Students of the College don't have to wait for faculty dinner to dine with their professors anymore. Beginning this semester, the Office of Undergraduate Education will small groups of students to dine with faculty members at certain restaurants in Harvard Square as part of a pilot program called Classroom to Table. Though the College would do well to publicize this initiative more aggressively, it deserves credit for launching a well-conceived attempt to provide students and faculty with more informal opportunities for interaction.
Harvard receives a good deal of criticism for failing to foster strong student-faculty relationships, especially in comparison to smaller liberal arts institutions. Given the size of many courses, the busyness of the faculty, and the relative rarity of opportunities for interaction, undergraduates often have a difficult time getting to know their professors beyond the classroom and office hours.
This situation presents obvious drawbacks. Students’ experience in college is often shaped by their relationships with faculty. Informal meetings with professors can enrich students’ academic experience and can make the academic environment of a classroom less intimidating and more open to discussions. In addition, student-faculty interactions help develop stronger mentorship relationships.
Both students and faculty seem to want more opportunities to talk outside of the classroom and to develop more lasting relationships. The tradition of faculty dinners, perhaps the best existing institution to promote student faculty interactions, has elicited praise from professors and undergraduates. Moreover, the Classroom to Table program itself is the result of faculty and student proposals, like one presented by Eliot senior Sharon Zhou '15 and supported by her House Master, Douglas A. Melton.
Clearly, the demand exists for more non-academic settings in which students and faculty members can interact, and Classroom to Table may provide just such a forum. If the current, test stage of the program is to serve as an effective pilot, however, the College must do a better job publicizing it to students. Aside from one email to students signed by Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay Harris on September 3, communication has been lacking. Given the need for some coordination on the part of program participants, the Office of Undergraduate Education should send more reminders as the semester progresses and students begin to feel more comfortable with their professors.
A healthy faculty-student relationship is at the heart of the academic community that the College seeks to foster, and Classroom to Table is a positive step towards providing that relationship with every opportunity to develop. With better publicity and a little effort from professors and undergraduates, it has the potential to become become a beloved institution and the source of many rewarding moments.