Next fall, each Kansas University freshman will receive the same book for a reading program that’s under development.
Planners say they hope to have campus events connected to the book and to have the book intertwine with various university courses.
The effort is one part of KU’s ongoing strategic plan, and administrators hope the program will help students build connections that will keep them in school.
“We know that students who develop a sense of community early on are likely to persist,” said Sarah Crawford-Parker, special assistant to the provost and a co-chairwoman of the committee that has been working on the effort. Many other universities have similar programs.
On Tuesday afternoon, a message seeking suggestions for books went out across the university. By Wednesday morning, more than 80 suggestions had come in, Crawford-Parker said.
“We have been pleased with the strong response we’ve already seen,” she said.
Students seemed receptive to the idea, too.
“It gives us something to open up a dialogue,” said Joseph Lauth, a senior from St. Louis. “And with 30,000 people on campus, that can be a challenge.”
Others, though, were a little cooler to the prospect.
“It doesn’t sound like a horrible idea,” said Joe Ingolia, a senior from Arlington Heights, Ill.
Ingolia’s high school had a similar program, he said, but it was a required component. He said making the program voluntary was a better idea.
“Then, you get out what you put in,” he said.
When asked, students offered various book suggestions. Kenneth Owens, a junior from Lawrence, said he was a “hopeless romantic” and suggested Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass.” Ingolia said he’d like to see a book that would help out-of-state students adjust to their new surroundings, and Lauth said he wouldn’t mind a biography.
Maryemma Graham, an English professor who’s also a co-chair of the committee working on the project, said biographies would get consideration, along with books about scientific subjects, like Rebecca Skloot’s “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” which deals with DNA research. The hope is to involve as many people around the university as possible, she said.
Still, Graham recognized that not everyone may read the book.
“There is no policing here,” she said, but added that for those who choose to read the book, “they’ll be building communities and meeting new people.”
She said there would be a marketing campaign around the book, and she said it can’t just be the chancellor who recommends that freshmen read it. It’s got to be people like the captain of the football team, too, and a scientist or an engineer.
The program is also an opportunity for the faculty to connect with first-year students, who often spend much of their year in large classes with graduate teaching assistants.
“We don’t meet these students until they’re sophomores and juniors,” Graham said. “This gives us a chance as faculty to reinvest and be energized with first-year students.”