TO BE-DEEMED a "cult figure" might seem unusual for a resident tutor at Harvard. However, in various houses around campus dwell several tutors who, perhaps unintentionally, have created a cult following among their students.
One of them is Mark Henrie, Lowell House resident tutor in political philosophy. When asked about him, Dan E. Markel '95 enthusiastically says that Henrie's "presence hovers in every essay I write, even when not concerned with political philosophy." For him, "Tutorial under Mark represents the pinnacle of a liberal education."
He is not alone in his praise. Chris L. Garcia '95, another advisee, exclaims that Henrie is "positively brilliant" and that "there are not enough great things that I can say about him." Garica says that his tutor's charisma comes from the fact that "in a system that has a reputation for being cold, [Henrie] is one of the few individuals who makes a real effort to be a part of a student's life."
It's easy to confirm Garcia's opinion. As Henrie walks through the Lowell dining hall, he greets students left and right, inquiring both about the progress of their theses and their personal lives. Henrie's allure is not merely on an academic level. "He builds tremendous loyalty by teaching people how play squash, which has a wonderful widespread effect on the house spirit," says Markel. When questioned on this, Henrie replies, "Squash is the only thing I do well physically, so I share it with people."
Squash is only a drop in Henrie's conversational pool. He can, and is willing to, discuss anything from his favorite movies, The Third Man and Lion in Winter, to cryptocatholicism and his theory of "Lockean Glasses"--he believes John Locke is responsible for the way in which we see the world. Sam J. Rascoff '96 became a "devotee" of Henrie's when he was a freshman. "While a professor has instructed me in a set of discreet material," Rascoff says, "Mark has shaped my taste in the higher sense."
While Henrie's room is guarded by the noble bust of Dante, the room of Jay Phelan, Pforzheimer House resident tutor in biology and head TF for Sex, is adorned with a "radical" surfboard. Questioned about it, Phelan says, "Maybe students who are less intense can identify with me." While Henrie is busy on the squash court, Phelan is organizing kayaking and skiing trips with his wife Lisa, whom he deems "the cooler tutor." Dave C. Doodnauth attributes Phelan's charisma to the fact that "he has that West Cost flavor to him."
Phelan is laid back. "He listens to students as if they were people," says Marshall W. Fordyce '97, mentioning that his tutor is not at all perturbed to be woken up on a Saturday morning by a student looking to borrow a frisbee. "I feel like Jay's really psyched when you share something," says Fordyce.
Phelan tries to make his students' lives more enjoyable, trying not to appear as a looming figure of authority. Although he is relaxed, he is not just one of the guys. Phelan discusses his life as a graduate student to show biology students where science can lead them in their immediate future. "I feel like what's most important to me is to somehow look like a good example and lead a life that looks interesting to people."
Interesting and interested are the words which leap to mind when discussing Adams House resident tutor Carsey Yee. "A large part of being charismatic is being unafraid, and Carsey's good at that," says Scott F. Kocher '97. Carsey is not shy. "If you're in a room with Carsey, you know you're in a room with Carsey," follows Jonathan E. Finkelstein '96. Carsey's laugh is enough to put anyone at ease. He can invariably be spotted in the dining hall, pulling up a chair next to a student or introducing himself to someone he doesn't know. "I'm really good at facilitating interaction between students. It's important for students to meet each other," says Yee.
Carsey's charisma also comes from the fact that "he believes that people are inherently good," says Kocher. "He has a lot of optimism. It's his cheerfulness that keeps him going." Carsey is cheerful, zany, and Canadian. "He's from Northern Ontario, but I don't think that's where his charisma comes from," says Kocher. Yee concurs.
Though not zany, Chistoph H. Luthy, Lowell House resident tutor in the History of Science, is "always looking for the intellectual punch line," in the words of Henry B. Nguyen '95. Luthy calls his native Switzerland an "uncharismatic nation," but he is definitely not devoid of charisma. "H genuinely cares for his tutees and their well-being," says Rene Reyes '95, "and he's done things well beyond the call of duty." In fact, when Reyes couldn't afford the flight home to Texas over Spring break his sophomore year, Luthy arranged for him to fly home in the plane of the Lowell House masters.
Luthy attributes part of his genuine interest in student's lives to his being from another country. "One way of getting to know America is getting to know the background of students."
"I find it sad that most undergraduates are intellectually overfed in classes," Luthy says, wishing there were "less school and more intellectual life in the houses." One way in which he plans to encourage intellectual activity outside the classroom is by setting up talks and debates at the Lowell House Senior Common Room.
Through film festivals, frisbee games, and dining hall banter, students have been drawn to these tutors who have gained cult status by being approachable, personable, and interested in their students. Ironically, aloof professors who place themselves on a pedestal are not the ones who become revered by students.