Downsize the Tutors

Just a Thought

How many tutors is too many tutors?

That's the question College officials should be asking as they look for ways to ease overcrowding in Harvard's 12 upperclass Houses.

In order to meet the needs of increasingly savvy consumers of higher education (for whom suites with one less bedroom than the number of occupants are declasse), the College already has looked into expanding the size of its "overflow" housing in DeWolfe, pondered the feasibility of building a 13th House, and even hired a consultant to figure out if current space in the Houses is being used efficiently.

But before they decide that the broom closet down the hall from you might make for a new cozy single, administrators ought to focus their attention on the nearly 250 tutors who live among students as part of the resident tutor system.

They live in some of the best housing on campus--but do the jobs they do justify the resources devoted to them?

Sadly, I believe, the answer is no. Due in large part to the changing needs of the student body, and in small part to the limited role that many tutors actually play in House life, the residential tutorial system should be scaled back. Halving the program, or even just reducing it by a quarter, would provide the College with much-needed space while not harming the House system as it was designed.

As it was originally conceived, the tutorial system was part of a larger plan to make the Houses not only residential, but also academic communities. As part of then Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell's plan to construct residential colleges modeled after those at Oxford and Cambridge, resident tutors were to be matched up with a pair of students who lived in the House and were in his field of study. The tutor would work with those students over three years on all things academic, ultimately helping them prepare for oral exams and the such.

A lot has changed since then, most significantly randomization, which radically changed the way students interact with their House. As post-randomization students increasingly find "community" in groups that exist outside House borders, students are spending less time in the House and thereby spending less time with tutors. What's more, the realities of Harvard's curriculum ground our studies solidly outside the House.