Mizzou Reads program to be discontinued

Tuesday, April 29, 2014 | 7:40 p.m. CDT; updated 7:53 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, April 30, 2014

COLUMBIA — Mizzou Reads, a summer reading program for incoming students, was discontinued after 10 years due to a lack of faculty and staff participation as freshman enrollment numbers continued to grow.

Director of New Student Programs David Rielley said he assumes the amount of faculty and staff volunteers decreased because of how hectic the beginning of the semester can be. He also said some might have stopped volunteering because they felt not enough freshmen were attending their discussions. The discussion leaders were the "heart of the program," Rielley said.

In 2004, the program's inaugural year, there were 124 faculty and staff volunteers and an incoming freshman class of 4,668, Rielley said. In 2013, there were approximately 75 volunteers and an incoming freshman class of 6,194.

Under the program, all freshmen were assigned the same book to read the summer before starting classes in the fall. At the beginning of their first semester, groups of freshmen met with faculty and staff to discuss the book and what to expect from their first semester. The authors of the books often spoke at MU as well.

"Mizzou Reads was to help with academic integration," Rielley said. "It was the first academic experience for freshmen in a no-risk environment."

Rielley helped start the program in 2004 and has overseen it since its inception. He ultimately recommended discontinuing the program because the disproportionate participation created organizational issues.

MU was the only school of its size doing a freshman reading program for the entire freshman class, Rielley said. Other schools offer similar programs for their honors colleges or English classes.

Washington University in St. Louis, a significantly smaller university, has a similar summer reading program that has been successful. 

"We have a growing number of faculty members who participate each year," said Alicia Schnell, the director of the university's First Year Reading Program.

But other schools are losing their reading programs as well — Purdue recently cut its freshman reading program to save money, according to Inside Higher Ed.

Over the years, the Mizzou Reads book that garnered the most interest was the controversial book "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, Rielley said. Since the book's use in the program, there have been allegations of factual inaccuracies in the book. When Mortenson came to speak about his book, Jesse Hall was packed. 

Rielley doesn't see the program being brought back in the next few years, but he will "never say never."

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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