Here is a nice article on the tutorial program, including a nice quote from Mike Needham ’04. The only new information, for those who are already familiar with the tutorial program comes with the numbers.

Historically — from the time the first tutorials were offered in 1988 and up until 2000 — between 25 and 30 tutorials were offered each year in a wide range of disciplines. The recent expansion of the tutorial program embarked on the long-range objective of increasing the number tutorials each year.

The desired expansion is reflected in a glance at tutorial numbers. Last year the Williams curriculum offered 36 tutorials. Fifteen of the 36 were at the 200 level — the sophomore level — and 21 were at the junior and senior level.

This year the college will offer 46 tutorials in a variety of subjects, representing a significant increase. Nineteen of the 46 tutorials will be specifically geared toward sophomores and 27 will be at the junior and senior level. It is expected that in the year after next the total number of tutorials offered will exceed 50.

All of which sounds good. The next steps are, obviously, to start making tutorial available to first years — what better way would there be to be introduced to the life of the mind? — and to make them a requirement in various departments. Certainly, something like ECON 401 (the senior seminar) would be much more powerful and memorable as a tutorial.

Another idea would be to require something like a sophomore tutorial for all majors in a given department. In something like ECON, this could (read: should) use a common curriculum with lots of Adam Smith and Karl Marx — sort of like the current POLI-EC 301 — but add in discussion of current debates of the day. It should also be taught by all members of the department, presumably on a rotating basis. It is hard to imagine a better way of introducing students to the world and wonder of economics.

Professor Fix notes, “It might be nice to eventually get up to around 60, but we’re trying to keep our eye on student demand, as these are resource intensive courses. We don’t want to have more tutorials than we need to meet student demand, but we’re guessing that something in the 50-60 area is about right.”

I think that Fix might be putting the cart before the horse here. Although the notion of “student demand” is an important one and the College should make every effort to gauge it, not everything that students want is good for them and not everything that they don’t want should be avoided.

Reading between the lines, it seems clear that the not as many students are signing up for tutorials as one might have hoped/expected. That’s too bad since tutorials must be good for students, both in the short and the long term, even if some of them don’t quite realize it yet. The obvious solution is to make them a requirement, either as part of individual majors or as a generic one-tutorial-per-year requirement.

UPDATE: Turns out that this article began life as a College news release. Also, Mike Needham, who clearly needs a hobby now that his days as editor of the Record are over, points out that ECON 401 is offered as a tutorial.

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