivities before leaving for home. "There were about a dozen of us, and a ton of food," she said. Laughing, she admitted that the lunch was a great idea and that even the email allowed her to feel closer to her professor, "I mean, who entitles an email 'Chinese Pig-Out?'"

John Fleming, Princeton's Chaucer authority, conveyed optimism at the intent of the U-Council's idea. Earlier in the year, Fleming had spoken to the Daily Princetonian about his concern that students did not utilize office hours. When Fleming attended was an undergraduate, not at Princeton however, he passed many afternoons happily chatting with professors about coursework as well as campus life and current events. In an email, Fleming said he was hopeful of the possibilities of "Take Your Professor to Lunch Week" in a campus where interaction is good, "but we want something beyond the good — the better, indeed the best."

The initiative, originally launched to promote the exchange of ideas among campus community members, redirected itself. Instead of providing round tables for the discussion of medieval texts, synaptic gaps, and early Hispanic oppression, it laid building blocks to stronger ties between student and faculty member. In sharing lunch, the individuals involved were able to shed labels, degrees, and stereotypes and enjoy the personal interaction and friendly conversation.

"I had such a great time," said Toran of her Chinese food study break, "I feel better now that I know Kornhauser on a more personal level. I'd actually like to talk to him sometime about some of the things he said — weird, hanging out with a professor!"

Though success of the initiative is indeterminable through numbers, the reactions of those who participated on campus have shown it well worthwhile. As for repeating the dining experiences? "I can see it happening," said Toran. "You know, lunch happens every day."