Bring Snacks (or Else): Professor Who Canceled Class Might Be on the Right Track

Cal State Sacramento psychology professor George Parrott walked out of class after students didn't bring snacks.

Want to take psychology professor George Parrott's class at California State University at Sacramento? If so, you better be prepared to bring homemade snacks to class. Without them, Parrott will decline to teach the class, a policy he followed through on last week when the students who had signed up for snack duty didn’t bring the agreed-upon munchies to their three-hour lab. After Parrott walked out, a few students complained, and now the university administration is investigating.

At first glance, Parrott's snack rule seems like the quirk of a tenured professor—he’s been on the job since 1969 and started his snack rule shortly thereafter. But the professor—who rarely eats the snacks himself—told Inside Higher Education that his requirement is educational, not culinary. He says he's teaching students to "work together, to set a schedule, to work in teams to get something done, and to check up on one another, since everyone depends on whoever has the duty of bringing snacks on a given week." Parrott believes that his walkout taught students "an important lesson" that will serve them well throughout both their academic career and work experience: They need to be able to count on each other, and if someone doesn’t follow through with a task, it’s a big deal.

Parrott also defended his snack mandate by noting that plenty of research "shows that students learn more if they develop the skills to work in teams, to assume responsibility for projects, and get to know their fellow students." That’s a lot more difficult to facilitate in large classes, he says. He says when he was a student, lab classes might only have a dozen students, and it was easy for students to develop a personal relationship with each other and with the professor. "Those days are long gone," he says.

Indeed, Parrott’s lab class is supposed to only have 42 students, but thanks to the budget cuts in the Cal State system, there are 52 students enrolled this semester. Bringing snacks, he says, helps breaks down the formal barriers between students and professors. And because lab classes are so long, he’d need to give students a break to get something to eat anyway.

It's well established that students who have close relationships with their peers or professors are less likely to drop out. At a time when only 30 percent of adults over 25 have a degree and only 56 percent of college students earn a degree in six years, colleges are looking for ways to ensure that students feel like they belong on campus. Maybe Cal State Sacramento should be applauding Parrott's efforts to build community on campus rather than launching an investigation.

If officials do demand an end to his snack policy, Parrott says he'll "probably ignore" them. This is his last semester teaching before retirement, and he intends to go out with his snack rule in full effect.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user ZapTheDingbat

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