University Unions launches Dine with a Professor program

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A University Unions program was launched last month to give students the opportunity to dine with any professor upon request.

“Dine with a Prof” gives students a $20 voucher to select SAC and Texas Union locations to have a meal with any professor on campus requested through a form on the University Unions website.

Business senior Jackson Clifford, program administrator and chair of University Unions Board of Directors, said he came up with the idea on a college visit to the University of Virginia where he heard about a similar program. In this case, a student could request a voucher or gift card to any one of their off-campus dining facilities.

“(I thought), ‘How could I take an idea that is not completely new and try to implement it here?’” Clifford said. “It was after one of my classes with a really interesting professor that it kind of dawned on me that there is just an amazing amount of faculty here that students really don’t get to tap into their wealth of knowledge.”

Since the program began in early February, about 50 students have signed up to participate, and the budget-wide goal was 54 this semester, Clifford said. 

Clifford said the program is not exclusive to specific departments, and University Unions has reached out to several deans’ offices to inform them of the program.

“The purpose and vision is for students to be able to eat with these outstanding faculty members, develop personal relationships that extend beyond the classroom and hopefully benefit their academic and professional careers,” Clifford said. 

Philosophy lecturer Nicole Smith went to lunch at Field of Greens in the Union on March 8 with one of her philosophy students. Smith said it was a nice experience, despite the constraints of class schedules and planning. 

“The places that are open during the time that you can utilize the services are only during the day, so there’s a bit of constraint, like if you’re teaching classes in the time frame you can sit down to have lunch,” Smith said. “It was somewhat rushed and not as substantive as you might hope, but I thought it was really nice.” 

Smith said the lunch was important to have with the female student, because the philosophy department has a major problem with recruiting women to study philosophy. 

“The program gives a personal outlet outside of office hours,” Smith said. “I think it’s really good for forging those kind of connections and just for creating an environment that breaks down certain hierarchies and fosters a kind of role model relationship that would help benefit the student in a way that wouldn’t by not having it.”

The student could not be reached for comment on this story.

Student body President Kevin Helgren said an inherent divide typically exists between students and faculty members on college campuses, including UT’s. 

“I think the program helps to humanize the professors and gives students an opportunity to interact with these very real people in a casual and organic setting,” said Helgren, a psychology and neuroscience senior.  

Clifford said University Unions would like to keep the program at a professor level, but one exception for a teaching assistant has been made.