Textbook in UNC class no longer will have controversial claims about cancer and Holocaust

The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.
The Old Well on the UNC campus in Chapel Hill.

A controversial textbook for a UNC-Chapel Hill fitness course has been revised for this fall, university officials say.

In a statement, the university said the department of exercise and sport science worked with the publisher of “21st Century Fitness” to make “multiple edits to the content and length of the book.”

“These edits are based on student and department faculty feedback and are part of an ongoing curriculum review process by the Exercise and Sport Science Curriculum Committee,” the statement said. “Among other changes, the publisher has confirmed that references to the Holocaust and to cancer as ‘a disease of choice’ had already been removed from the fall 2018 edition.”

The statement said the process of editing the online textbook began in the spring of 2018, but university officials made no mention of that when initially asked about the book by The News & Observer this summer. UNC later received national attention about the book.

The textbook is part of online courseware sold by Perceivant, an Indianapolis-based company, to more than a dozen universities, including Arizona State, Ohio State, Kennesaw State and Brigham Young. It was written by two faculty members at Brigham Young University.

While one of the authors, Ron Hager, defended the book by saying it sought to promote healthy lifestyles and disease prevention, student critics said it seemed to blame people for bad health outcomes. The book called cancer and diabetes “disease of choice.”

It drew scorn from some for its references to a theory by Holocaust survivor and Austrian psychotherapist Victor Frankl about concentration camps. About Frankl and his philosophy, the book said: “The people in the camps who did not tap into the strength that comes from recognizing their intrinsic worth succumbed to the brutality to which they were subjected.”

Last week, a Jewish human rights organization demanded that UNC drop the textbook. The Simon Wiesenthal Center issued a news release saying the book should be removed by UNC because it “insults the memory of Holocaust victims.”

“Succumbed to brutality?” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean and director of global social action at the center. “These innocent people were systematically starved, beaten, and worked to death by the Nazis.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer