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Frosh to read new book

Amanda Michaels | Friday, April 23, 2004

In a change of pace from last year’s The Heart of Islam, the University Committee for the First Year of Studies has selected Thomas Patterson’s The Vanishing Voter as the central reading for next fall’s First Year Convocation.Similar to last fall’s inaugural program, the convocation will allow students to explore a pertinent topic through a set of readings culminating in a panel discussion of the issue. Though this year’s theme has yet to be specified, its focus will be on the role of citizenship in democracy and the state of voter participation in the country.”Last year, the Middle East was certainly in everyone’s mind, and everything we did was good background for the things happening today,” said Eileen Kolman, dean of the First Year of Studies. “This fall, the November elections will be a top concern, and we hope to be part of the buzz on campus over them.” Incoming freshmen will be required to read Patterson’s book over the summer, along with an interview with Robert Putnam regarding the theories in his book, Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital. Due to concerns voiced by current freshmen, this workload is decreased from last year’s, when students were asked to read four articles and three Web sites in addition to the Heart of Islam, which is 300 pages.”In retrospect, [last year’s requirements] were too heavy for the first exposure to college reading. It just wasn’t a compelling enough read,” Kolman said. “We also asked students to read too much. This year, we chose something that was a little more accessible.”In another change to original protocol, Patterson’s book will be sent to each freshman student, free of charge. Last year, first- year students had to find and purchase the $23 book on their own accord, which led to complaints about cost and convenience.The format of the panel discussion will also change slightly to address issues brought to the Committee, which is made up of both student and faculty members. “Having three panels of three speakers was too much, so there will be a change made to that,” Kolman said. “There also was not enough opportunity for student interaction, so we’ll probably have a shorter formal section with less planted questions.”The convocation is also being held earlier in September so the subject matter will be fresher in the students’ minds, and more class time will be devoted to working with the book and topic, specifically in First Year Composition courses where it has already been worked into the syllabus.Despite all the changes made, Kolman said she still considers the original program a success.”As a first endeavor, it had a definite impact on a number of students,” she said. “It was a success, and very educational.”Some current freshman questioned the feasibility of the convocation in any format, as many chose not to read the book or articles, and students showed poor attendance at the panel discussion.”A whole book is a lot to read in our last summer of total apathy,” said Fisher freshman Dan Martin. “It’s our last chance not to do work.”Kolman said the more involving and functional subject matter will draw more students to the convocation, as voter registration is applicable to almost all freshmen.”This year is more practical than the last,” she said. “And I believe this is the beginning of great tradition.”