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Faculty, staff get lunch hours at La Mia, but some feel location is isolated

By Emily Simanskis, For The Miami Student

La Mia Cucina, known for its flatbreads, pizzas and pasta, is opening its doors to faculty and staff Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. as part of an initiative by the Miamideas Committee.

Chaired by Douglas Troy, the Miamideas Committee worked with Kim Kinsel in Dining Services to make this faculty lunch a possibility.

Miami University's chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and Provost Phyllis Callahan have been strong proponents of a faculty and staff lunch option.

La Mia's availability for a faculty and staff lunch acts as a replacement for 1809, a campus dining venue that used to provide the same service before it closed two years ago.

"They're putting a lot of money into the student experience and some of that has come at the expense of the faculty experience," said Karen Dawisha, co-president of Miami's AAUP chapter.

La Mia serves as a place to take candidates for job interviews or guest artists and lecturers who are visiting campus. But its other valuable purpose comes as a result of the community the space creates for the two-and-a-half hours La Mia's doors are open.

"We are really pretty isolated day-to-day in terms of our hectic, busy schedules and we will be stuck in our particular building or our particular side of campus," said Ann Elizabeth Armstrong, chair of the Department of Theatre and a representative on the Advisory Board for Miami's chapter of AAUP. "It's really important to come and bump into each other."

In a community such as Miami's that fosters collaboration and getting to know people, this lunch option for faculty is a way for faculty from different departments to come up with new research ideas or interdisciplinary projects and gives faculty the opportunity to talk to with others outside their department.

"Sometimes you feel really isolated and it contributes to morale and people will go off and complain by themselves," Armstrong said. "It's better to come here and see some of our administrators and find out what's it like in your department or how you all are dealing with this problem."

Dining Services was approached by members of the AAUP to offer some kind of faculty dining program and, because La Mia had not been operating during lunch due to low customer counts, Dining Services and the faculty both benefit from the new program.

"The style of service (restaurant/made to order) allows us to easily control our costs and minimize waste," said Mary Barrera, manager of culinary services. "It has a great atmosphere that we feel faculty and staff will appreciate."

Dining Services also emphasized that this option has no direct effect on students. La Mia had not been open during lunch hours to begin with, though students who work in dining have been added to the lunch shift to accommodate the change.

And while these lunch hours are designed for faculty and staff, students can still eat at La Mia during those hours but cannot use their meal plans.

This option presents new opportunities, but its location may actually prevent faculty from making an effort to interact with their peers.

"It's not convenient. That's our concern. We want to support it, but something that's at the end of all student dorms is not the most convenient place for faculty," Dawisha says. "But we're supporting it. We're hoping others will soon."

The location has access to parking and is also located along bus routes, but the location may be a drawback for something intended to build community among different departments and divisions.

"It's a student venue, it's positioned right in the middle of student living areas and it's obviously beautiful and wonderful, but that is definitely a challenge," Armstrong said.

Miami's AAUP chapter, though its members are fond of the vegan cookies and fruit platters served at La Mia, are still hoping to move the location.

"We were told in the future they might be able to construct a place for us at the current Bell Tower, but that won't probably happen for a few years," said Deborah Lyons, the secretary for Miami's AAUP chapter.

Dining Services reports that La Mia has been averaging 25 people per day for lunch and hopes to see more as word spreads and enthusiasm increases.

Correction: The print version of this article said this was a "faculty-only" lunch. The lunch hours are intended for both faculty and staff, and students may also choose to take advantage of the hours. Also, the original version of this article said the AAUP spearheaded the initiative, when it was actually led by the Miamideas Committee.