Princeton University prides itself on its undergraduate focus and especially on the incredible availability of its world-renowned faculty to work with undergraduate students. With a student-faculty ratio of 6:1, students have a remarkable proximity to some of the most outstanding minds in today's academic disciplines. All University professors engage in teaching as well as research, and students interact with their instructors in various class formats such as precepts, seminars and lectures, but oftentimes the most valuable interactions come from outside of the classroom. Professors are not just technical experts; they are also individuals with tremendous experience in academic life and passions for intellectual pursuits. Students seeking out professors beyond the lecture hall can expand their knowledge of class material, discover new interests, bear witness to relevant wisdom about finding a career path and receive advice for navigating University life. While University professors already hold office hours for facilitating student-professor interactions outside of class, the Editorial Board proposes better promotion of that system as well as popularizing programs that support meals between students and professors.
Many professors currently list the times they are available to meet on their syllabi and mention this information during their first lectures, but after that, office hours often become just a tool used only for getting help on incomplete assignments or addressing other problems. Students would benefit from being reminded by their professors of the times and places they are available throughout the year, not just when midterms or big assignments are looming. Since many students might be hesitant to go to office hours because they are unsure what to talk about, professors should encourage students to take advantage of office hours even if they don’t have questions about the course material or a specific assignment. The Board further encourages residential college advisers and the Undergraduate Student Government to help students take advantage of office hours by encouraging students to partake of this resource.
In addition to office hours, meals are often a great way to get to know a professor better. The University has several resources to facilitate these encounters, but these are generally disparate and little known. One such resource is the Princeton Home Dining program organized by the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life. This program, funded by a generous alumnus in 2011, provides funds for inviting a professor to a meal (or even just coffee) at any dining location on campus. This is an ongoing program that can readily foster conversations between professors and students, but it seems that few students are aware of this opportunity.
Similar opportunities seem to be available at some residential colleges, but these again are not uniformly available and tend to be irregularly publicized. Residential colleges have sponsored nights on which students can invite professors to dinner at their college dining hall, but these events are sporadic and vary per college. Another unique example is that Whitman College provides meal passes for professors invited to dinner at the college on any night, if prior coordination is arranged. Even some eating clubs extend the privilege of allowing members to invite a professor to a meal, but this is not the case for all clubs. We urge the Office of the Vice President for Campus Life, residential colleges and eating clubs to better promote these programs throughout the year on their respective websites or through listservs so that students are able to take advantage of this opportunity.
These suggestions can bolster the efficiency and availability of the opportunities provided by the University, but it is ultimately up to the students to seek out these encounters. We encourage students to take advantage of these important ways of flourishing at Princeton. While the University already supports a helpful system of student-professor interactions, reinforcing the practice of these interactions, especially outside the classroom, would yield a more engaged and cohesive University community.
The Editorial Board is an independent body and decides its opinions separately from the regular staff and editors of The Daily Princetonian. The Board answers only to its Chair, the Opinion Editor and the Editor-In-Chief.