Editorial: Facilitating professor-student and town-gown connections| Jan 11, 2015
The University’s focus on undergraduate education as well as its small-town setting set it apart from its peer institutions. In the spirit of promoting this undergraduate-focused experience, the University urges students and faculty alike to engage in fruitful dialogue outside the classroom and to build lifelong academic and professional relationships. At this year’s Opening Exercises, University President Christopher Eisgruber ’83 described the University as small enough that students should get to know their professors on a more personal level. Eisgruber is correct in noting that the same undergraduate focus that motivated students to enroll at the University has drawn faculty members to teach at this institution as well. Likewise, many who choose to reside in Princeton are likely drawn to the University’s contribution to the town. However, there still is more that can be done to break down the barrier that students feel between themselves and their extremely well-versed, well-educated and well-known professors, and those living beyond the FitzRandolph Gate.
One solution to bridge the student-faculty divide would be for the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students and the Office of the Dean of Faculty to jointly facilitate a program in which faculty could sign up to befriend a student. The pair would meet on a regular but non-time-constraining basis throughout the academic year. Six hours a year would be a fair commitment level to propose.
In order to distinguish this relationship from that between a student and an academic adviser, mentors would be encouraged to invite students to engage in conversation outside of the University, promoting dialogue on topics such as internships, research, how they found themselves in academia, as well as events going on within the University community and the world. The relationship would be one of a professional acquaintanceship, with administration encouraged to remain professional but informal. University students are young adults on the brink of the real world and everything that comes along with it. Faculty should feel comfortable associating with students as mental equals.
Students and faculty would both sign up for the program voluntarily and be matched based on similar academic and extracurricular interests. For instance, a student in the comparative literature department with an interest in astronomy and gardening might be matched with an astrophysics professor with a large and plentiful tomato garden in need of some assistance this spring. Granted, the connection may be on another level, such as a common favorite sports team or author, allowing students to hear perspectives from faculty members with whom they normally would not take classes.
This program could even be extended to students fostering relationships with members outside the University. Too often students forget that the University is a part of the larger Princeton community, with far more fathers, mothers, children, high school students, police, local-business owners and local politicians than Panera Bread and J.Crew.
In a similar fashion to the student-faculty bonding program, the University could invest in a program in which students are paired with families within the community of a similar ethnic or religious background, if they so desired. The partnership could even be established on criteria such as a similar professional interest. In this voluntary commitment, a Jewish family might take in a Jewish student or two around Hanukkah or Yom Kippur. The family could even take in a student who has a strong interest in Judaism and is open to different cultures. Many Princetonians go home only once a year, or even less frequently due to financial or travel restrictions. The opportunity to spend time with a family right outside of FitzRandolph Gate would allow students who may feel lonely during their time at the University or who are simply in need of a break from the stress of schoolwork to perhaps bond with a young student in the community who may have never met a Princetonian before, despite living five blocks away from 5,000 of them.
Overall, these two initiatives would not only continue to foster the University spirit of an undergraduate-focused education, but they would also strengthen the relationship that students have with faculty members and improve the relationship between the University and Princeton community as a whole. Therefore, the Editorial Board strongly encourages the University to facilitate student-faculty and student-community member bonding programs in the near future.
TheEditorial Boardis an independent body and decides its opinionsseparately from the regular staff and editors of the ‘Prince.’ The Board answers only to its chair, the opinion editor and the editor-in-chief.