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Summer reading required for ND frosh

Joe Trombello | Thursday, August 21, 2003

In between internships and reality television, the Class of 2007 had another task to occupy their summer vacation: required reading.For the first time, incoming Notre Dame freshmen completed assigned reading in preparation for an academic convocation titled “The United States and the Middle East: Do We Face a ‘Clash of Civilizations?'” Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross College did not require the assignment or a similar task for their freshman classes.Scott Appleby, professor of history and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, will moderate the Sept. 23 convocation discussing Seyyed Hossein Nasr’s book “The Heart Of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity” and four supplementary articles. Appleby said the reading requirement and convocation will introduce incoming freshman to how scholars analyze issues such as the tension between the United States and the Middle East.”The idea behind the summer reading requirement and academic convocation was not to provide even one percent of the knowledge of the Middle East that professors … provide in their courses – that would be impossible in so short an assignment,” Appleby said. “Rather, the goal was to demonstrate how scholars think about such issues.”First Year of Studies dean Eileen Kolman said the convocation marks a new academic tradition at Notre Dame. She and Appleby worked together to refine the idea, after which Joseph Amar, director of the program in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, and fellow colleagues Asma Afsaruddin and Li Guo were invited to finalize the reading list.”Although they [Amar, Afsaruddin and Guo] did not choose the topic, their input certainly helped to refine our approach,” Appleby said. “Additional faculty from other departments are being invited to participate in the convocation.”Amar said that he learned of the convocation while viewing the First Year of Studies Web site and petitioned to include his department in the convocation.”The faculty of the Program in Arabic and Middle East Studies are scholars in the cultures, histories, religions, and languages of the Middle East. We were anxious to make a contribution,” Amar said.Amar said his department had some initial concerns with the approach of the convocation, and some suggestions they made were later included. But he said his department has not received information regarding the convocation’s format or its participants and were not consulted to help select the convocation’s theme.”Our single and most serious reservation had to do with the tone and approach. From our point of view, the tone was journalistic and provocative. We thought the topic deserved more serious thought than it had been given,” Amar said. Kolman said consultations with other departments were somewhat limited because of a time crunch. She said she is working with other departments to sponsor follow-up sessions and is encouraging first-year instructors to discuss topics relating to the reading and convocation in their classes if deemed appropriate. “The Convocation will be a starting point from which I hope many faculty and departments will raise additional questions and provide additional perspectives,” she said.Appleby said he believes Kolman intends to repeat both the summer reading and convocation in the future, and that more departments and faculty members will be consulted. He also said the current theme incorporates numerous issues to which many departments in the University could contribute.”We think this year’s program is a good start, but we surely will revise the consultative process if this is to become something of a Notre Dame tradition, as we hope,” he said.Lara Flynn, an advisor in the First Year of Studies Office, agreed that the summer assignment should be continued. “It is my hope that, through this summer reading and convocation experience, students will become knowledgeable about the process of making an argument, forming an opinion and expressing themselves in an academic atmosphere – a process that will be repeated several times at Notre Dame,” she said.But at least one incoming freshman expressed mixed opinions about the summer reading requirement. “Although I find the topic of the academic convocation both pertinent and interesting, I think the reading requirement was a bit stiff,” Breen-Phillips freshman Catherine Provenzale said. “I’m just not sure this particular book will hold the interest of a first-year student and/or adequately prepare them to intelligently discuss the dichotomies existing between our culture and that of Islam.”Provenzale also said that, after finishing the book, she does not feel as comfortable with the material as she expected to be, although she said she had not yet read the supplementary articles.”I just hope I don’t have to answer any questions and can just listen to what the speakers have to say since I don’t feel as well-versed on the subject as I’d like to be,” she said.Still, Provenzale said she expects the assignment will be a worthwhile educational experience.”I truly am looking forward to the convocation because the issues that will be discussed are so important at the present time,” she said.

Contact Joe Trombello at jtrombel@nd.edu