The Revival of Tutorial

The University's pre-war reputation as a great educational institution had many bases, but perhaps the most outstanding of them was the advising program. Almost every undergraduate received tutorial, and the close, informal contact between student and instructor was an integral and famous part of Harvard education.

Because of the enlarged enrollment in the post-war college, however, this contact has been disintegrating during the last five years, most rapidly in the five large departments--English, History, Government, Economics, and Social Relations--where this year only thirty-six percent of the concentrators are taking tutorial. It was this decline of tutorial that prompted the Faculty to set up the Bender Committee in 1948 to report on advising at Harvard.

There has been another problem interrelated with the dearth of tutorial which appeared almost as serious. During the past five years, the Dean's Office, the Houses, and the various departments have held power over different spheres of the undergraduate's life, so that there has been no one focus for his intellectual activity.

The Bender Report, released last Spring, solves both problems at once by making the Houses the focal point of college life. The Faculty split this report into two pieces, studied them separately, and "overwhelmingly" passed them; approval of the last installment came early this week.

Destined to become effective next Fall, the Bender program sets up the office of Senior Tutor in each House, and assigns it the disciplinary duties now performed by the Dean's Office and a share of the responsibilities now exclusively delegated to the various departments. Within this organizational framework, the program enlarges tutorial, extending it to all sophomores, juniors, and honors Seniors, members of the five large departments, thereby restoring advising to its former place in the Harvard education.

The inception of this program will be one of the largest and most dramatic educational departures taken by the University since the war. By establishing tutorial for all, it will reconstruct the balance between the lecture system which provides knowledge impersonally by means of dictation, and small-group education which stimulates discussion. Moreover, it fashions the House system into a real center of the University's intellectual life.

While less obvious, the Bender program's details of implementation are just as remarkable. When the Faculty first received the Report, there were gloomy predictions about manpower and money. The Bender Committee feared that individual tutorial for honors seniors and juniors would have to be drastically curtailed. Others feared that tutorial for all would mean large unwieldly groups. Still others prophesied a rise in tuition. The pessimistic predictions were incorrect, tuition will remain at the same level it is now, tutorial groups will be limited to a maximum of six students, and individual tutorial will not be curtailed at all.

A more controverted issue was the question of administration: the departments wished to keep full control over all tutorials, leaving the Senior Tutors with little but decanal duties to perform. Worse, it seemed that no one above an assistant professor was willing to fill the new positions. Both problems threatened to kill the program, but the Faculty sidestepped them. Its resolution requires that "Senior Tutors . . . shall be considered to have special responsibilities for working out with the departments the organization of tutorial groups for Sophomores on a residential basis." In an explanatory note, the Faculty affirmed continued centralization of junior and senior tutorial in the Houses, but added that the "complications of fitting specific fields and other departmental considerations" precluded making this assumption binding on the Faculty. The other fear that no suitable men would wish to assume the duties of Senior Tutor, was, again, only a pessimistic prediction.

Although the success of this program still depends to a large degree on skillful administration, the Faculty's decision is a great boost to Harvard education. Furthermore, it is proof that the Faculty has recognized that tutorial's post-war decline and the ineffectiveness of the House system did lessen the quality of that education. The Bender Report, if successful, will bring it back up to the position it once held.