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(Concentration Editorial)


That close personal contact between teachers and students in the quantitative sciences is desirable may be open to question. That it is practically non-existent in Physics at Harvard today is undoubtedly true.

The chief reason for this is that the University has as its avowed purpose the acquisition of "eminent" individuals for its high positions. Eminence is apparently never measured by the degree to which an older man may be helpful to younger men still learning the fundamentals, but rather by the extent by which the borders of learning have been extended. The aspiring "eminents" in the University, unless supremely certain of themselves, care not to spend their time with students. The concrete evidence of this is that the tutorial work in Physics is farcical, the adviser in chemistry is very little more than a man with a fountain pen.

The undergraduates in such fields fall into two distinct groups, those fitted for advanced research work, and those not so equipped. Some provision in a college must be made for both. In Physics, a Plan A and Plan B tutorial system might save the situation, as the sparse rays of tutorial instruction on the group I and II men could be focussed, and the less intelligent or less conscientious could shift for themselves.

In Chemistry, tutorial instruction would probably accomplish little, as the field is well-knit. The flexibility in advanced course work gives the exceptional student ample opportunity to expand, and formal classification of students into Group A and Group B would be superfluous. It would seem desirable, however, to force the students in the field who would normally fall into Group B to integrate their material for a general examination at the end of the college career. They would at least know as much chemistry at graduation then, as they had at any point earlier in college. Such familiarity is unusual, because the detailed nature of the material makes it rarely used after specific course work has stopped.

In chemistry, as in the mathematics department, there is a device whereby young men in the department are given fellowships, specifically named and specifically limited as to the period of incumbency, the mere holding of which is considered an honor of a sort, and the termination of which implies no public dissatisfaction of the University with the individual concerned. This makes hiring and firing more graceful and less painful, as is reflected by the relative helpfulness and availability of the assistants in chemistry as compared with those in physics. The same device in physics might well produce the same desirable effect on the personnel.

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