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Social Relations Tutorial

Brass Tacks

By Andrew T. Weil

Tutorial in Social Relations is distinguished by the efforts of the department to make it available to as many concentrators as possible. Unlike English tutorial, which has become more and more restricted, Soc Rel tutorial has expanded until nearly everyone who wants to take it can.

In the sophomore year all concentrators in Soc Rel are enrolled in group tutorials--non-credit sessions usually run by House tutors. On the basis of work in these groups, most students are asked to continue into junior tutorial (Social Relations 98), which consists of two Honors seminars for credit. Students who have done outstanding work as sophomores generally take individual tutorials in the junior year. There is no non-Honors junior tutorial, but in general, all those who want to take Soc Rel 98 can do so if their grades are substantial. Even students with questionable qualifications may petition to take junior tutorial and have the head tutor review their cases. Senior tutorial (Social Relations 99) is also two Honors seminars for credit and serves as a guide to thesis-writing.

In short, the Social Relations Department has used tutorial as the heart of a design for undergraduate concentration rather than as the basis of a program for Honors. Thus, there is no important distinction between Honors or non-Honors concentrators in Soc Rel; instead, one takes "tutorial" and "non-tutorial" as the basis of a classification. This is quite the opposite of current practice in most fields with tutorial. In English, for example, the Honors, non-Honors division is all-important, and English tutorial has, in fact, got out of touch with the undergraduate program as a whole.

Since the Soc Rel Department is also eager to have as many people as possible get degrees with Honors, one almost suspects that the Department's rules for concentration are designed to coax people into Honors by setting complicated regulations for non-Honors students. Only recently, for instance, the department eliminated distribution and concentration requirements for Honors candidates but retained them for others, so that the non-Honors student still has to worry about choosing the proper number of "P" and "S" courses and taking acceptable courses outside of Soc Rel.

All of the present features of Soc Rel tutorial developed from a major reorganization of the department in 1960--a year before the Gill plan was presented. When the Gill recommendations did come out, the department found it was already doing what the report suggested: offering tutorial without the restrictions of any artificial barriers (such as limiting tutorial to those in Group III or above). Even now, one year after the Gill report, the Social Relations is the only Department following that suggestion to the fullest.

Yet this does not mean that all of the other departments have been lax, nor does it necessarily suggest that the Gill plan recommendations are impractical. The current system of tutorial in Social Relations seems perfectly adapted to the subject matter of that field; Soc Rel has always relied heavily on the small group, not only as a method of class organization (in such courses as Soc Rel 120), but also as a teaching device (as in David Riesman's course, where the "lectures" often turn out to be panel discussions). Since many of the problems Soc Rel deals with are best handled by small groups, it is only natural that the department would emphasize tutorial. On the other hand, it is difficult to think of individual or group tutorial as being essential to the study of economics.

If it is misguided to exhort other departments to model their tutorial programs after that of Social Relations, it still seems reasonable to hope that the spirit in which Soc Rel tutorial is offered will spread to other field and that other tutorial will also become available to all those who want to take them and can do the work. This, after all, is what the Gill plan envisioned.

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