Each semester, both part-time and full-time faculty in the Morrissey College of Arts and Sciences receive a $150 subsidy to spend on their classes.
According to MCAS Dean Gregory Kalscheur, S.J., the subsidy has been available since Professor Joseph Quinn was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“The practice is meant to encourage conversation and engagement between faculty members and their students in a setting outside of the classroom,” said Fr. Kalscheur. “The subsidy is intended to help faculty host gatherings at their homes, and many faculty members have told me how much they value the opportunity to host groups of students, as well as how important these out-of-class conversations can be for students.”
Professors Claude Cernuschi and Ellen Winner, chairs of the art and psychology departments, respectively, commented that they value this opportunity to spend time in conversation with students outside of the formal classroom setting. However, both acknowledged that this subsidy is most effective with smaller classes, as the subsidy is always $150 per semester, regardless of the number of students a professor teaches.
Another professor, who asked to remain anonymous, remarked that there are factors that make it difficult for some professors to arrange these dinners. For classes over a certain size, say eighteen, $150 is not enough to take all students to a restaurant. Although some faculty host gatherings in their homes, this can be inconvenient for a family and transportation can become an issue if a professor lives further from campus. Many students in recent years have used Uber to get to off-campus dinners.
According to this professor, many faculty end up spending their own money on these dinners because $150 does not cover all the expenses. However, not all faculty are able to host simply because they do not have the extra money to spend.
Jesse Brennan, MCAS '17, cited her class dinner as a positive bonding experience.
“The change in setting allows for different, more personal conversation,” she said. “I felt closer to and more comfortable with both my professor and classmates after the experience.”
Brennan believes professors should have funding to support these dinners for every small class of twenty students or less.
“In my experience, an outside dinner or event wouldn’t have the same value for a large lecture, because not only is there less of a connection between the professor and each student, but there's also less of a connection between the students,” said Brennan.
Although this subsidy program is specific to MCAS, the other undergraduate schools have set aside funds for similar programs focused on promoting student and faculty dialogue outside of the classroom. For example, the Lynch School of Education's Cuisine and Conversations program gives faculty an opportunity to share their story of finding their vocation over dinner.
Other programs within MCAS also support this goal of promoting connection between students and professors, particularly during the first year.
The Perspectives Living and Learning Community, which is open to first-year students taking the Perspectives on Western Cultures class, supports roundtable discussions, soul food cafe dinners, and two community-wide dinners with all the students and faculty in the program.
Similarly, the Cornerstone initiatives budget provides funding for freshmen Courage to Know (CTK) classes and the freshmen one-credit Cornerstone seminars. Over the years, this funding has allowed CTK students to spend time with their professors and classmates outside of the classroom through an array of activities. Some past experiences included dinners at restaurants or professors’ homes, bonding activities like a scavenger hunt in Boston, and trips to a play related to a book from the class syllabus. The financial support for activities outside the classroom enriches the class experience and encourages development of stronger bonds between students and professors.