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The Point: Reopening the University Dining Club with full food service


This week’s The Point is written by Prof. Lynne Byall Benson, Senior Lecturer, Women’s, Gender, and Sexualities Studies

I have recently visited several college campuses and couldn’t help but notice how many spaces were available for students, faculty, and staff for conversation, a coffee break or meal with a colleague, a visitor, a potential new hire, or just hanging out between classes or meetings.

The goal of this week’s Point is to point out (pardon the pun!) that these types of spaces are severely lacking on the UMB campus, and to further urge our Administration to consider providing more such spaces. They are not ancillary to our mission. They are central to the functioning of a university, for building community, encouraging collaboration, and developing the kinds of relationships necessary for learning, research, and creating a campus where people want to invest their time.

And yet, often, we seem to be going in the wrong direction. There is no longer a café in Healey Library or in McCormick. The space where the McCormick café used to be has been described, according to one of my colleagues, as welcoming as a dentist’s waiting room. There are several food courts on campus, yet nowhere appropriate to take a student to lunch or to host visiting staff/faculty who are interviewing for a job at UMB. Some occasions deserve a bit of privacy, and a crowded food court is obviously not the place.

One partial solution to this broader problem is to reopen the University Dining Club with full food service. There has been a petition circulated last spring and this fall by Professor Maria Brincker, moderator of the CLA Senate, signed by over 200 faculty and staff, who were overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating this service for graduate students, faculty, and staff. Many commented on the importance of having a semi-private space for conversation and collaboration among colleagues; it is also necessary for recruitment and retention.

(Here is a link to Prof. Brincker’s petition if you have not signed it yet:  petition ).

Although the space where the UDC once existed is now open, it is just that -an open space without any amenities, such as napkins, utensils, or even water. Anyone who wishes to use the space must bring their lunch. Recently I witnessed a faculty member host their grad students in this space and the professor had to provide the refreshments. I couldn’t help but reflect on how much more meaningful a lunch provided by the former UDC would’ve been. (certainly better than the chips and salsa provided by the professor!).

The Provost has formed a Working Group to study the feasibility of reopening the UDC with food service. I have been appointed to this group, and although I am pleased to be representing the FSU in this initiative, and it is a positive step, I must ask: Why do we need one more working group? We already know there is an urgent need for this facility, as made evident from the number of individuals who signed the petition in favor of re-opening the UDC. The associated comments made this need obvious.

Finally, such open spaces can serve as a public square of sorts. Times being what they are, it is not impossible to imagine that sharing a meal and a conversation may help in healing the contentiousness of our campus.