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UNC Summer Reading Committee Hopes To Inspire Discussion, Disagreement

Posted February 12, 2004

— The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill summer reading assignment has gained national attention for its controversy.

The last two have sparked protests because of the topics.

A committee is close to selecting the next assignment and is not sure what to expect this time around.

Books on the Quran and the plight of the low-wage worker sparked protests, a lawsuit and even a call for higher wages for UNC campus workers.

The university's summer reading program for new students continues to grab attention.

"From the New York Times, to MTV, I never expected it to explode to that level," said John Frank, of the Daily Tar Heel.

Frank has covered the controversy for three years at the student paper. The next book selection is the subject of his latest article.

"A lot of people are waiting to see what happens," he said. "There's a lot of attention on this right now."

Jan Bardsley chairs the selection committee. She said

five books are finalists,

and the final choice is expected in two weeks.

The finalists came from an original list of 500 recommendations. The topics include refugees and how we deal with more technology.

"Any book we choose will inspire disagreement and discussion," Bardsley said. "We want a book they're going to want to discuss."

The summer reading program started in 1999. But UNC has a rich history for sparking lively debate.

In 1966, a student group invited a communist speaker to the "public edge" of campus to speak in protest of a law banning certain speakers on area college campuses.

Discussion can spark change. It already changed this assignment. Once mandatory, the summer-reading program is now optional, the selection process open.

"Is there a safe book?" Bardsley asked. "I'm beginning to think there's no safe book."

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