10 APRIL 1964, Page 19

SIR,—Mr. Laslett sees a vested interest behind every hedge, but

he pays me an undeserved compliment in assuming I am a college teacher merely because I think the Oxford teaching system worth defending. I am, as it happens, one of those immature graduates to whom 'he refers, and my recent experience at the receiving end was innocent of 'ambitious school- masters, indigent wives. and hangers-on of every sort; When Mr. Laslett and Mr. Rutherford ('Talking to my Tutor') point out that the tutorial system .is not always perfectly realised in practice, they say nothing at all about the tradition of teaching which has been the subject of this correspondence. . . . What matters about Oxford, and. I am told. Cam- bridge, is not that, some tutors are good and some bad, but that undergraduate teaching is regarded there as a process of the stimulation of individual minds, and not as the dispensation of information and authoritative interpretation in compulsory lectures, or the pleasant. interesting. but untaxing chatter which characterises even the best of seminars. Undergraduate teaching. unlike research, cannot 'be carried out anywhere, given men of talent and ade- quate libraries and laboratories' without a living tradition of what undergraduate teaching is about.

recall the recent case of a graduate of one provin- cial university who became a teacher at another which had adopted the tutorial system. The nature and function of the tutorial had to be explained to .him at length; if he became a good teacher it was Only because the tradition was there before him.

In short, as Miss Murdoch has put it, a college is a machine for teaching; her definition is not in\ Ai dated because nobody thought of it before her. It is a sort of machinery which we cannot afford to he without, and if Mr. Laslett finds that it 'forces the unfortunate "fellow" to try to teach unsuitable men subjects which bore him stiff' there .arc simpler .remedies than throwing out the undergraduates.

Merton College, Oxford