Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dinner at Bardiac's

When I was a graduate student, some professors made a practice of inviting the students in their graduate seminars for dinner at their home at the end of the term. Often we sat around, discussing what we'd read during the seminar, talking about books, poems, the state of the world. Usually it felt great because we'd turned in our papers but the prof hadn't had time to look at them, so I didn't feel too anxious about the grade thing. I remember one prof talking about how he wanted us to feel like junior colleagues rather than students. (And he tended to treat us as junior colleagues whom he was mentoring, especially his TAs and research assistants, much to my benefit.)

Since I've come to NorthWoods University, I've invited students in my graduate seminars to my home for dinner at the end of the term. Even in our MA program, I want my students to feel like junior colleagues to the extent I can contribute to that.

I feel awkward as a host for any sort of gathering, but that's life. For these gatherings, I get some pretty good take out food, plenty of soft drinks (yes, you can tell I'm not from the midwest), and we go from there. Usually some students bring some cookies or whatever, which adds to the mix.

Tonight was the night. It felt odd at first. But after a while, we sat around and chatted, and it was fun and relaxing. The food's mostly all gone, and people seemed full enough, so that went okay.

Still, every time, I wonder if I should continue. I think the students like it, like seeing that professors are human beings with homes and lives and rooms full of books. I know I did when I was a student. And yet I seem to be the only professor who does anything like this here, and that feels a little strange. I think some of my more senior colleagues think I'm soft because of it. Or maybe they disapprove for some other reason?


  1. Anonymous7:20 PM

    As a grad student, I'm a big fan of the end-of-semester get-together at the prof's house. Here, it's the only the most senior profs who do it -- seems to be the opposite from your place.

  2. Anonymous7:51 PM

    Ditto what JM said. It's done at my school, too (though some will instead take students out for a drink at a local bar).

    Often, the profs will delegate students to bring various things. My favorite is famous for a curried carrot soup; I usually go over to her house in advance and we spend the afternoon cooking. And she provides a few hor d'oeuvres -- but mainly, the students are responsible for bringing the food. And responsible is sort of a misnomer, because generally, everyone gets excited about bringing something. (No one is forced to).

  3. Anonymous6:13 AM

    As a grad student I always enjoyed having meals at professors' homes, including the time when the elderly male Milton scholar (who had maintained strict formality with students throughout the semester) got a little tipsy at his own party and started progressively disrobing. First he took off his jacket; next, the tie; not long after, off came the beautifully laundered white dress shirt. When I left, he had draped his arm over the shoulders of a grad student, whose nose must have been getting tickled by that little tuft of white hair sprouting from the professor's chest. By Monday morning, he was back to his usual strict formality.

    As a professor, I enjoy having students in my home, and my institution recently decided to support this practice by offering limited funds in support. It sounded simple: feed students, submit receipts, get money. But then someone got greedy and turned in a receipt for a huge catered affair, and the policy was changed. The next time I hosted students in my home, I was told to figure out the percentage of food my family and I might have eaten and subtract that amount from the bill. I said if they were going to be that picky about it, maybe I should find a way to submit receipts for the tomatoes we grew in our garden, the labor that helped them grow, the diesel fuel for the tractor, and the electricity that cooked the meal. In the end I got the full reimbursement, but it was not a pleasant experience and I doubt I'll do it again.

    Oh, I'll have students in my home all right--I just won't ask anyone else to foot the bill.

  4. At my first faculty job, we had a journal club in our department that was hosted each month at another faculty member's home. All the residents and whatever students were on rotation that month came. It was really a wonderful way for all of us to be together outside of work, and for the resdients to get to know us.

    When I was a medical student, most of the chief residents or faculty would ahve us over at the endof the rotation,and we love seeing them this way.

    I notice that here in NY, no one does this. We tend to go out for meals is we get together at all. I find that strange, and miss the intimacy of meeting in people's homes.

    Happy holidays to you!