Hey, Curious Campus: What are the odds of getting picked for Lunch with Fenves?

Hayden Baggett

Since 2015, UT President Gregory Fenves has hosted monthly lunches to connect with the student population and receive feedback about the University. The lunches, which take place in the Tower and often include guest speakers who explore a range of topics, rely on a lottery system to select students.

So, when one of our readers asked us, “How likely am I to get invited to Lunch with Fenves after applying?” we looked into it as part of Curious Campus, a series where we answer reader-submitted questions.

UT spokesperson J.B. Bird said out of 650 to 800 applicants per lunch, the Office of the President invites only 16 students. This results in an acceptance rate between 2 and 2.5 percent. Bird said there are two reasons the University does not include more students.

“There are space limitations to the location of the lunches in Stark Library,” Bird said in an email. “Also, the functionality of the lunch could be impacted (to) where not every student gets to meet with the president.”

Virginia Luehrsen, a University staffer who oversees the selection process, said it is “very random.” Luehrsen said she predetermines the number of students selected from each enrollment classification —  such as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors — and then randomly chooses from the pool of applicants.

“I use a random number generator to select from a list of students by classification that is sorted by time stamp of entry,” Luehrsen said in an email. “For example, if the proportion gives three seats to juniors, and we have 97 juniors who applied, I will randomly generate three numbers between one and 97.”

Academics do not affect a student’s chances of being selected unless a class coincides with the lunch, but the students need to be enrolled to be invited, Luehrsen said.

At the lunches, Bird said the University serves boxed meals with sandwiches, chips, and cookies or salads.

Emily Brehob, a global policy graduate student, said she attended lunch with Fenves in October 2017 after applying one time. Brehob said she did not expect to be accepted immediately. In turn, she felt privileged attending.

“I did wonder about how the selection process was made and if there was any thought of, ‘Oh, these people will be more reasonable to interact with,’ or anything like that,” Brehob said.

Biology senior Mostefa Sheikhi said he has not been invited to a lunch despite applying seven times.

“At first I wasn’t too affected by it; I knew he had better things to do than to get to know some random student,” Sheikhi said in an email. “After seven tries though, it kind of just felt like a joke more than anything.”

Sheikhi said Fenves should increase the number of invitations to the lunches so that more students can have the opportunity to meet him and discuss what they consider important at the University. 

“I feel as if other students have more pressing matters to discuss,” Sheikhi said. “They should be more inclusive so that Fenves gets a diverse opinion on University matters.”