Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Fairness, Logic, and Scarce Resources

I teach logic every fall semester and being one of the more challenging courses, the college allows me a peer tutor, a student from the previous year's class who helps out by giving attention to students who desire it. It's not only helpful to the logic students, but something nice for the tutor -- a little extra cash in pocket and a nice line on the resume, especially for someone looking to go to graduate school. To have experience in a TA-like position, to have had the trust of a faculty member, and to be able to display mastery of a tricky part of the field are all pluses in a tight field of folks trying to get into Ph.D. programs.

This coming year, I've got a good one, someone who did very well in the class, is very patient and personable, and is seriously thinking of grad school. I've never had to face this type of situation, but suppose one year I had two candidates who both did equally well in the class. One is more articulate, creative, or outgoing -- traits that are useful when dealing with students who are uptight and frustrated. This one candidate who would have the edge all other things being equal is not thinking of graduate school in philosophy, but the other candidate is. The second candidate would certainly be qualified and if the leading candidate had not been in the class, I would have no qualms making candidate #2 the peer tutor. He just wouldn't be as good as #1. But in the long run, having been the tutor will be more useful for #2. I could write him a stronger letter of recommendation, he could say things in his application that would help him get into difficult programs, he would increase the likelihood of fulfilling his goal which I share -- he'd make a fine philosopher someday.

Should this be part of the criteria for deciding who gets named peer tutor? Is that fair to #1?