One of the few aspects of the undergraduate tutorial program upon which there is general agreement is that the system must be drastically revamped if it is to realize its potential.
Ideally, tutorial can be one of the most effective teaching devices available to the University. It can give the student a chance to test his ideas on an interested and informed mind. It can give him an insight into the working of the scholarly process which he cannot readily attain through lectures and text-books. It can require him to articu-late his ideas and arrange his knowledge with a coherence which is seldom demanded by the one way techniques of papers and exams. Most of all, it can defeat the gamesman's glib use of words and facts to obscure his lack of real insight or awareness, and thereby prod him into a modicum of honest, and rigorous thinking. There does not appear to be any educational substitute for re-examination of one's assertions in a critical light. Such self-testing is seldom a part of an impersonal grading system, in which even the reader's most perceptive comments rarely receive worthwhile response or defense from the student.
Although tutorial may achieve all of these ends in theory, it rarely approaches them in pracice. Instead, it tends to be a academic facade concealing indifference to the majority of students, a device with which departments can support impoverished graduate students and assign material which does not fit neatly into regular courses. Few students or tutors regard tutorial as an important part of their academic program; instead, most have an unstated agreement to ignore this additional load whenever it grows burdensome.
The Primary Responsibility
These problems do not, of course, entirely negate the value of the existing program. When good students are brought together with good tutors, no amount of generalized apathy can entirely eliminate fruitful abrasion. The problem is that, if tutorial is to realize its great potential, it must be made vitally important to both student and tutor. The primary responsibiliy for such a change in attitude rests with the departments and the tutors, for the student will almost always accept the attitude which his tutor adapts towards their mutual endeavor. Rarely will an undergraduate react with indifference to an interested and able tutor or with enthusiasm to a tutor preoccupied with his own work.
It is often said that acquiring an education is largely an individual matter, and that the University does not guarantee to educate a man, but instead offers him the opportunity to educate himself. There is much truth in the assertion that this is what the University does, but there is also truth in the charge that such an attitude is often used as an excuse for shirking the responsibility to the student. While there may be no shortcuts to knowledge, and while tutorial may indeed be a crutch, the University has long recognized that it can aid the undergraduate's efforts at self-education. It is simply not enough for the University to say, "There is Widener Library; enter and learn." Good teaching has been and will remain an indispensable part of the process to most students, and for the departments to ignore this fact is not only unfair but irresponsible.
The Reformed Shortage
A more frequent objection is, however, that the existing resources of the college do not allow it to fulfill its obligation to creative scholarship and simultaneously to undertake a comprehensive teaching program through tutorial, seminars and conferences. "There is not time enough for those who are here to really work on tutorial, nor money enough to bring in more men," as one faculty member put it, explaining that "adequate preparation for a tutorial session takes ten to twenty hours."
Even if one admits that a good tutorial program is an essential part of effective undergraduate education, and agrees that such a program does not exist, resolution of the problem is extremely difficult. One immediate response is that if departments are prepared to offer tutorial, conferences, seminars, and close contact with professors to GSAS students, they should be prepared to do so for undergraduates, who pay more and are, according to its president, "the heart of the University." But this does not make available either time or money.
The GSAS Problem
Several possibilities do, however, suggest themselves. In the first place, it is obvious that an effective tutorial program can hardly expect to rely upon GSAS students to any substantial extent. These men are almost always too involved in their own courses and research to dedicate time and interest to undergraduate education. The fact that they do not currently find that tutorial requires more time than they can give is hardly relevant, since they rarely give enough time to make the program significant.
If we stop counting on GSAS as a source of manpower, two alternatives seem available. First, the University can hire young Ph.D.'s as tutors, making tutorial their primary obligation. Obviously, these men must also have a dedication to their field, but this can be cultivated as well by making them tutors as through the present system which turns them into a kind of academic menial. Serious teaching can be as efficient in organizing and stmulating many men's thinking in a field as research assistantships.
If such a program is to function, however, the men involved must not be treated as second class citizens. They must receive guarantees of security, both financial and professional, comparable to those awarded any other equivalent academic commitment. Presumably, they must also be required to live in the Houses, since residence, and particularly taking meals with the undergraduates is an important factor in their role as educators.
Professors in Tutorial
Another possibility is that professors could dedicate a far larger proportion of their time to tutorial work. If, as some professors feel, most lectures have little value as educational tools, it seems that they might use their time in some more fruitful way. While departmental appointments now tend to be based on need for an expert on a given subject, and thus come with an obligation to offer courses in that specialty, perhaps the need for such courses could often be met equally well by offering reading courses.
Yet no program for getting better tutors and giving them more time for tutorial will work until the material studied is made important to the student. This is already the case in a few instances. Perhaps if a student did more of his work in his field of concentration through tutorial, if the material covered were selected on the basis of individual interests rather than departmental regulations, if the tutors could demand more than token reading assignments, if they refused to ignore and thereby encourage student indifference, then tutorial might begin to realize its potential as an educational instrument.
But all of these suggestions are contingent upon one hypothesis, the hypothesis that the capacity to read a book or to observe facts, even when coupled with the capacity to write papers and examinations, is seldom equivalent to education.