The University of Dallas is roughly a month into the fall semester and most students have gotten a routine down for their classes, extracurriculars and social lives. Yet as they go about their day, chances are by now that most students have noticed a new scene: like clockwork, on Mondays and Wednesdays the line for the cafeteria reaches all the way to the Cap Bar starting at noon. Though this may seem like a weird annoyance, this is actually a side effect of a larger, more positive initiative that has taken place to better foster connection between UD professors and students.
Starting this year, the decision was made to ask faculty to voluntarily make the hour of 12:00-1:00 on Mondays and Wednesdays open, not holding any classes during that time. Dr. Tammy Leonard, chair of the economics department, was the interim provost at the time and spearheaded the effort, which lasted the better part of a year.
Leonard discussed how the faculty felt that greater engagement with one another could benefit the university, especially after the disruptions caused by COVID-19. “Like so many other areas of our lives, COVID disrupted people’s routines, and faculty were missing opportunities to engage with each other,” she said.
This fact, combined with commuter students and those who work off campus having less access to evening activities, led to the effort to find a time slot for professors to be able to meet with one another as well as their students.
Gathering data and opinions from across the faculty, it was decided that the 12-1 p.m. slot on Mondays and Wednesdays was the best option.
“As it turned out, we had far fewer classes already being offered during the 12-1 p.m. time slot on M/W/F. It was an unpopular time to hold class already. So, we solicited more input from our university community and then decided to request that faculty voluntarily hold the 12-1 slot open,” Leonard said.
Dr. Jonathan Sanford, president of the university, also supported the decision, adding that this action taken by the university has been a few years in the making.
“It was an idea that we had been thinking about for several years, that is, a way to carve out a common meeting time where it’s really hard to schedule both for faculty meetings and student meetings,” Sanford said.
Other faculty also think that the decision could be beneficial to the UD community. Dr. David Upham, chair of the politics department, focused on the new rule’s support of faculty team building. “It seems like a helpful new convention. It will encourage a closer community among the faculty,” he said.
Fr. Thomas Esposito, O. Cist., has also enjoyed the newfound time spent with colleagues.
“The break has allowed faculty to gather for lunch with each other if they wish. In particular, the Center for Teaching and Learning has planned great topics for discussion on Wednesdays. We often want to meet up, but simply lack the time, so the lunch break is fostering camaraderie, which is wonderful,” he said.
What can fill the time slots is up to the UD community. One trend Leonard noticed, however, was that attendance for the 12:05 Mass was high on those days, and that she has been able to better connect with other professors and students.
“I’ve enjoyed attending meetings with my colleagues that normally would be held in the evenings when I often can’t attend because of family commitments, I’ve also had an opportunity to have lunch with students,” she said.
Leonard noted that potential challenges could arise because of this change. However, she hopes that in the long run, the community will appreciate the extra hour to take a step back and experience the best that the UD community has to offer.
“My hope is we can continue to be creative and adaptive and grow into the future … only time will tell if this is a lasting idea or an experiment to grow from,” she said.