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Classroom to Table — a popular College initiative that subsidizes fine dining for students and their professors in Harvard Square — has run out of funding for the third consecutive year.
“As we stated at the start of the term, program funding is limited,” a Monday afternoon update to the program webpage reads. “We have had a very successful term and have reached our funding limit.”
The program, which was first piloted in 2015, gathers three to five undergraduates and a professor for a meal at a local restaurant; this semester’s options included Grafton Street, Park Restaurant, Russell House Tavern, The Hourly Oyster House, and Temple Bar. The Office of Undergraduate Education pays up to $30 per attendee, excluding alcohol.
College spokesperson Rachael Dane wrote in an emailed statement that the program has “exceeded our projections” but will be open to student reservations early in the spring semester.`
An estimated 406 Classroom to Table gatherings — including more than 2000 individual student and faculty portions — will occur by the end of the fall semester, according to data provided by Harvard. Last fall, there were a total of 894 such feasts — more than twice as many as in the current term.
In an effort to fairly distribute funds in light of skyrocketing demand, the OUE has imposed progressively stricter rules checking student participation. In its early years, the program allowed students to eat an unlimited number of meals on Harvard’s dime. After running out of money in spring 2017, a cap of four meals per student was instituted last fall and slashed to two meals in the spring.
Classroom to Table levied still further measures to quell overwhelming interest in spring 2018, limiting restaurant options and restricting online sign-up form access to business hours. Yet the program once again shut down early.
Students and faculty emphatically praise Classroom to Table for fostering personal connections between undergraduates and their professors. Peter Der Manuelian ’81 — an Egyptology professor who teaches the popular course Societies of the World 38: “Pyramid Schemes” — wrote in an email that the program is a “wonderful two-way street” for student-faculty discourse that he wished would always be available.
“Students get acquainted with professors ‘off stage,’ and we faculty in turn learn much about students’ interests, hopes, and concerns, all in an informal setting with plenty of good cheer,” Manuelian wrote. “In an ideal world, I would love to see this program available at any and all times during the academic year.
Kelsey Ichikawa ’20 wrote that she enjoys Classroom to Table because it is an opportunity to engage with professors in non-academic conversations that would be “a lot harder to have in class or office hours.” She said she believes it’s “really unfortunate” that funding ran out this semester.
“It makes sense that the program is so popular, because it is such an awesome and rare opportunity to interface with faculty in small, less overtly academic settings,” Ichikawa wrote.
For students in the process of scheduling meals with their professors this fall, Monday’s news came as a unpleasant surprise.
Molly K. Leavens ’19 spent several weeks trying to coordinate a time that would be convenient for her classmates’ and professors’ busy schedules. Upon receiving an email from her art history professors, she excitedly went to the Classroom to Table website to book a reservation — only to find that the form had just closed “without warning.”
“We went to confirm, and we were about an hour late,” Leavens said.
The group emailed the OUE hoping that an exception might be made because of their planning efforts, but their plea fell on deaf ears.
“We showed them the emails that we'd sent back in October, and I wish they could've been able to honor those,” Leavens said. “It was embarrassing on us to have made these plans with the professors and then have to be like oh, sorry, actually this isn't something that's possible this semester.”
Despite feelings of disappointment around campus, Dane wrote that Harvard is aware of enthusiasm for the program and considers it a “top priority” in fundraising.
“Harvard College values the Classroom to Table program, which seeks to foster conversation and academic connection among undergraduate students to create additional opportunities for intellectual, personal, and social transformation,“ Dane wrote. “We know that students and faculty alike value this program too (as noted by its high participation rates) and, as such, the College has made it a top priority in our fundraising efforts.”
Dane declined to comment on how funds for the program are sourced. Previously, the meals have been subsidized in part by Senior Gift — an initiative aimed at encouraging each year’s graduates to donate to financial aid and an “unrestricted fund” at the College.
Not all Harvard affiliates are discouraged by the funding news, however. Government Professor Steven R. Levitsky wrote in an email that he views it as a sign of the program’s success.
“It’s good news, in a sense. It means the program is working,” Levitsky wrote. “Students and faculty see value in it.”
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