The article "Comfort in that personal touch" (THES, October 15) shows that staff care about their tutees but does little to clarify the nature of the tutor/tutee relationship.
Tutors might do more harm than good without a clear remit and defined boundaries. A meaningful relationship should not be modelled on friendship or parenthood, but rather on a professional concern to maximise the academic potential of the tutee.
The article is correct in that prevention is better than cure. To achieve this, I have agreed threshold tutor duties with staff, beyond which other support services, such as doctors, counsellors, chaplains and legal advisers are called on. Tutors should:
* Help and support in academic matters such as choosing modules or changing courses
* Advise on study skills and assessment techniques
* Help and support on non-academic matters such as personal development and careers. However, tutors should call on or refer to specialist support services at an early stage
* Help to negotiate the system, particularly in recording mitigating circumstances carefully
* Make an additional check of the student's records at exam boards
* Provide references
* Be reasonably accessible during office hours at the workplace and within three working days at the tutee's request. Otherwise, tutors should see the student at least twice per semester.
More "caring" staff might consider this list to be too minimalist. However, if all of your tutors meet these thresholds or something like them, problems can be dealt with before they become serious.
This avoids the need for others in the department to intervene in, and possibly harm, the tutor/tutee relationship that should have developed. It also reduces the scope for confusion, misinterpretation and conflicting advice.
Senior tutor, mathematical sciences