This semester, I attended a seminar where the grade will be based on work turned in by attendees in about a month. The lecturer has set up a 'get-together' of all students in his home, where he will be preparing dinner. Alcoholic drinks apparently will also be provided (beer).

I do not plan on attending, but I am worried this may affect my grade (declining/not answering an invitation).

My question is: Is it appropriate for a lecturer to organize such an event?

I am sure he means no harm, as he is very nice in general. As he has organized dinners with his courses before (last time I know of, it was after grading), I suspect my universities policies do not forbid this.

  • 4
    There used to be a time where this was just a way of offering the students and the profs an opportunity to talk, get to know each other better, and, simply, have a face-full (as opposed to "face-less") relation to each other; learning more about research and student/university life. Of course, today, with evaluations, scrutiny and a general shift in attitudes (as well as a rise of the size of the courses) etc., the assumptions are generally more sinister. Feb 20 '20 at 14:42
  • You say a seminar. In a "real" class in your program, I'd be more worried, but what kind of seminar is this? If it's one-credit (or S/NS) class, I don't see what the issue is. Although Spark's points regarding dietary issues/drinking stand. Feb 20 '20 at 15:21
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    Declining an invitation is fine, not answering may be considered impolite
    – user2768
    Feb 20 '20 at 16:04

I think it's completely appropriate.

As an anecdote, when I was an undergrad I was in a similar situation. The professor of a WW2 history class I was taking invited all 20-or-so of us undergrads to his home for a barbecue and tour of his collection of WW2 era guns, equipment, newspaper clippings, and so on. It occured before final grades came out.

In hindsight, it was one of those great lasting memories you make in school. I ended up majoring in a different field, but have since still kept a keen interest in history because, at least in part, of the experience I had there. Had that professor decided not to have such an event I would absolutely consider my undergraduate experience to be lesser than it was, and I think the same is true for many of my classmates both in that year and every other year the professor held such an event.

We, of course, don't know you or your lecturer, but I would be absolutely shocked if he has anything but pure intentions. If you don't want to go just reply to the invitation that you've got a prior commitment and can't make it.

Given you know that this lecturer has had this event in the past (after grades) indicates that it's almost assuredly done with positive intentiontions. Perhaps this year he has to travel immediately after he finishes grades, or the school scheduled his final later than last year and he has less time than normal. Maybe he's done it after grades in the past and had low attendance from foreign students who often have to travel right immediately and he wants to include them as well.


“I don’t think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while—just once in a while—there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time! But there never is! You never even hear any hints dropped on a campus that wisdom is supposed to be the goal of knowledge. You hardly ever even hear the word 'wisdom' mentioned!” - Franny, in J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey

Where I was an undergrad, the school in fact reimbursed professors for the costs of hosting students in upper level classes, once per semester, for dinner at their home. (I'm sure there were various restrictions and caveats, and probably only actual food costs were included, but I don't know the details.)

It was felt, correctly in my opinion, that social contact between professors and students improved student learning - not only specifically in the subject matter of the course, but in life in general as well.


As you say, it may or may not violate university policy, but I do think it may cross some boundaries either way.

Let me put it this way - if a fellow lecturer came to me and asked me whether it's appropriate to organize such an event I would advise against it:

  1. It excludes some students (in particular, those who are probably less sociable than others, those who don't drink or have dietary restrictions, or just those who don't like the lecturer).
  2. It offers students a plausible argument against the lecturer in case they get a bad grade: it makes it appear as if they are playing favorites.
  3. There is a power imbalance: grades aren't out yet, and students may feel like their grades depend on how nice they are to the lecturer (they may not be wrong!).

In general, socializing with students when a course is ongoing and their grades are still not set is something I would not recommend. Students like you who are uncomfortable and worry that their grades may suffer are exactly the reason why.

  • 5
    Your points are valid, but why not assume that the invitation is nothing but a nice gesture of respect towards the students and will not affect the grades? It might show a lack of instinct to have this event before grades are out, but the OP does not give any indication that grades and attending this event are indeed connected in any way. Feb 20 '20 at 8:12
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    It may well be. But as I say - it is really about appearances. On the flip side - the lecturer is getting course evaluations. A cynical person may see this dinner invite as an attempt at bribery.
    – Spark
    Feb 20 '20 at 8:29
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    "It excludes [...] students [...] who don't drink" is nonsense, at least as far as Germany is concerned. (The OP is from Germany.) There are always guests who don't drink alcohol, because they have to drive home by car, for health reasons, for religious reasons, or whatever. As somebody who seriously dislikes beer, I have to say that I've never ever encountered a social event where I didn't get a glass of water.
    – Uwe
    Feb 20 '20 at 18:21
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    I think it is ludicrous to ban all social contact between professors and students on these sort of grounds. Social contact is good. It is bad to give support to the idea that there is a malign motive behind every friendly gesture.
    – JeremyC
    Feb 20 '20 at 22:58
  • 1
    @JeremyC how do you get from not recommending having a dinner party in your house for your students because it may make some of them uncomfortable to "ban all social contact"?
    – Spark
    Feb 21 '20 at 1:49

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