Incoming MU freshmen who join this year’s summer reading program will have their hands full. The assigned book, “Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age,” looks at north Texas as the next Silicon Valley and the ethical ramifications of genetic engineering.
This is the second year for the program.
“It gives new students a common experience that can result in them getting to know one another during that hectic first week of college,” David Webber, associate professor of political science and a member of the committee that chose this summer’s book, said in an e-mail.
Summer welcome leaders will encourage incoming freshman to read Bill McKibben’s novel “Enough” before the fall semester in order to build a common experience and background for the incoming class. This book will then be a topic for discussion groups throughout the first semester.
“‘Enough’ talks a lot about the science of genetic engineering, stem-cell research and nanotechnology,” said David Rielley, coordinator of new student programs. “The book captures it in terms of how’s this going to effect what it means to be human, how’s it going to influence the way we interact with each other and the way we interact with the environment.”
In the program’s first year, about 50 percent of incoming freshman took part in reading “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. Although the program met its participation goal, it is looking to increase participation the second time around by pressing the message at Summer Welcome. Rielley said many students were not aware of the program last summer and, therefore, didn’t participate.
A committee of about 10 students, staff and faculty chose this book based on a set of criteria, which included: availability in paperback so it will be inexpensive, the possibility of the author visiting MU, content addressing contemporary cultural or social issues, and reading that’s not too complex.
“‘Enough’ is full of discussable topics,” Webber said. “It’s discussable because it relates to the common experience of all human beings. It is cutting edge because it relates to emerging challenges that face us in the future. It speculates about where technology is taking us and what we can do to shape our collective future.”
In searching for this year’s book, the committee took into consideration the variety of majors the book must interest to engage the students. Genetic technology directly relates to the fields of medical ethics, agriculture and other sciences; however, for other fields the link might not be as apparent.
“We look for a book where the content material can be approached from a bunch of different disciplines,” Rielley said. “A business student or a business professor reading the book can look at this technology from a couple of different viewpoints. They can talk about if I’m marketing emerging products, what are the ethical ramifications of me going into business. What is my product going to do to people’s lives.”
With genetic technology becoming an issue for the Missouri state legislature, committee chairman Bill Bondeson said in an e-mail that it’s important for students to know where the world is heading.
As the media gives growing attention to the subjects of genetic technology, many students will approach the book with opinions in place concerning the virtues of this science.
“I think this is a subject that will interest most people, and everyone will have their own opinion although they might lack extensive knowledge of the subject,” Allison Horne, who represented the Missouri Students Association on the committee, said in an e-mail.
Controversial material such as “Enough” often runs the risk of losing readers. Rielley said, however, that any book has the capacity to turn off some subsets of readers, but that to avoid these subjects negates the idea of higher education and academic freedom.
“If you are just going to turn something off because you don’t agree with it, that’s just going to make you ignorant of the subject,” Rielley said. “It’s kind of like a little kid that doesn’t want to eat his vegetables. He says ‘I don’t like those,’ and his mom says, ‘How do you know? You’ve never tried it.’”
By students getting a fuller taste of the applications for genetic technology, committee members anticipate quality exchanges next fall as well as quality disagreements.
“The committee did not look to encourage or discourage political disagreement, but we know that discussion and disagreement is part of learning and part of academic life,” Webber said.