An Untutored Faculty


GLEN W. BOWERSOCK '57, associate dean of the Faculty for undergraduate education, did not think he was putting anybody out. After all, he had only asked departmental head tutors to turn in a short memo indicating how many Faculty members would teach tutorials this year. The legislation requiring all professors to teach at least one tutorial had passed the Faculty last April, so Bowersock figured the head tutors must have checked the status of their tutorial programs by now.

But when three weeks had gone by and still no word from the History, Government, English and Economics Departments, Bowersock began to wonder whether anyone was home in those tutorial offices. Finally, after several not-so-gentle-reminders, the results started coming in this week. History, Government and English managed to write up their memos, but apparently the Economics administrators had better things to do. An unidentified Economics secretary, left a phone message with Bowersock's secretary, sketchily answering half of Bowersock's questions. As it turned out, Donald Walls, head tutor of Economics, did not even know about the phone call. "It's possible that my administrative assistant has counted the tutorials," Walls speculates, "But I wasn't aware that the statistics were in yet."

But you've got to give Walls credit; at least he is acquainted with the legislation. David Perkins, chairman of the English Department, when asked earlier this month whether all his professors would teach tutorials this year, declared: "What? The legislation doesn't require that. You go back and read it for yourself."

And many heads of small departments, who believe the legislation applies primarily to large departments, did not even bother to examine the reforms. Take Peter S. Wells, head tutor in Anthropology, who said this week he was aware of the legislation "in a vague sort of way."

But Bowersock hasn't tackled the smaller departments yet, because "reasoning" with three big ones--Economics, History, and English--occupies much of his time. "It's like pulling teeth," Bowersock says morosely.

Bringing Economics in line then, will require major dental work. According to the phone-relayed statistics on the Economics tutorial program, only 28 of the 41 full-time Faculty members available to teach tutorials are doing so. The legislation allows professors to count senior thesis advising as a tutorial, and not surprisingly all 28 professors are fulfilling their tutorial responsibilities by advising a senior, a task which they perceive as the least time-consuming of the tutorial options. Bowersock points out that not all professors choose to direct theses for the time they could save. Some believe their time is "educationally better spent" with a senior than a sophomore or junior.

At any rate, Bowersock is not overly impressed by the Economics Department's non-performance. "I have the impression they don't care very much," he observes, adding, "They haven't even bothered to make up their own excuses." If the department did make any progress toward satisfying the legislation's requirements, Bowersock said, "I suspect it was accidental."

Walls himself admits Economics professors traditionally direct senior theses, "so, it's not really a change." Earlier, Walls said he understood that four professors were teaching sophomore and junior tutorials, up from three last year. "It builds up slowly," Walls explained. (Walls, by the way, has never taught a tutorial. "I haven't had time," he explains.)

In the History Department, 23 of the 26 available faculty members are partcipating in tutorials this year. But only two of these faculty members are teaching sophomore tutorials. Neither are senior faculty members. Only two of the senior faculty members are running junior tutorials; the rest took the loophole of advising senior theses. Nevertheless, this year ten more History faculty members will teach tutorials, and Bowersock believes the increase is encouraging, though hardly momentous.

Wallace T. McCaffrey, chairman of the History Department, says he encouraged senior faculty to "take on as much tutorial as they can manage," but adds no one should expect any substantial increases. "The legislation only came into effect a short while ago. We can't just suddenly shift gears."

The English Department, however, has come through this year with a more inspired showing. All 33 English faculty members are leading tutorials, 13 of them junior tutorials. The department had traditionally involved most of its faculty in tutorials, so once again, the legislation has led to mild reform, not revolution.

The Government Department likewise did not do badly; only two of its 34 available faculty members dodged tutorials.

Because most professors opted to directsenior theses, the number of students actually affected by the reforms is, as Bowersock puts it, "not huge." In English, for instance, professors will tutor only 52 students.

Most departments are offering no more than two or three sophomore and junior tutorials run by professors. Anticipating this, Bowersock had the legislation require that departments offer special seminars led by professors in lieu of a graduate student-run tutorial. The Government Department inspired the seminar plan--it offers several one-term seminars each year. And Government is still the only department to offer these special seminars.

Most departmental chairman argue their field simply does not lend itself to instruction by seminars. McCaffrey says, History junior tutorials are year-long chronological studies and a topical half-year seminar is not an acceptable substitute. But History sophomore tutorials are divided into four specialized units and a seminar might easily take the place of two units. "We will discuss it," Stephan A. Thernstrom, head tutor in History, said. More often than not, departments report no plans for seminars this year, though some tentatively hazard the speculation that they might "consider the possibility" at some unspecified "later date." Maybe.

Departmental heads defend their colleagues who choose not to teach tutorials, pointing out a professor must give up a lecture course for each tutorial he takes on. "The real question is the trade-off," Walls says.

The trade-off argument is a convenient, but questionable excuse. Some professors, after all, do shoulder the burden of an extra tutorial without sacrificing their lecture courses. And instruction lecture is sometimes not quite the exhaustive commitment it's made out to be. Standing up a few hours each week to read ancient lecture notes does not consume vast amounts of time. Take David E. Kaiser, assistant professor of History for instance--he manages to carry one sophomore tutorial, direct two theses, and teach a lecture course.

Bowersock is teaching a junior tutorial and advising three thesis candidates. Professors are more "stretchable" than they care to admit, Bowersock contends. He recalled one exceptionally unyielding professor of ancient history who refused to teach a tutorial many years ago, when Bowersock was chairman of the Classics Department. After the professor announced that he "was too busy" to participate in tutorial, Bowersock coolly accepted the ultimatum, then replied, fine, he would lead the tutorial himself. Sufficiently humiliated, the professor "suddenly discovered he had the time."

THE LEGISLATION REQUIRES each department to set up a Faculty-student committee to review the tutorial program regualrly and report discrepancies to Bowersock. Several departments already have such committees. In the past though, their influence has been negligible. Nancy Northrop '81, member of the History committee, recalls past meetings focused solely on discussions and the giving out of ideas." The committees lack power to do little more than "encourage" professors to teach tutorials, she admits.

Bowersock says he is depending on these committees to take "the next important step." None of these committees has met yet. Some will not meet until November. If the committees don't act immediately, and continue to act with persistence and force, Bowersock might as well file away his tutorial reforms with the departmental memos he has so conscientiously collected. In the file, he should include similar tutorial legisletion passed in 1924 and 1958, legislation which the Harvard Faculty brought to life with the same unanimous ardor, then disinherited with what has now become predictable indifference.