A quarter of a century ago, Edward Harkness' three million dollar gift gave President Lowell a solid basis for fulfilling a pet idea: a House designed as a community for scholars, giving tutors and students a chance to share ideas in the informality of a dining room or common room.
The pine-pancled dining rooms and libraries of the Houses attest that Lowell's goal has been partially reached, but effective use of tutors for "dinner-table education" remains a dream.
In some cases, tutors dine at a separate table, and retire afterwards to their won common room. While this practice allows them to educate each other, it discourages participation in discussions and House activities that enable students and tutors to build profitable, informal associations.
The University gives resident tutors handsome suites and fourteen free meals a week. This expenditure is justified, the Faculty feels, because the resident tutors are a valuable asset if they meet students informally and take part in House activities. But in House where they stay aloof, they are little more than an expensive luxury.
For the informal relationship envisioned by Lowell to be most effective, the five major fields and some of the smaller departments should be represented on each House's resident staff. Some Houses lack resident tutors even in English and Social Relations. Only one House has a resident in Philosophy, although an instructor in this field would be an ideal primer for student discussions, whether in the dining room, the common room, or the tutor's own suite. By selecting tutors to live in the House from a large number of fields, Masters would enable nearly every student to find a Faculty member in his own field of interest.
While a great increase in the number of resident tutors would be prohibitively expensive, a cheaper method for attracting instructors and professors to the Houses is available. An increase in the number of free meals allotted to non-resident tutors would draw men who now lunch at the Faculty Club. Through their acquaintance with House members, these non-residents would have a basis for meeting many students whom they never even see under the present system.