Thursday, May 21, 2009

Pollan Book Selected, Dropped from WSU "Common Reading"

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that a faculty committee at Washington State University selected Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" as a common-reading text for freshmen next fall.
[F]aculty members effusively praised the award-winning book and hoped that people at the land-grant university were ready to have a serious debate about the practice of agriculture in America.

“Because this book deals with the food we eat today, it is likely to engender lively discussion and even disagreement,” wrote one professor who had recommended it to the committee. “But discussion and disagreement are the bread and butter of academic discourse.”

Well, nevermind. The book has been dropped as a mandatory read. According to the WSU website notice:
This year, given the circumstances currently facing our institution, changes must be made to the program. Instead of distributing the current selection, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, at the Alive! summer orientation sessions as was previously done, program staff will contact faculty to ascertain whether they wish to use the book in their classes, and then will arrange for distribution.
Some faculty suspect pressure from agribusiness interests.

Read about it at Washington State's Dilemma: How to Serve Up a Book Criticizing the Food Industry.

Post Script - just received an email from someone at Western Washington University. Omnivore's Dilemma is their selection for "Western Reads" and they are sticking with it!


Blogger Agrilawyer said...

I am all for unabated academic discourse and I believe the dropping of "Omnivore's Dilemma" is most unfortunate. However, something I do find disturbing regarding the use of a mandatory read that presents such a biased viewpoint is the lack of the school mandating any counterpoint reading.

This is especially true in the context of agriculture and our food sources because most typical freshmen will have no context of the topic other than the one presented in an influential book by Pollan. I believe healthy academic discussion that the Pollan book was supposed to create will not be achieved by simply mandating one side of a story that may be somewhat unfamiliar to the majority of the audience.

Agribusiness interests was probably the rationale for pulling the book, and I wish the agribusiness interests would have suggested other readings to add to the list. However, I hope the academics decide to balance the readings to promote informed decisionmaking and healthy debate. It can possibly be inferred that there were two agendas at play in this scenario.

Either way, it truly is said to see business interests interfere in academic dealings, but that is the way of many research universities especially.

5/27/2009 12:40 AM  
Anonymous William Marler said...

5/27/2009 1:12 AM  

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