Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts), center, invited students to a Christmas party at his home in December: "We've done this kind of thing before, although not necessarily on this scale."
While some BC faculty have long made casual interaction with undergraduates a part of their job, a formal policy that encourages informal contact helps to affirm the University's belief in the value of curae personalis, administrators say.
"I've hosted students at my house for years, and it's been a great experience for all of us," said A&S Dean Joseph Quinn, who introduced the reimbursement policy. "I feel a program like this gets people thinking about it, at the very least. If people are doing it already, then we're emphasizing the importance of this commitment to the student."
Academic Vice President and Dean of Faculties John Neuhauser said, "The A&S program is keeping very much in the spirit and tradition of student formation at BC, where we believe faculty have a major role to play beyond the academic. Clearly, the A&S faculty are making it a success."
Under the policy, A&S faculty members can be reimbursed up to $125 per semester for hosting dinners or other special events with their students.
Last fall, 51 faculty received reimbursement, up from the 27 compensated during the fall of 2000. More than 800 students were invited to the faculty-organized events last semester, almost double the number from a year ago.
The numbers hardly begin to convey the array of events of varying scale and degree of organization faculty and their students have enjoyed together. Participants - faculty and undergraduate alike - relish the opportunity to find new insights into each other's lives, or to simply kick back and have a good time.
In December, Prof. John Michalczyk (Fine Arts) and his wife Susan, a faculty member in the A&S Honors Program, hosted a Christmas party at their Wayland home for a group of more than 40 students pooled from the couple's classes. The party included servings of homemade hearty minestrone soup with breads, followed by cookies, mulled cider and plain eggnog, and a mix of socializing and caroling.
"We've done this kind of thing before, although not necessarily on this scale," said John Michalczyk. "But to see that Joe is making a point of emphasizing this kind of faculty-student interaction is very heartening. It does make a difference.
"The students really seem to love it when we can get out of the classroom and relate to one another in a completely different way."
Susan Michalczyk agreed: "They enjoy being with a real family, which is something they miss. Some have told us that being able to go to a family holiday party is important to them at that time of year; it helps put them into the spirit of the season."
Sophomore Thomas Kempa, a student of John Michalczyk, said, "When you're in a classroom setting, even though you enjoy the professor, there's still a kind of boundary between you. But when someone invites you to their home, and lets you be in their personal space, you feel truly welcomed. It just brings an openness to your relationship."
Assoc. Prof. Gilda Morelli (Psychology) has been struck by the degree of comfort an informal dinner event brings to conversations with students.
"You find that they're really interested in your lives, and it's difficult to cover that in class," she said. "During the dinners my husband and I put together, I've found myself talking with students on questions of marriage and family, and how these relate to your professional life. That's a very important kind of conversation for them to have at their age, and where else here can they have it if not with me, their professor?"
Ideally, as Quinn says, faculty hold events for students in their own homes, but for some this presents space or logistical problems and they devise alternative plans.
At his students' suggestion, meanwhile, Assoc. Prof. Christopher Baum (Economics) took members of his Econometrics class via the T to a dim sum restaurant in Chinatown. The experience was an education for Baum, who had never before sampled dim sum.
"It was very interesting," he laughed. "People come by and offer you things and you don't know what they are, and neither of you can speak the other's language. But we had a great time, and it felt good to get to know these students in a new way."
To new faculty member Asst. Prof. Franziska Seraphim (History), an informal dinner party with undergraduates last fall offered an opportunity to further settle into the BC community. Unable to accommodate her Japanese history class in her home, she reserved an auditorium on campus, brought in sushi and pizza, and screened the much-acclaimed 1950 Japanese film "Rashomon."
"The students were flabbergasted by it," said Seraphim of the film, famous for its shifting points of view and ambiguous ending in its depiction of a rape and murder. "It sparked a lot of discussion about which version of the events was the 'right' one. But this was different than what we would've done in the classroom. Here, we were just a group of people sitting around, talking about a film they'd just watched."
Quinn said, "Students get to see another side of you when you hold these kind of gatherings. Yes, you're a professor and you hold advanced degrees, but maybe you like talking about music, or sports, or films, and you become more of a whole person that way."
Morelli says the revelation can be a two-way street. "Once I begin to talk to my students, I see what great people they are. Many of them do great work in the community, and they face interesting challenges. Why wouldn't you want to know more about the people you see in your classroom?"
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