Designing the house system early this century, then-President Abbot Lawrence Lowell, Class of 1877, envisioned a community of scholars--elite professors dining with wet be hind-the-ears undergraduates anxious for academic guidance.
But as the University grows larger and faculty more distant from the student body, the role of academic mentor has fallen upon resident tutors, usually graduate students.
Although most acknowledge that tutors are somewhat accessible as social shoulders to lean on their suit ability as intellectual advisors is being called into question.
Some charge that the tutors are not doing their jobs, citing inconsistent academic advising as the most obvious symptom of a diseased organization.
"We ought to be doing some thing to improve intellectual life at Harvard," says Daniel H. Tabak '92, an Undergraduate Council representative to the Committee on house Life.
"Many students complain that there are tutors in their own houses that they don't even know," Tabak says.
Tabak this year submitted a 14-point proposal to the committee that identifies possible kinks in the system. The plan contains proposals for re-activating the house seminar program and increasing the number of house sections in lecture courses.
"This way, the classroom experience would not be entirely divorced from everyday life," Tabak says, pointing out that house-based seminars were once far more common than today.
Though they acknowledge difficulties, house masters interviewed last week defended the tutor system saying that tutors are a positive presence in the houses both for academic and non-academic purposes.
"No one is there just to represent a department," says Quincy House Master Michael Shinagel.
And Fred R. Waugh, a tutor in Eliot House this year, says that the personal rapport that a tutor has with students is essential.
"Tutors are more effective if they develop personal relations with the students," Waugh says. "This sets them apart from the rest of the bureaucracy."
Still, top College officials argue that formal programs like house seminars would be the cornerstones in revitalizing academic communities in the houses.
"The house seminar system is only a shadow of what was intended," says Thomas a. Dingman '67, associate dean of the college of house life.
Dingman says the "big sibling" role assumed by some tutors is not endorsed by the administration. While a social relationship between tutors and students is important, Dingman says, the primary function of house tutors should be academic advising.