Tar Heels and Blue Devils are teaming up for this summer's reading assignment for incoming students. Both UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke have selected the book "Eating Animals" by Jonathan Safran Foer.
New students are asked to read the book before arriving, then they will participate in small group discussions. Foer himself will speak at both campuses on Aug. 25.
The book tells the story of Foer's back-and-forth struggle with vegetarianism, which came to a head when he became a father. Realizing that he would be responsible for deciding what another person would eat, Foer began an in-depth investigation into the food industry. The book delves into the industrialization of agriculture and the methods used in food production.
The purpose of the summer reading program is to get students' critical thinking skills going outside the classroom and to give them common ground for discussion and debate.
"You read the book to gain something from it, but also to gain ideas that you present to others and get their reaction," said Emil Malizia, a UNC professor and member of the selection committee.
Both UNC and Duke had committees separately create short lists drawn from 393 nominated works, then a 21-person joint panel made up of faculty, staff and students chose from among six finalists. The process took four or five months.
Priya Bhat, a student representative on the committee and a 2011 Duke graduate, said incoming students, away from their parents for the first time, are likely to relate to the book because they are making their own decisions and learning to think for themselves.
In years past, UNC's book selections have sometimes sparked controversy. In 2002, the choice of "Approaching the Quran: The Early Revelations," angered many who didn't like the idea of studying the Muslim holy book, particularly so soon after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A Christian organization even sued the university.
The next year, the selection of "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" infuriated many conservatives who thought students were being indoctrinated with liberal thinking before setting foot in the classroom.
But UNC has never backed down from the program, now in its 13th year. In the eyes of both UNC and Duke, choosing controversial books helps further the purpose of the program.
"It actually is quite fine if not everybody likes the book," said Clay Adams, director of orientation at Duke. "As a matter of fact, it makes for excellent debate. ... I don't know what selection we could possibly find that everybody would agree is excellent."
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