CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — A book that follows the lives of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy has been chosen as this year's reading requirement for freshmen entering the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
At a meeting Wednesday morning, the reading selection committee voted 5-4 in favor of
"Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point"
by David Lipsky.
The choice is timely given the presidential election and the war.
"We just felt that 'Absolutely American' tipped the scales because it related so much to college students lives," said Jan Bardley, selection committee chairwoman.
The committee met for three hours Sunday night and deadlocked over "Absolutely American" and
"Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age"
by Bill McKibben.
"Enough" explores the dark side of scientific advances in genetic engineering.
Student committee member Zach Clayton worried "Enough" made exaggerated claims.
"It's a typical UNC book," he said at Wednesday's meeting. "The author, if you look him up, is described as an environmentalist, a family farm organizer and a social justice advocate."
Those who preferred "Enough" say they were looking for something about the world -- not just one students could relate to.
"I was just concerned that we wanted something a bit more academically rigorous than we ended up choosing, but it has wonderful immediacy because of the war," said Cookie Newsom, staff committee member.
UNC-Chapel Hill's summer reading list has generated debate in the past -- and this year's was not expected to be any different.
"We weren't looking for a controversy, but I think that due to the past two years, I think people are definitely out there looking for one. If they are out there looking for one, they can find one in it," said Jenny Peddycord, a student committee member.
Last year's selection, "Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America" by Barbara Ehrenreich, focused on the tough lives of Americans working low-wage jobs. It rankled conservative students and Republican legislators who thought UNC was trying to indoctrinate students with leftist ideology.
In 2002, the assignment was "Approaching the Qur'an: The Early Revelations," by Michael Sells. That pick led to a federal lawsuit about the separation of church and state.
John Frank, a reporter for UNC's student newspaper,
The Daily Tar Heel
, has covered the hotly debated summer reading assignment the last three years. He has even seen it make national headlines.
New York Times
to MTV to the national media -- I never expected it to explode to that level," he said.
Prior to Wednesday's selection, Bardley said, "I'm beginning to think there's no safe book."
She said any book could spark debate, but that the committee was not looking for controversy.
"We want a book they're going to want to discuss," Bardley said.