Duke, UNC discuss joint reading effort

Freshman reading programs made headlines at both ends of Tobacco Road last year, as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill chose Qur'an excerpts for its reading and Duke inaugurated its first year of such a program.

Now administrators at both schools are thinking of combining their efforts-although not necessarily in a formal way-as they look toward their selections for the Class of 2007.

Assistant Dean of Students Ryan Lombardi, who spearheaded Duke's inaugural effort last spring, said a new committee will be formed early next semester to select next summer's reading. He hoped that a final selection would be made in late March or early April.

Lombardi said that he and UNC officials have looked at a joint program, but that they have decided against merging certain aspects-such as the seminars in which freshmen discuss the reading selection-because of the logistical difficulties it would create. They are considering assigning the same reading, however.

"What we're going to do is as each of our selection teams meet and begin to look at potential books, we'll certainly share those with one another," said Cindy Wolf Johnson, UNC's associate vice chancellor for student affairs. "If something naturally emerges, we certainly might share some of the readings."

UNC's freshman reading this fall included selections from and interpretations of the Qur'an. The selection ignited a firestorm of criticism within the state, and also a groundswell of support from academic institutions.

Lombardi said that he would never select a book simply to stir controversy, but he said the UNC situation may have achieved its objective.

"There was a lot of circus going on with it, but the positive outcome for them was that it inspired dialogue and real good conversation," Lombardi said.

"Maybe it did a good job of getting something going," he added.

Each member of Duke's freshman class was sent a copy of "The Palace Thief," a short story by Ethan Canin, to read over the summer before matriculation. Discussions were then held during orientation in small groups led by First-Year Advisory Counselors. Later in the year, Student Affairs hosted two showings of the motion picture version of the story-released this fall-as well as a discussion with the author afterward.

Lombardi said about 800 students attended the two film showings, and many stayed after the film to discuss the story with Canin late into the night.

"It was a good start," said Judith Ruderman, vice provost for academic and administrative services. "It's not the first year we've ever given a work of literature in advance, but it's the first year of a fairly robust program and I think it can get better but it was a very good start."

Lombardi added there were minor logistical problems with this year's program, but in all, he had been pleased with its success.

"The biggest logistical problem we had-it's really kind of small-is that people did these [discussions] within their FAC groups, and we didn't set a place for people to meet with their FACs," said FAC co-chair Jeremy Morgan, a senior.

FAC co-chair Christina Richardson, also a senior, said that in the future she would like to see more faculty discussion on freshman readings. She added that she would like the reading to be incorporated into the Academic Writing 20 course required for every freshman-even if just to break the ice on the first day.

Ruderman recommended the short story and said it fit in well with her efforts as chair of the Academic Integrity Council, a group formed in fall 2001 to study academic integrity on campus.

"Some students might have found it a bit heavy-handed, but for other students, it might have got them thinking about the kind of community we want to have at Duke, not only in terms of our intellectual interests," she said.


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