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Students Judge House Tutors in Surveys

Leverett and Quincy House Masters reject survey as feedback tool

By Risheng Xu, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Ten out of the 12 Houses participated in tutor surveys this year—more than doubling participation from last year—but Leverett and Quincy House still abstained.

Last year, four Houses participated.

Quincy House Master Robert P. Kirshner ’70 and Leverett House Master Howard Georgi ’68 cited divergent concerns in explaining their decision to refrain from taking part in the third annual survey.

Kirshner said he supported the idea of a tutor survey, but said that questions on the evaluation didn’t overlap well with what he believed tutors should be doing.

“There should be less about how you feel, more about what the tutor did or did not do,” he said. “Students should have a voice, and I sent an e-mail to every Quincy student asking for their comments.”

An effective survey, Kirshner said, could be a CUE guide for House life. He also added that students hold “real power” in serving on tutor selection committees.

Quincy House resident tutor Cara V. James said she agrees with Kirshner that the current survey is not well-crafted.

“It tries to quantify what I do, but not qualify. It doesn’t ask about the quality of my interactions and doesn’t get at ‘Have I been helpful?’” she said.

James added that many of her regular duties as an academic and personal adviser are not measured by the survey.

“For me, what is interesting is to ask students if they had a problem in their lives, will they have someone to talk to. If the answer is no, then we have a serious problem,” James said, adding that she believes students should be asked what a tutor should do, reach a consensus and create a survey from that.

Currently, tutors in Quincy House fill out self-evaluation forms, according to Kirshner.

According to Associate Dean and Dudley House Senior Tutor Thomas A. Dingman ’67, tutor surveys were the culmination of requests from deans, masters, students and tutors themselves.

According to Dingman, masters and tutors developed the survey questions according to what they felt a successful tutor should do. These responsibilities include guiding students through academic and personal issues, promoting a sense of community in both their entryways and the House as a whole in various capacities, and serving as the senior tutors’ “eyes and ears,” Dingman said.

Survey questions included “How important to you is a sense of community in your dorm, entryway, or hallway?” “How interested are you in taking advantage of advising opportunities within your House?” “Is this tutor reasonably available to you in the House community?” And “Have this tutor’s interactions with you been characterized by fairness, courtesy, cooperation, and respect?”

“The questions were not developed in a vacuum by people in University Hall,” Dingman said, who said he thought last year’s surveys were “extremely helpful.”

“This is not meant to be scurrilous reporting—it just reinforces respect for the work tutors do,” he said.

Georgi also chose not to have Leverett House participate in the survey, saying that while each House might confront different circumstances, for Leverett the survey would do “more harm than good.”

He said he felt that the anonymous survey would destroy the “family atmosphere” in the House, and that both students and tutors bear responsibility in fostering a healthy relationship.

In an e-mail sent to House residents, Georgi urged students to contact their tutors directly, or alternately share concerns confidentially with him, his wife or Senior Tutor Catherine Shapiro.

Eliot House Master Lino Pertile said that although the tutor survey has its limitations, it is still a very valuable resource to provide feedback on tutors.

“It isn’t perfect, and I don’t think that it should be taken as the golden mean—the answer to all the questions—but it’s not the only one that is used to arrive to an improvement to what goes on in the Houses. It’s one of the many ways in which we try to understand student’s attitudes toward the tutors who are very close to them,” Pertile said.

He also said that assessing tutors is not so different from evaluating teaching fellows and professors on academic performance.

“I don’t think that there is anything extraordinary about the initiative—to have feed back for the masters and the tutors,” Pertile said.

But he also said that each House should be free to make its own decision on the surveys, and said that in Eliot the results have been both helpful and “very positive.”

—Staff writer Risheng Xu can be reached at xu4@fas.harvard.edu.

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